My Soapbox – Work and Me…And The Government

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I am a public service worker.  For the past 11 years, I have worked for the Ontario Government as a front-line court worker.  I graduated from college on the Dean’s List with a Law Clerk diploma, have attended university studying several English and law programs and once done, applied, interviewed and accepted two contracts with the Ontario Government as a Court Clerk/Registrar and as a Certified Court Reporter.  That was in 2004.  They were jobs I loved – I still do.  I loved the people I worked with, loved the field of work and the variety, loved helping people and loved the nature of the work.  I met and dealt with people from all walks of life, with all kinds of issues and was a major part of many people’s life outcomes.  I’ve been instrumental in sentencing many people over the years to serious jail terms, been witness to people truly being rehabilitated and saw things that would scare the average person.  It’s not just anyone who can do what I do and see what I see.  Serious trial matters, repeat offenders, scary people, circumstances that would make most cringe and at times, have gone home and cried because of such sensitive materials I’ve had to witness.  Some days, I hug my kids tighter and, with each drive home, I harden a little bit more, grow my shell a little bit thicker and let the nasty, scary things that some people do, roll off me.  I think front-line court workers have a tiny lock-box inside them all somewhere.  This is where we tuck in the things that go bump in the night, which we sometimes see in the light of day.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all scary monsters – there are definitely highlights and moments that make me proud to be a part of the human race.  People can change and they can excel, I’ve been witness to it several times this week already.  That’s the glory of my job – both sides of the human spectrum are in the court room, and I’m so darn happy to have my job and be a part of someone’s bad luck turned good or questionable upbringing not define them, but spur them into positive action.  A roller-coaster of emotion, I swear!

I’ve seen a high staff turn-around over the years.  People either aren’t cut out for the nature of the job, find the “foot-in-the-door” opportunity they were looking for and move on, or can’t handle the contract work.  Contract work.  Yes, my dubious reader, Up until December of last year, three months ago, I was a contract worker, as are many of my co-workers still.  Eleven years of 5 month-29 day contracts fulfilled.  With those contracts comes the glory of no benefits, no paid vacation, no sick days, limited pension, no guaranteed hours and management’s right to at any time, any day, say “Sorry, there’s no work for you anymore”.  Oh sure, I got ‘in lieu of’ pay, but when you work 2-3 days a week, 4% of not much equals to pretty much nothing when you figure it out.  BUT, I was there for the Ontario Government to work 50 hour work weeks if needed (which I was happy to do because of the occasional overtime which kicked in only after working 36.25 hours, which didn’t matter if I worked 12 hours in a day, that wasn’t overtime, only if I worked 36.25 hours in that pay week), work weekend court (yes, there’s weekend court) and take any work they offered me, just to get a pay check some weeks.  Because I loved my job.  I never knew what would happen at the end of a contract, if it would be extended or if I wasn’t going to be needed anymore.  If I came into work for 9:00 and my court finished at 11:00, I had to go home and only get paid for that 2 hours, because I was contract.  I applied for full-time positions (the holy grail) and was never successful.  After each interview, I would be told, “You’re getting there, keep applying and practicing your interview techniques”.  Practice?  Hmmmm.  I’m pretty sure I’ve been a candidate at 15+ government interviews in my tenure with them.  A full time position would be posted and myself, along with 20+ of my co-workers would apply, all of us salivating at the thought of guaranteed work, job security, all to live the dream.  Yet, myself, along with those 20+ co-workers would get bypassed for the unattainable holy grail job and keep plugging away at our contract jobs.  Because we ALL loved our jobs.  Each year, we would get our merit increase, which equalled on average to around +.20 cents an hour and were happy to get it.  We make more than minimum wage, but working on contract, if you work two days a week, that doesn’t equal to a lot of money.

Much to my surprise, I attained the unattainable in December of last year.  I got a full time job with the government!  I was ecstatic, over the moon, reduced to tears, wanting to shout it from the roof tops – “After 11 years, I’m a full-time government employee!”.  And with that glorious new position, I lost all of my previous seniority because it was contract work and not any kind of permanent work, had to pay dearly for my benefits and was not allowed to work overtime – ever.  Even if I’m in court and court is going long past 5:00, I have to email my supervisor for ‘approval’ (which is a moot point as far as I’m concerned, cause I’m not going to tell the Judge we have to close court because I can’t work overtime).  So, my past 11 years with the government are washed away, but hey, I’m full time, so I should shut up, right?  Would I give it up though to go back to contract?  Of course I wouldn’t, but why did I have to think about the answer to that question first?

We are represented by a union.  OPSEU is our coach in the corner, there after the rounds are done, to help us focus and try to make everything a fair and clean match.  Unfortunately, us public service workers have been working without a contract since December 31, 2014.  Talks have stalled and the employer – Ministry of the Attorney General; the Ontario Government – has said no to further bargaining.  They say concessions have to be made and we have to give up a lot to get little.  I say, I’ve given up a lot already.  Private sector workers work don’t have it any easier, and some probably have it harder.  This, I understand.  But I’ve worked hard for my job and for my employer.  The overspending by the Ontario (Wynne) government wasn’t as a result of overpaying me or my co-workers, giving us lavish wages or insane increases, offering us cushy offices, paying into my pension (which, after 11 years of paying into, I can retire in 2039 with $1200 a year so far), or hiring too many staff in my department.  I provide excellent services in my field, as do many of my co-workers.  Whether we’re private or public, that’s how we roll.  Because we love our jobs.  It wasn’t me or my co-workers who got a portion of the 8.2 billion dollars of overspending the Ontario (Wynne) government has been credited for.  There are some, who I’m sure have benefitted from this insane dollar amount, but don’t paint us all with the same brush.  According to the new Sunshine List, there’s thousands of Ontario Government workers who make over $100,000 a year.  Does anyone seriously expect me or my court co-workers to be one of those people?  Or the Probation Officer I work with?  Or the Corrections Officer who guards inmates next door to the court house?  I don’t think I’ve ever met (aside from management) a co-worker who made even close to that.  I love my job.  Not because of my pay, not because of the lack of job security, not because of the non-existent perks of being a front line court working government employee, but simply because I love my job.  The stigma of a government employee from 25-30 years ago shouldn’t be what everyone still labels us with, because it simply isn’t true.  I don’t want an 18% pay increase, as the higher ups have received, I don’t expect millions to be proffered into my sector, as have with certain government agencies, nor do I expect to get bonuses for the money I save the government (which is a redundant statement, but hey, it does happen).  What I do expect is to work my work day, sometimes having tough days, coupled with good ones, work some long days, work through my problems with my co-workers, keep enjoying the rapport I have with the stakeholders of my organization, get paid a fair wage, maybe take a weeks holidays once in a while and retire when I’m 65 with a pension that allows me to afford a cute, one bedroom apartment to live out the rest of my days in.  It’s a goal we as human beings all have, and one that we all deserve.

People are still going to say ALL government workers are overpaid and do nothing, but I could say all retail employees are all rude and ignorant and give no customer service because most of them are young and don’t care, or I could say, all miners are all booze drinking, dope smoking fools who aren’t safe underground and take too many risks, putting others in peril, or I could say, all bankers must make big bucks because they work with the big bucks, right?  But it’s simply not true – none of it.

So, that’s my rant, long as it is.  I don’t expect pity or compassion, simply understanding, and a wave when you see me on the picket line. 🙂

 

 

Moving, Writing and Dogs, Oh My!

Well, it’s been about 8 years since my last blog (ok, maybe only 4), but wowzers, we sure have been busy!

September came and went and so did we.  We sold the house and had to find a new one and be out all within just over three weeks.  Never one to be daunted by such madness, I took on the challenge and we found a wonderful new home.  Sounds easy enough, right?  As if ANY move is ever easy.  Getting the moving truck packed only to find out it wasn’t big enough, so securing another moving truck at the last minute, as well as loading up half ton trucks and even a boat – yes a boat.  We did it though, and are in love with the new digs.  The kids are very happy and even though the dogs kept getting shut into different rooms by mistake, they’ve become accustomed to all the room too.

Then, my lemon, I mean car, decided after five long and ridiculously costly years, to die on me.  Five years is quite long for a car and I’m so happy it decided to quit on my way to work one fine, snowy morning.  I bought the car brand new, built it at the dealer and three weeks later, watched it get unloaded off the truck onto the lot all shiny and spankin’ new, to find out it was the worst built car ever.  I won’t belittle it’s manufacturer or model here, but I will tell you I’ve placed a few choice phone calls to 1-800-GMCANADA to voice my concern.  Now, I’ve been car-less for a couple weeks, waiting to see what the manufacturer will do for me.

Then, my oldest monster started high school football season.  That’s always a fun season in the house as we all enjoy attending games, screaming, I mean cheering, until we’re hoarse, sipping hot chocolate.  That is, unless it’s this year’s season, which started late and ended late, meeting up with a freak cold snap and several minor snow squalls.  Thank God the furniture pads from moving were still in the truck for the last couple games.  Yes, we looked like fools wrapped in them, but when it’s -6 degrees celsius (yes, celsius) along with a rain-snow mix, you do what you have to do to encourage and cheer on your darling monster.

Then, almost everyone in my workplace decided to better themselves and take secondments to other ministries.  I highly encourage people to try different things and develop skills and am very happy for my colleagues that they got to experience different work environments.  But losing them for a period of time meant very long days for those of us that stayed behind.  I love my job, truly I do, but I also quite enjoy my sanity (what little there is of it) and was ever so pleased to come home each night, in the dark, to unpacked boxes, tumbleweed dust balls the size of grapefruits blowing around the house along with my monsters and sweetie wondering what sustenance I was providing for them.

Then, my writing – oh wait, I HAVEN’T HAD A BLOODY CHANCE TO DO ANY WRITING!

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But, all’s well that ends well, or so they say.  Here’s to a better next couple of weeks, to more writing to a wonderfully finished and unpacked home and to all of my American friends having a fantastic Thanksgiving!

To Beta Is To Be Bettah

I admit, I fell off the writing wagon a while back.  Illness, personal life issues, a major move and work stress were all contributing factors.  It wasn’t that I wanted to stop writing, blogging, beta reading for others, editing, tweeting, critiquing, etc…it just happened.  But you can bet your booties, I’m back at it (even if it only took me a few years).

My beta reading buddies are still buddies, but it’s been quite a long time since I’ve shared work with them and vice versa.  Beta reading for me was highly enjoyable – I loved it!  Mind you, not all MS’s I read were, shall we say, publish-worthy, but still fun to read nevertheless.  I’ve critiqued for several authors, some who are published YA authors, award receivers and contest winners.  Does that mean I’m the all-powerful critique partner who possesses publish-worthy advice?  Nope.  What it does mean is I am unbiased, optimistic and truly happy and honoured that others want to share their valuable stories with me.  And I am truly honoured many of the authors I critique for are happy to receive my MS’s to review as well.

Now on to the point of this blog.

Beta reading/critique partnering is a wonderful way to get some valuable insight to your MS.  Someone who isn’t vested in the success or emotion in your life’s work is a great person to give you advice on it.  Most beta readers aren’t professional editors, don’t have the education or fancy letters with dots after their names, they are common folk, just like you.  And just like you, they want to read a good story and will let you know if yours isn’t.  Because I’m in the process of editing my latest MS, I’ve been reading a lot of articles lately on beta reading and critiquing and with all the “professional” services out there, I think having an honest to goodness beta partner is invaluable (and free).  You may have to weed through some so-so partners at first, but once you find the select few you rely on, you’ll be oh so thankful.

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Tips for being a beta reading/critique partner:

  1. Be committed.   What?  You thought Jane’s MS was only 8 pages long?  Why does she keep sending me chapters, expecting me to send them back?  So it took me 3 months to respond and all I added was “Keep up the good work!”  Being a critique partner is a commitment.  Be prepared to send a chapter and receive a chapter (or however you set it up).  Spend quality time reviewing your partner’s work and send it back within an acceptable timeframe.
  2. Set guidelines right up front.  Will you swap a chapter at a time?  How long for turn around?  Are we talking grammar/plot/character build/line edits? (God help you if you are)  How do they want your work?  Word attachment, PDF, copy and past into email, paper airplane?
  3. Be fair and objective.  Just because your partner’s genre isn’t your cup o’ tea, you still have to give it your best effort.  This historical romance is soooo not as good as The Hunger Games.  Well duh.  Even if it’s something you wouldn’t write, you have to remove yourself from the genre and writing style – period.  If you only want to beta read a specific genre, state that up front while you’re discussing point number 2.  Don’t be mean, don’t be overtly negative and don’t think for one second you rank among the likes of Stephen King or Margaret Atwood (or their editors for that matter).  Your opinion matters, that’s why they want a beta partner, so don’t lose that opportunity to be a beneficial and trustworthy helper.
  4. It’s nothing personal.  The word is critique – to be criticized, to be critical.  You will get the good, the bad and the ugly.  Hopefully the tasteful ugly.  And don’t give negative criticism back because you’re bitter about their critique.  You’re a grown person after all (well, in someone’s mind you are).
  5. A beta reader is NOT your editor.  Don’t give a partner any unedited work.  Make it your best and you will get their best in return.
  6. If you don’t mesh with your partner, be honest, but be nice.  If you’re not getting what you want out of your partner, explain to them what it is you feel you’re missing.  If you still don’t get what you’re hoping for, be honest to them, but be very thankful and very polite.  They didn’t have to waste their precious time reading your next Twilight.  I really appreciate all the time and effort you’ve given me but I think our writing styles aren’t compatible.  Would you mind if I recommend you to another writer if they are looking for a critique partner and share your great ability?  

Most of all, enjoy the experience!  Root for your partners, share in their successes, their set backs, their trials and tribulations.  It’s a solitary profession, after all.

Time To…What?

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Writing is a wonderful, joyful and sometimes spiritual endeavour.  For me, it takes me to a place I yearn to be – wrapped up in my story along with my characters experiencing the world I’ve created.  I mean, who doesn’t love day dreaming of worlds unknown, how things could be, imagining the “what if’s”?  For most writers, their stories contain a little bit of themselves, or better yet, a lot of themselves.  Their lives, their memories, their experiences or their “what if’s”.

Just one problem with all that – devoting the time to do what we love.

Juggling life, kids, work, spouses, family, schedules and the everyday routine is hard enough.  Try and fit in some quality writing time into that equation?  Man, good luck.  Life is chaotic enough and for myself, finding time to use the bathroom is a feat in itself.

But fear not, because it is possible, but it IS difficult.

I guess what I’m saying here is that many authors DO find the time to devote to their craft.  Yes, being an acclaimed author who writes for a living bringing home six figures with each book makes it way easier to do, but there are many up and coming authors who do this as well.

The balance is there for all of us.  Finding it is somewhat of a chore, but if you’re serious about writing, then be serious about your time devoted to it.  For me, it was late at night when the kids were small.  Tuck my monsters into bed and pull up the desk chair in one fell swoop was my nightly routine.  That changed to early mornings, until I learned quickly I wasn’t a morning person.  I switched to afternoons, but my stupid job I need to live put a stop to that.  Now, I choose my time wisely (I’m lying like a rug) but value each and every 1/2 hour I get.  I’ve had poetry published, short stories and for a while, ran several writing groups on line as well as spending time to write what I wanted to write.  Were there distractions?  Hell yes.  Deal with them and move on, or write on.  Do I still struggle with time allotment to my writing?  Hell yes.  Will it get better?  Maybe when my New York Times best seller gets published and Stephen King invites me over for tea.  Until then, I struggle, find balance, lose it, reclaim it, fight for my time and finally make it to the bathroom in peace.  But I DO feel better having written all this because now I can get back to writing.

Write on!

Better To Be Local?

With all the YA books being put on the shelves these days, it’s becoming more and more important to check out new writers, old writers (old as in previously published, not old as in Ms. Nelder from the public school library) and more importantly, local writers.  When I say local, I mean writers who are from your neck of the woods, your home town, your city, your stompin’ grounds.  I live in a relatively small Northern Ontario city (150,000) compared to closer areas like Toronto, Barrie, Vaughan, etc.  So, when a local writer gets herself a book deal, it’s a wonderful thing.  Hally Willmott, local, born and raised in Sudbury where I live, recently got herself quite a great shot with Limitless Publishing and I couldn’t be more happy for her.  Especially since she’s sort of in my line of work too!  Her first novel, Awakenings is a fantastic debut.  Think of Harry Potter meets fairies meets Twilight.

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Here’s the jacket blurb:

When sixteen-year old Jacey Adison’s parents tell her they must move again, she has never questioned their life style. Until now. When Jacey was two, her parents fled the protection of their birthplace, the mystical dimension of Nemele. Leaving was the only solution her parents believed might allow them to keep their family together and alive.

The Adisons have been running from a sect of iniquitous beings from Nemele who covet Jacey. Her parents have repressed their adversaries’ relentless tracking efforts by not utilizing their own mystical powers. They have chosen to conceal themselves within the only realm they knew they’d be able to survive. They are living under their self-imposed powerless sanctions on Earth, which constitutes the nineteenth nation of Nemele.

Her parents have never revealed their true identities to Jacey, consequently keeping her true lineage and unique birthright from her. Jacey’s family has pretended to be non-magical humans as a ploy to prevent an ancient omnipotent entity from killing more innocent beings in its relentless quest to possess Jacey.

Nemele’s inhabitants have been the elemental architectural guides of a number of nations throughout the cosmos. As Elemental Governors, they’ve influenced the evolution of eighteen other realms throughout the galaxy. Air, earth, wind, fire and water are gifted to each member within the Nemelite Society. It is during their Awakening, or adolescent stage of development, that their talents emerge.

Every legend, myth and folklore human beings have believed in and have worshiped since the beginning of time originate within Nemele. Representatives from each of the nineteen nations form the Guild of Elders, a federation to oversee and rule Nemele. From Greek Gods to shape –shifting dragons, all exist.

Born as an anomaly, Jacey possesses rare abilities that both virtuous and corrupt entities seek to use as their own. Should either side prevail, Jacey may be the saviour or downfall of every world within Nemele’s domains. Blindly thrust into life and death situations, Jacey learns of her true powers within her dreaming and conscious states.

The book is a great read with a fresh and unique voice.  I congratulate Hally on what I think, is a great contribution to the YA genre and a story anyone would find intriguing.  I’m on book two as we speak, Revelations  and it’s starting out to be a wonderful series.  Yup, I read that. 🙂

House For Sale!

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It’s house selling time around here and don’t get me wrong, I really want to sell our house and move on, but the whole process gives me a headache.  We’re at the whim and mercy of those who just have to see the house right now.  In other words, clean the house from top to bottom, tidy up the yard, pack up all of my office and put my MS and editing paraphernalia in a drawer somewhere (which is always fun to try and find again once we come back home), shuffle the kids outside, pack up the dogs (which is just as much fun as herding cats)  and make sure the garage is empty, all within 1/2 an hour, cause these people really, really need to see the house.  And then, we all file out, the perspective buyers show up and decide, nah, this is not for us.

I keep suggesting I stay home and lock myself in my office to keep editing and put a sign on the door saying KEEP OUT – DO NOT ENTER – LARGE LIZARD INSIDE WILL GET OUT! But apparently, our realtor has said “oh no, we can’t do that, buyers wouldn’t like that” at which point I say (cry baby sucky pants) “Fine”.  I really like the people who call the realtor and say “We’d like to see the house Tuesday of next week at 2:40 p.m.”.  Now THAT’S the way to do it folks!  I’m positive that when our house does sell, it’ll be sold to a very conscientious family who respects other people’s time and ensures everyones feelings are taken into consideration.Laughing-smiley-face-2All I want is to sell the house so unfortunately, that means putting up with (complaining about it constantly) the last minute viewings, keeping the house clean (which never, I mean, never happens) so I don’t have to do it all at once and making sure the kids clean up after them selves (*ahem*…sorry, I just choked on my own laughter at that one).  Until it’s sold, which seems like it’s never going to happen, but it will, and it will all be worth it, I think.

BookEditing

MY Four Letter Word

Edit.  Yup, that’s it.  That’s what I’m doing, or should I say, what I’ve been doing for the past week now.  It’s the lock-myself-up-and-don’t-come-out-for-air kind of editing.  I bring a stash of CCA with me and venture into the land I have created only to re-create it – several times over.  

Pepper Potts sits patiently by my feet, the kids grow restless wanting me to come sit by the bonfire and my sweetie just smiles knowing all too well.  This is the life of a writer at this stage in the game.  It’s daunting, lonely and unforgiving work, but it must be done.  There are times I want to shove my MS aside and say “No, not today sir”, but I dare not.  Breaks happen often and that will have to do because if I stray, I feel I will stray for good!

Do you not feel my plight?  Do you not understand my dilemma?  Editing for me, is not fun.  Not fun like getting all my wonderful/crazy ideas down on the Word document was when I began righting.  THAT was fun.  THIS is not.  I know, I know, I should be telling myself, “just think of how much better the whole story will be when you’re done” (because right now, there are definitely some parts that do not make sense).  I will hold on to that thought and forge on.

So, here’s to the almighty author who toils in his/her office, den, bedroom, basement, garage, shed, living room, etc. spending months of their life devoted to putting pen to paper, writing the next breakout novel, only to find out they now have to “kill their darlings“.  It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.

 

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Reading What You Write

Liberty began as my coup de grace, my life goal, my finishing moment, my culmination…or something like that.  I live in a community where mining for ore over a mile underground is commonplace, so why not combine my love of YA with my knowledge of mining?  Seems like a logical fit?

The writing part came easy, words flowed from my mind like water through a sieve. (Take that analogy any way you like, I’m okay with that)  The writing I was ok with, but it interfered with my other love – reading.

Reading to me is as important as chocolate covered almonds is.  I need both in my life and I need both to survive.  Pounds of chocolate covered almonds (CCA) have been ingested by my person while reading.  In all honesty, I am voracious when it comes to turning a page or pressing the button on my ereader to do it for me.  In the past year, I have probably read close to 150 books, all varying genres, but mostly YA.  I could say what started out as a way to be a better writer became an obsession, but alas, my obsession started as a wee one, reading my very first book, The Best Little Girl in the World by Steven Levenkron at the age of six.

Since then, I’ve devoured hundreds of books, mostly YA and learned some valuable lessons especially within this genre:

  1. Most leading characters are girls, and that’s okay.  And most, not all, but most, are meek, shy, troubled and awkward girls who would get the crap kicked out of them in real high school which I would not be okay with.
  2. Most male characters are gorgeous, smokey eyed, raven or blonde haired demigods who sport at least one tattoo/scar and can bench press a Volkswagen.  And I’m okay with that too – seriously okay with that – because we all need to find our happy place sometimes.
  3. Paranormal Romance is a huge and albeit great market, one I find is getting very worn out (the first novel I wrote was paranormal romance).
  4. Some people will write about any garbage that pops into their heads, and get paid to do it.
  5. Some people will write about the most significant, mind bending, readable plots and get paid to do it.
  6. Main stream adult fiction authors are jumping on the bandwagon of YA.
  7. There will never be another Twilight – thank God.

Among many other valuable lessons, like where the garbage cans are hidden in Chapters, these are the ones that popped into my head.  YA is becoming a very diverse and conforming genre these days.  I know one thing, I’ll keep reading all the surprising, mundane books I can get my hands on. 🙂