Veronica Bale


Fear. It is a natural human emotion. It alerts us to the presence of danger or the threat of harm. It is, at its core, a primitive and powerful mechanism for self-preservation. But how is self-preservation an explanation for one’s reaction to fear when it is the result of a phobia? After all, by its very nature a phobia is illogical. It is defined as an extreme or irrational fear of or aversion to something. So, if your pediophobia causes you to itch at the thought of a creepy, one-eyed doll head, or your alektorophobia means you want absolutely zero to do with a Chicken McNugget or the beady-eyed clucker it came from… we are probably safe in most cases to chuckle about it a little and conclude that these aren’t exactly life-threatening fears.

On a whim, I posted on Twitter a few weeks ago: If you had to write a horror story based on a phobia you suffer from, what would it be? Naturally this got me thinking (because let’s face it, for better or worse I’m a thinker) about my own phobia. I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t afflicted by it. Though it is probably on the milder side, it has nevertheless itched and nagged and made me squirm with irrational fear like some kind of enchanted spell. Only recently did I learn it actually had a name. My phobia is…


According to Wikipedia, this is “a fear of submerged man-made objects, either partially or entirely underwater.” Wiktionary claims it is very rare, and writes, “While this alleged phobia has not been confirmed through research, many people on the Internet claim to have experienced this fear.”

I assure you… there is nothing alleged about it. It’s real.

Before I go any further, let me define the parameters of my version of this phobia by making something very clear. I am NOT afraid of water. Quite the opposite, in fact. I am practically a fish. I grew up in swimming lessons, was on several swim teams, and completed my lifeguard certification course in my late teens. Pools are a cinch. And when it comes to lakes, the sight of them fill me with peace. I can happily sit on a dock or a sandy beach, and I can even get into a lake, weeds and all, as long as I am not near any submerged man-made thing. They’re uncomfortable for me to look at, but as I mentioned, I think my phobia may be on the milder side.

That is not to say, however, that the amount of anxiety my submechanophobia causes me is negligible. The sight of submerged, man-made things still kicks my heart rate up and fills me with a fight-or-flight type of anxiety. I like being on boats. I don’t like being in the water near one. And no, it is not due to some childhood trauma. Its existence is a complete mystery to me.

Photo Credits: Iwasdoingfinelurking

Let me illustrate what I mean with a recent example. This summer, we parked our mobile trailer on a permanent site. The lake on which our park sits is shallow the whole way through. In fact, it doesn’t get any deeper than 15 feet in one spot. My wee man and I have discovered a mutual love of snorkeling. We “take a toodle” as we say, and see how far across the lake we can go and how many fish we can chase. As long as I am not alone in the water, I can keep my phobia tamped down and simmering on low heat. I stay away from buoys, docks and buried water pipes, and I am calm enough to enjoy my swim. However, there was one point where I was skimming along the bottom, with wee man beside me, watching the silt and weeds for minnows when, all of a sudden… there was a lawn chair.

A lawn chair! The thought of it even now, months later and wrapped up cozy at my writing desk, makes me squirm. It was of those white, plastic things, completely benign, and you wouldn’t have even noticed it was there but for the shape—it was camouflaged by algae growth. Without even thinking, my body shot to life, I kicked my flippers like mad, and I was booting it out of there thinking Nope, nope, nope, nope, nope. That was literally my only thought: Nope.

I must have gone a good twenty feet before I ran out of air and surfaced. When I looked back, there was wee man bobbing twenty feet away, angry at me for having taken off without him. “Why were you shaking your head like that?” he shouted to me from across the water. Let it suffice to say that it was not one of my finer parenting moments.

I mean, I get the logic. It’s just plastic. Pull it out of the water, clean it off, and I’d sit in it no problem. But there, under water… it shouldn’t be there. It’s unnatural. It’s… something other. Foreign and impure. Demonic, even.


So back to my Twitter question, would I write a horror story which premise is based on submechanophobia?

You betcha, I would!

Now, I don’t mean writing my phobia into a character. I mean writing a story about the phobia, Stephen King style. Some creepy, chilling story that plays out long and slow about, oh, I don’t know… the sunken vehicles in Lake Michigan [Veronica shudders].

Photo Credit: Chris Roxburgh

If the age-old adage “write what you know” is true, then what better thing is there to write than your own phobia? Rebecca Delphine states in her essay Invoking Fear, “Unsettling, spine-chilling horror is something that, if done correctly, can have a lasting and profound effect. It’s an assault on the reader’s senses that they often enter into willingly. Well-written fear will resonate inside them, lingering long after they have shut the book.”

If there is titillation for the reader, why not for the writer? To enter into the world of your own phobia willingly and taste it at its worst in order to drive it home and make it real for others… isn’t that what writing is all about?

I don’t have any immediate plans to write a horror story based on submechanophobia. However, the idea intrigues me. As itchy and uncomfortable as it will be to dive deep into this irrational fear of mine (pardon the pun), it’s also thrilling to think about. Haunting, even.

So, in closing I put the question you: what is your phobia? What irrational fear makes you twitch and squirm and want to run, run away?

And… would you write a horror story about it?

“You only have one story to write, and you will write it many ways.” – Unknown

So about that quote attribution. I write “unknown” because… well… I heard it somewhere, thought it would be a great blog topic to explore, and now for the life of me I cannot remember who said it. Internet searches don’t turn up anything useful to jog my memory. Friends and family give me blank stares when I ask if they are familiar with it—if you know where that quote came from and who said it, please jump in and remind me.

That embarrassing little gaffe aside, it’s still a good topic to explore, so I’m running with it.

A while ago, I jumped onto Twitter and on a whim asked my fellow authors if they write themselves into their novels. I’m always curious, you see, about other writers’ habits and processes, and since I know this is something I do in my own work, I wanted to know what the writing community thought. Then I came across that quote from… somewhere… so the timing was pretty convenient for this post.

In researching the idea, however, I came across fellow writer Kelsie Engen’s blog post Common Writing Mistake #2: writing yourself into the story. In it she says, “It’s completely okay to write yourself into a book—as long as you’re prepared for your reader to hate them with the fires of a thousand hells.”

I got a good chuckle out of this because, well, it’s true. But here, Ms. Engen appears to be referring to the classic Mary Sue. If you are unfamiliar with the term, then according to Wikipedia, a Mary Sue is “a generic name for any fictional character (usually female) who is so competent or perfect that this appears unrealistic for the world’s settings, even in the context of the fictional setting. Mary Sues are often an author’s idealized or flawless self-insertion.”

Ms. Engen further explains this phenomenon and why readers are put off by it when she says, “Believe it or not, this happens a lot to new writers. When they’re trying to come up with a character to carry their book’s plot, they unwittingly (or purposefully) insert themselves into the main protagonist spot… The only problem is that beginning writers usually do it with a couple of well-meaning mistakes: 1. They might have blinkers on about who they really are as a person and only show their “good aspects thinking that a reader might not like them if they show their true self, or 2. The author might not quite realize who they are as a person.”

Ms. Engen is spot on here, and while I am referring to the practice from a semi-veteran standpoint, I found this a good piece to throw in to illustrate the distinction between writing a Mary Sue (which I’m not exploring in this post), and writing yourself into your characters to enhance their authenticity. This is the more challenging aspect to writing that can be emotionally bruising for an author. It’s something you have to set out to do with open eyes, knowing that you are (for lack of a better metaphor) pitching yourself over the side of a cliff and giving yourself no soft place to land—praying that your readers will be there to catch you at the bottom, and are willing to forgive your flaws and vulnerabilities when they do.

You see, part of what makes our characters real in our books is their flaws and fears, their hopes and dreams, and even their uglier personality traits which are often irredeemable. We writers aren’t perfect, and neither should our characters be. Sometimes, to find these flaws and traits in our characters and write them in a way that is authentic, we need to do a deep-dive into ourselves to explore those same flaws and traits as they exist in a living, breathing, sentient and fragile human… towards whom we cannot risk being influenced by empathy.

To illustrate this concept, I would like to share a passage from my novel Shadow:

Tilly stared at her uncle. She was no longer in danger of crying, but her cheeks were flushed and she was beginning to lose her nerve. She had never been able to keep her nerve when it was Uncle Doug on the other end. He was uncomfortably forward in his manner. Always. About everything. He spoke bluntly, with little regard to feelings and thoughts that weren’t his own. Sometimes he used his bluntness as a tool to wound. Tilly had never been able to stand on equal ground with him in the few confrontations they’d had in her adult years. He caught her off guard every time she tried, with the things he was willing to say and the lengths to which he was willing to go. Anything to dominate, to win.

It was his conviction of character, that unapologetic willingness to speak without filter or remorse. That’s what she had never been able to match, and she couldn’t do it now. Whatever direction he was prepared to take this conversation, she would not gain the upper hand. Not today.

He took her internal struggle as confirmation of his victory. When he spoke again, he sloughed off a touch of the sharpness in his voice as casually as if he were shedding a jacket.

“Thing is, if I win my case, I’m gonna have the house appraised and I’m gonna sell it. I would have had a real estate agent out to view it eventually, so why not get it out of the way now?”

“And if you don’t win?”

When. She should have said when, not if. Uncle Doug would have said when. She wondered briefly if he grappled at all with the things that came out of his mouth. If he ever wished he’d said something different. Or if he wished other, better words would come more easily to his brain and at the right time. She wondered where things like choice, and outcome, and impact fit into the jigsaw of his logic.

“Then I can’t legally sell it, can I? This guy here would have made the trip out today for nothing. No harm, no foul. Right?”

Choice and outcome and impact pinged against the walls of her mind like the metal balls of an arcade game. What should be her response? Where else could he take this discussion? What was there to say that could be wrong, or right, and how would anything she said play into his cat paws?

“Look, Tillbear,” Uncle Doug said, softening his tone even more. “I hate that this damn will has done this to us all. I hate that my own mother skipped over me to give you this place. I’ll say it: I’m pissed, okay? I’d be lying if I said there won’t be any tension between us now. But she did that to us. That’s the hand we were dealt, that’s the way it’s gotta be. So let’s not complicate things by throwing hurt feelings into this. I want the house, I’m gonna do what I have to do to get it. Or I’m gonna try.”

“Just like that?”

“Just like that. It doesn’t need to be anything more. It’s not a personal attack on you, it’s business.”

Choice, outcome … impact. She knew what to say. Her spine straightened.

“Then you won’t be offended if I do what I have to in order to protect my inheritance?”

He looked at her for a long moment, allowing her this one small triumph, yet still succeeding in making her feel inferior. Like he was allowing her the victory.

“Like I said, you do what you gotta do. May the best man win, huh? Anyway, we’re done here. The guy’s seen all he needs to.”

Tilly remained silent as he turned and left. She watched his retreating back, watched the ring of perspiration that darkened the collar of his grey tee-shirt, and let the knowledge sink into the pit of her stomach that, once more, Uncle Doug had won. Whatever outcome he judged winning to be, he’d attained it.

Uncle Doug, in this example, is a combination of two people who were once a part of my life. In their living, breathing forms, they possessed a (rather obnoxious) conviction of character that I simply could not match. Tilly, in this case, is me. Uncomfortably “me.” I admit without reservation that I crumble in the face of this kind of conviction, this command of wit. Like Tilly, the many choices I have of things I could say flood my brain and swirl around with all the potential consequences of uttering each word. It is something which paralyzes me, and I am unable to keep up. To fight back. To maintain my footing.

While I admit this without reservation now, believe me, it’s not easy. And it wasn’t easy when I wrote myself into Tilly because, quite frankly, I wasn’t as starkly aware of this personality trait back then. I hadn’t explored it. I hadn’t explored the whys in my own life. This is a real and constant struggle for me, and to make Tilly authentic in the above situation, I had to do a deep-dive into myself to make her response to the fictional Uncle Doug authentic as well.

The age-old adage “write what you know” is revered for a reason. I would encourage my fellow writers to write what they know. If you are a writer, then write those little bits of yourself into your characters, because that’s how you make them real. It requires some often-uncomfortable digging to find out who you really are and why you do the things you do, but your authenticity will come shining through. And hey, as a bonus, it can be quite a therapeutic process. I now understand myself better for having written that piece of my personality into my character, Tilly Bright.

As Ernest Hemingway is quoted as saying, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

Should I write it? Do I dare? But it’s such a sensitive topic.

This, in a nutshell, was the essence of my mental grappling as I sat down to outline my current work in progress: The Haunting of Tess. After all, developing a main character to whom a sensitive issue is central requires a lot of work. To achieve an authentic representation of a disorder, tragedy, or state of differently-abledness (to name but a few sensitive topics), a writer needs to deep-dive and explore all the different facets. Then she needs to decide which parts she is going to pull out and apply to her character, and determine how these particular aspects will manifest themselves in what is (reality check) a fictional story.

That’s heavy stuff! The last thing I want to do is get it wrong. That would be a disservice to those whose lives are actually afflicted by whatever topic I choose. Or worse, I can’t risk being so accurate that my character is an inauthentic poster child for my chosen sensitive subject, thus becoming unrealistic and unrelatable.

I call to mind a conversation I once had with my mother. After reading a book (the name and author of which shall remain nameless; they’re not important) in which the main character had contact with a person diagnosed with Aspberger’s, Mom and I had a brief but illuminating exchange. As we chatted, it became clear that the character in her book had a long list of very classic characteristics… suspiciously long, actually. So many that, when I spoke of the real-life individuals I knew—and still know—who have received an official diagnosis, we both had a hard time connecting their real-life Aspberger’s with the categorized list of identifiers my mother’s fictional character displayed.

In reality, the individuals I know who live (and thrive!) with Aspberger’s are wonderfully unique. Sometimes you can’t even tell between an AS characteristic and a standard personality trait that anyone might display. For example, while Wikipedia says, “Physical clumsiness and unusual use of language are common,” one of my real-life examples is frustratingly clumsy but speaks in no unusual way, while the other is not at all clumsy but definitely enjoys wandering down the unusual language avenue… ad nauseam! One displays a classic lack of empathy and struggles to recognize it, while another recognizes it well and works hard to manage the trait, or remove herself from social situations when she cannot.

My point with this little sidebar thought is that any sensitive subject is never going to be perfectly “bang on.” As a writer, you are not going to be able to create a character so perfectly [insert sensitive topic here]-ish that there leaves no room for questioning of your interpretation by readers. And that’s okay. We still need to tackle these sensitive subjects because what good book doesn’t?

If I look at my reading list over the summer, each book explores a topic that is sensitive to someone, and that need to be handled with care. The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett delves into the levels of racism in the 1950s and 60s that exists within communities of colour against one another, while Call Me by Your Name by André Aciman explores the nuances of a teenaged boy falling in love with another man over the course of an Italian summer. Both authors have done their homework and internalized what it must be like to be their main characters. To feel what they feel and interpret how said sensitive subject affects their daily lives, their choices and their behaviours. And neither book tries to be the quintessential representation of the black experience in the 60s or the gay experience in the 80s. They are each but one story, one set of lives, out of millions of possible iterations.

Which brings me to my latest work in progress, The Haunting of Tess. I have stuck true to form and have decided to explore a flawed character to which a sensitive subject applies, even though I have no personal experience. To justify my approach, I point to a post in Writers’ Digest where author Jessica Verdi tells about writing her novel My Life After Now in which a teenage girl learns she is HIV positive as a direct result of her own actions. To write a realistic account of what her protagonist is going through, Verdi says she wasn’t so focused on the “message” of the book. Instead, she was focused on her character. She writes, “This one (fictional) girl’s journey is just that: one girl’s journey. Though people with HIV/AIDS certainly do have some shared experiences, their stories are ultimately all different. And so Lucy’s experience with HIV is only part of her story. She’s also a daughter, an ex-girlfriend, an enemy, a student, a teenager. Once I knew who she was as a person, the rest came easy.”

I find this very similar to what I’m doing with my character, Tess Radcliffe. Here is where I’m at: The topic I am tackling is brain injury and how a person’s life changes because of it. Tess doesn’t suffer from every symptom of head trauma, because if I were to write that, she would become a caricature, rather than a character. But one symptom I have focused on for Tess is that she has become… promiscuous.

Clearly, here is where I need to be sensitive. Here is the particular piece that I grappled the most with. This is not a titillating thrill thrown in with little sensitivity to those who suffer from this characteristic of head trauma in real life. And quite frankly, I didn’t choose to focus on this aspect of head trauma at random—it felt like something that needed to be in the story based on how my plot is unfolding. To make her promiscuity an authentic part of her experience, I’ve had to get inside Tess’s mind and explore what makes her so. Is it a lack of being able to identify consequence? An absence of inhibition? A reaction to the loss of things she once could do and now cannot? All of this has to play out in a realistic context that includes Tess’s own thoughts and feelings. I admit, for most of it I am guessing. I am extrapolating what I’m reading and researching, and I am applying it to one individual, as one possibility. But ultimately, it’s Tess’s journey, and I am writing it. Being sensitive to the topic of brain trauma means being empathetic to the person who is suffering with it first and foremost.

Tackling difficult subjects as a writer is something we all do. No one in life has never encountered their own difficult subject in some form or another. I think author Ellen Marie Wiseman says it best when she says in her post on Books By Women, that by writing difficult subjects, she wants to offer “hope that humans have the opportunity to grow and change, and the strength to survive almost anything.”

Well… I’ve chosen my sensitive topic and I’ll be damned if I’m not going to see it through. And I’m praying like mad that I get it right—for the sake of every person who has been affected by brain injury in real life.

It starts by staring at your blank page, or at your daily task list, or at your calendar with its inalterable deadline, and acknowledging that you have absolutely no motivation to dig in and git’er done. So to the Google you go, in search of listicles and how-tos and productivity hacks that you hope will turn you into a writing machine, even though you know (not-so-) deep-down that it’s all just procrastination. You read tip after trick after suggestion of all the things you should be doing, or could be doing, or that everyone else is doing to be a better, more productive, more successful writer. By the end of it, your work is no further along, and you’re left with a sinking understanding that you are unequivocally inferior to all the other writers out there who simply have “it” together as evidenced by all their expert advice.

I can’t be alone in feeling this way, can I? I am not the only writer who struggles with routine and habits and lack of mental energy. Surely there are others out there like me who can’t seem to write, write, write, write, write with laser focus All. The. F#$@ing. Time!

… … … [Veronica breathes; un-channels her inner Bruce Banner]

The plain truth is that, when I look at all the things which I’m supposed to be doing to be an effective writer, I feel pretty defeated. Write without distractions, they say. Block out time to sit and be productive (Yeah, but what happens when I have lots of time and no desire?). Don’t you know you should turn off the Internet? Set a routine, you NEED a routine (Clearly you don’t have kids). Avoid social media and your email. Do NOT edit as you go! Take frequent breaks, at least once every two hours for fifteen minutes (Two hours??? For Realz???!!). Make time for exercise (Blech!) and drink lots of water (Double blech!)—but neglect everything else except your writing (Um… wait, what?).

It’s all too much, and at the same time that I’m drowning in despair because I’m not being an effective writer with all these wonderful habits, I’m being no writer at all because I still can’t find the motivation to pound out the words no matter what advice I try to follow.

Let me tell you how my day’s gone so far:

  1. I identify a topic for this blog post at exactly ten-oh-one in the morning, after eating breakfast, browsing the news, doing my budget, and generally slouching in my bathrobe for an undisclosed amount of time.
  2. I stare at the clock on the microwave for about three minutes, feeling guilty that I am blogging and not working on my manuscript. Even though I know blogging is important. Even though I know that my manuscript is more important. Even though… huh. I never noticed my microwave clock digits were green. I wish they were blue.
  3. I write half of paragraph one. That’s enough, I give up.
  4. I get up and wash a pot from dinner last night. Those mashed potatoes have to be soaked enough by now that they’ll unstick. The fate of the free world depends on getting those mashed potatoes off the side of my pot. Or something like that…
  5. I sit back down and write the second half of paragraph one. Probably should. It’s just five sentences. I can do five sentences.
  6. Ugh… five sentences suck. I get up and stare at the window for a while because the thought of writing another word is extremely unappealing.
  7. Okay, ffffine! Let’s start on paragraph two.

I’ll save all and sundry the rest of this embarrassing display of procrastination at its finest. This blog post has taken me all day. And still I consider this an accomplishment, because there are times when a blog post takes me a whole week! But when I take to The Google to figure out how to get my butt moving on this whole writing thing, I just want to throw in the towel because I can’t do it the way They suggest I should.

I’m not gonna lie… it’s kinda demoralizing. And that is probably the opposite intention of every well-meaning article author trying to dispense helpful advice to his or her fellow authors on how to be more effective/productive/concise/successful.

Therefore… screw it. I’m not paying attention to one more listicle. I’ve had all the writing advice I can take. I’ve been doing this long enough that I know … well, not necessarily what works for me, but what definitely doesn’t.

I’m sure that listicles and how-tos and productivity hacks are great for beginners. But I’m not a beginner. I’ve been at this for a number of years now. Between my own novels and blog posts, and my freelance content writing, I really don’t need to rely on other writers to tell me how to write. I find that, in doing so, I end up trying to fit my square-peg self into the illusion of a round hole which the online “expert” culture of http://www.ultimatewritingadvice.come-on/eyeroll encourages. And consider this: all those articles out there, cobbled together from tips and tricks and hacks and suggestions, is usually a curation of many different writers’ one best trick. That’s many different working styles, personalities, and habits formed over a lifetime of successes and stumbles put into posts of one thousand words or less for what you – one single freaking writer – should be doing.

So for anyone that’s reading this, let it be known that my own personal takeaway from today’s introspective exercise in procrastuctivity (read: rant) is this: the only certainty to being a productive writer, meaning a writer who produces something, is that the only thing I need to do is keep coming back. Come back for big chunks of time, for little chunks, even for micro-chunks. What works for me one day may not the next. Shunning distraction may be counterproductive, if the alternative is sitting at my computer, staring at a blank page. Taking frequent small breaks from writing to attend to life may be less effective than taking frequent small breaks from life to attend to writing.

To all my writing friends out there who, like me, indulge in moments of self-doubt where you aren’t sure if you’re “doing it right,” I say: don’t let yourself become overwhelmed by all that writing advice. You go ahead and do You, whatever You is. There is nothing overwhelming about that. In the meantime, I’ll do Me. And Me today included not following any kind of routine, Chiving sloth memes, a battle with last night’s mashed potatoes, and in between all that and more… sitting down for VERY short periods of time to slog a few words out. And then a few more. And then a few more. And hey… look at that… I’ve got a blog post! Day well spent.

Veronica out. There’s a squirrel outside that needs to be stared at.

It resides permanently in my basement, in a ten-by-ten nook parcelled out of the main floor plan behind the garage. It is squat, square and black. It is my new favourite thing on these cold, rainy spring nights. It is… my wood stove.

My actual stove. I call her Delilah.

Two years ago, I bought a fixer-upper that I was going to love and nurture and restore to its original beauty. I even blogged about it in a post called My Little Fixer-Upper. Built in 1976, my home has many of those features which were popular in this bygone era. Shag carpet, avocado green door handles, harvest yellow pendant lamp and matching harvest yellow walls. Most of these 70s-era features are happily gone, but there is one that remains: the wood stove.

Why I have not indulged in its delicious warmth and tranquility before now, I know not. I’m an outdoorsy kind of girl. I love to camp and I love to spend time in nature. The scent of wood smoke is like the primal beckoning of the potent pheromone to this writer’s olfactory delight. This might lead one to think that I would have been bundled in the basement from day one, enjoying a cheerful little blaze all my own night after night. Especially when one considers that, having previously lived in a new build house, in a community where new builds are swiftly outnumbering the older homes of generations past, I had been deprived of my beloved wood fire for many long years.

I may have been slow to fall in love with my wood stove, but I’ve fallen in love now, and that’s what matters.

Today I spend evenings in front of my wood stove, reading. I am bundled beneath a cozy blanket, accompanied often by my favourite lady friend, the full-bodied Ms. Cab Sauv. Oh, the bliss. Chapter upon chapter slips away as I sink into a state of quiet joy. When I am in front of my wood stove, the world can disappear. Just for a moment. Just for a few hours. The rest of the house is in dinner-induced disarray but that doesn’t matter. The kids are upstairs bickering over a board game, and I couldn’t care less—let The Hubby deal with them. I am at peace.

(There is a global pandemic raging just outside my door which has caused unimaginable suffering, fear and grief. For a few blissful hours, I can put that aside and ground myself in the flickering orange flames of my wood stove. It will all still be there tomorrow. But for now, for a short time, I am released.)

When I have spent an evening in front of my wood stove, and I am left with nothing but glowing red embers, I know it has been time well spent. Those embers, gently throbbing as they, like I, slip into slumber beneath the blanket of night, are the proof that life is precious. These are the small, seemingly inconsequential but oh-so-vital things that make us human.  

Those embers glow like my soul after an evening spent reading in front of my wood stove.

It has been a strange night here at Casa Bale. Following recommended Federal guidelines for self-isolation due to the Covid-19 Crisis (willingly and without complaint, mind), my special someone and I have found ourselves inside and without the kiddies for the night. Without the kiddies and with no options for a fancy meal out means a home-cooked Sous Vide steak dinner and a bottle of Shiraz. Now, with tummy lusciously full and Rage Against the Machine playing in the background … dinner music, according to the Special Someone … I’ve taken to my computer to fill in the hour or two while we procrastinate over whether to stream Tiger King on Netflix or Westworld on Crave. I had intentions of working on my next novel (The Haunting of Tess), but somehow … I have no idea how … I navigated over to the completed manuscript for my 2018 release, Shadow.

I promise, this is no shameless plug. In procrastinating on writing while I was procrastinating on picking something to stream, I revisited the note I wrote to my readers at the end of Shadow, which outlined where inspiration for this story came from. Admittedly I am more than half a bottle into my red wine, so I beg forgiveness for being slightly more nostalgic than I might otherwise be under more typical circumstances. Nevertheless, nostalgic is what I am at the moment, and so being, I very much want to share on my blog what I wrote at the end of Shadow.

So without further ado, I will post my A Note from Veronica, and venture off to the living room sofa to stream… ah, what the hell, Call the Midwife it is!

A Note from Veronica…

Hello, my very dear readers. I would like to thank you for coming on this journey with me. It is a journey that has been ten years in the making. I started writing what has become Shadow a decade ago but put it aside for other storylines and other characters. Two years ago, shortly after the release of The Ghosts of Tullybrae House, I decided it was time to pick Tilly and Ciaran’s story back up and see what I could make of it.

This is a special story to me. While the plot is fiction, the house is very real. Or it was at one point. When I was a teenager, my friends and I used to drive the farm roads on the outskirts of my hometown of Scarborough, Ontario. They are as I described in the novel: isolated, overgrown, poorly paved and vandalized by graffiti. But there is something achingly beautiful about them. They are the fading memory of times past. If you’re from Scarborough, or know of the area, then you’ll know the landmarks I’ve included in the story (the Old Finch Bridge, the Rouge River, etc.).

One evening a friend and I were out driving when we decided to park my mom’s van, get out, and walk. Just to see what we could see. We came across a driveway with two concrete pillars and a chain strung between them. Curious, we followed the overgrown dirt path through a canopy of green trees, not expecting to find anything but empty fields on the other side.

What we hadn’t seen from the street was an abandoned, red-brick Victorian farmhouse. The fields behind it were lush with corn, so obviously the property was still in use for farming purposes. But the house had been forgotten. Left. Just like Halloran farm, there was a sagging porch, a doghouse, a well-kept barn, broken windows and other evidence of vandalism. Off the porch there was a broken window, and we had to climb gingerly through to avoid being cut by a jagged piece of glass.

Inside there were more features which I’ve reconstructed for Halloran farm. There really was a hole in the floor, though it wasn’t in the kitchen. It was in a back hallway that led to a bathroom. The living room really was laid with pink shag carpet and there really was a rusted baby gate leaning up against a wall. There was even a wasp’s nest. Unfortunately, in my head I am having trouble reliably piecing together the fragmented memories, the images of what I saw with how, in actuality, they were laid out. There were, for example, two staircases. One was off the living room and went up to a single bedroom. The other was behind the kitchen, and I don’t know what was at the top because I didn’t dare try to climb them (my overactive imagination had, quite quickly, kicked in). There was a laundry room off a side entrance just before the kitchen, and there was a back extension that had been added on at some point in the house’s history. I’ve managed to create something that brings, in my mind, the house back to a close approximation of itself, but I am sad to say there are many gaps I had to fabricate.

Now, I obviously don’t condone trespassing as a general rule. I was only a teenager at the time and did (I’m chagrined to admit it) have a touch of that entitlement I wrote of the teenagers in the book. But we left without damaging a thing and were in quiet awe of what we’d seen the whole way home.

That abandoned Victorian farmhouse has haunted me for almost twenty years. It will continue to haunt me, but unfortunately, I can never visit it again. A few years ago, I drove past on a whim and discovered that it had been torn down. A century of lives, a century of memories, a century of happy times and sad times and whatever other times might have been had there… gone.

But, in my own small way, I’ve given that quiet, beautiful home a bit of immortality. At least I like to think I have. After all, isn’t that what we as writers are meant to do?

Love, Veronica.

Netflix Paralysis. That’s what I’m calling it. It is a state of existence in which there is simply too much to watch on my streaming subscriptions that I become overwhelmed with, and therefore paralyzed by choice. It’s not just The Big Bad N that’s perpetuating the cycle. It’s Crave. It’s Amazon Prime. It’s YouTube. And hell, on a bad day it’s even my news apps. I scan selected movies (series, clips, vines, what-have-yous), unable to commit to one. When I do finally commit, I’m shutting it down within minutes because it hasn’t immediately mesmerized me, and there’s too much other stuff to watch… that really should be Stuff—capitalized. I don’t ever remember a time in my life when I encountered this dilemma before, but here we are.

Happily, I was recently reunited with that elusive sense of commitment. I saw a title, I clicked on it, I stayed the course from opening to closing credits. What was this miracle film that captured my undivided attention, you might ask? (Or maybe probably not, but it fits well and it amuses me, so I’m keeping it.) It was Florence Foster Jenkins starting Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant.

The film is a biographical comedy-drama about a New York heiress known for her terrible operatic singing. In The Book of Heroic Failures, author Stephen Pile said she was “the world’s worst opera singer … No one, before or since, has succeeded in liberating themselves quite so completely from the shackles of musical notation.” Despite her complete lack of talent, and self-awareness at the lack (or maybe because of it), she became a cult sensation whose loyal friends and fans held her in esteemed affection, regularly lending timely coughs and raucous applause to performances in order to drown out unsympathetic patrons who came to mock the poor, clueless lady. Of course, there is debate about how clueless “Lady Jenkins,” as she called herself, really was, for she took obvious measures to insulate herself from criticism. Her ineptitude, and failure to realize/acknowledge it, may also have had much to do with nerve damage caused by syphilis, an infection bestowed upon her as a gift by her first husband on their wedding night.

Indeed, Florence Foster Jenkins was somewhat pathetic—by that I mean in terms of the quality of pathos, rather than the colloquial label we use disparagingly in modern speech. In the hands of a lesser talent, Florence the character could easily have been made a mockery for cinematic entertainment just like Florence the woman was by her contemporaries (gawd, can you imagine what someone like Lindsay Lohan would do with the role? No offense to LiLo fans, of course). It takes a sincere kind of sensitivity to step into a role like Florence Foster Jenkins, to truly become her in all her luminosity and vulnerability. To make us laugh at her ridiculousness while at the same time making us want to clobber anyone else who laughs. To find and embrace all of the human fragility that made her lovable to audiences then, and transcend time so that she is as lovable to audiences now.

But here’s the best part: It was only after the movie ended that this revelation came to me, because watching Meryl Streep effortlessly portray the beautifully flawed socialite was seamless. There on my television screen, streamed from Netflix’s ever-growing curation of content, was Florence Foster Jenkins. And herein lies the brilliance of my post-Jenkins lightbulb moment: Streep’s performance had to have been anything but effortless. Nobody could have pulled off that kind of heartfelt performance without a considerable amount of thought, study and practice. To bring the essence of Florence to life with just the right intonation on a word here, or just the right toss of the head there. And really, can the same not be said of pretty much all of Meryl Streep’s performances? From The Devil Wears Prada to Sophie’s Choice, from Julie and Julia to Kramer vs. Kramer. Even in critical flops like Death Becomes Her, her acting makes you forget that she’s acting.

Now damn, that’s talent. It’s a talent that stands head and shoulders, knees and toes above the mass influx of Stuff that is the cause of my Netflix paralysis.  

Before I forget, I’d like to extend a hat tip to Simon Helberg. His comedic timing and thoughtful delivery as Howard Wolowitz on The Big Bang Theory have always struck me as coming from the same kind of effortless talent that is anything but effortless. In Florence Foster Jenkins, as the mortified pianist Cosme McMoon, Wolowizard proves he is more than just a one-trick MIT grad whose claim to fame is inextricably attached to moments like the Wolowitz Zero-Gravity Waste Disposal System. Kudos, sir!

Florence Foster Jenkins made me laugh, it made me cry. It released me from my streaming-related funk for two beautiful hours. Unfortunately, it hasn’t cured my Netflix Paralysis, because the pressing question will always be… what next? But for now, it was nice to stretch my legs and rediscover an emotional response, one that is quintessentially human, to watching a really damn good movie.

Thanks, Meryl.

My quieter, more introspective moments seem to be fewer and farther between these days. Whether this is because I have grown less introspective over the years, or because I have less free minutes with which to be introspective, I’d prefer not to think about. I’d prefer simply to accept that it is, and to appreciate that I am still introspective on occasion. In these quiet moments I find myself reflecting on the passage of Time.

I am like many people, I expect. I do not imagine myself to be unique in my looking wistfully upon the past. Anything may inspire that inward reflection. The bare branches outside my living room window, so like the street where I grew up when the trees were younger, less prominent, less shade-giving. Less devastatingly beautiful than they were the last time I drove away from that house, with its sold sign flapping gently in the August breeze. Or biting into a leftover piece of post-Christmas, booze-soaked fruitcake at the back of my fridge, and getting one of those unpalatable glazed cherries stuck in my molars. My nana used those same plasticky cherries to top her shortbread cookies. Somehow, they were made magical by her knotted, paper-thin hands.

Time is something we do not feel passing. Not until it is gone. We cannot appreciate Time’s importance until we find ourselves wishing it back.

Today the fires of my rare, introspective mood were stoked by a social media notification. “Veronica, you’ve been tagged in a post!” A click of my cursor led me to Facebook where, staring back at me, was my own face, twenty-odd years younger, with the younger faces of my high school friends.

Time… I’d forgotten that you were mistress of my youth. That you’d silently slipped away and taken my childhood with it. Crikey, was I ever that young? Did I know at that time how garish my Sun-In hair looked? Why did I get rid of those Doc Martins with the sparkly purple laces that I rocked hard in my uniform kilt? Why, Time, did I let you steal away my measurably slimmer waistline?

Yet for all the lamenting of things gone, there was just as much fond recollection for things treasured. My Oakley sunglasses, a staple accessory atop my naïve little head. Joanna’s henna-coloured locks. Kim’s wicked-hot goth makeup. Jenn’s effervescent spirit. Sarah’s… Well, jeez. Sarah still looks exactly the same, teenaged complexion, enviably slim waistline and all.

What I am struck by most is the evidence of Time in these photographs. It’s there. I can see it. We thought we had it in limitless stretches. And we did… then. Children and obligation and education and bills were but a distant glimmer of prospect. We had promise. Ambition. Zest. There was still Time to be anything, do anything. We had choice, we had options. We had a soft place to land if our choices didn’t work out. And we had more Time to make it right again. I see this all in our coy smiles, our exuberant poses, our freshness. I see it all staring back at me through my computer screen.

Time. It causes an unimaginable ache when you realize it has left you. But it is an ache for which I am grateful. No matter how much Time has passed, we are, in these photographs, forever young. And that’s one thing Time can’t take away.

After nearly two years and much (much much much much MUCH) toil, I am thrilled to announce that my latest novel, The Other Side of Dawn, is now available to purchase. Click on the cover image below to find it on

Hugs for now,


The hills of the Scottish Highlands are as magical as they are majestic. For Casey Becker, whose life has been left in pieces after a personal tragedy, she hopes that escaping to those majestic hills will take her away from the burden of her memories. But the magic of the Highlands is mysterious, and the hills hold many secrets – the most intriguing of which is Rory Hawthorn.

In the village of Drumnadrochit, where Casey is staying with her aunt and uncle, no one knows much about the drifter named Rory. He turned up a few years ago, and has been an occasional presence ever since. Casey is fascinated by Rory. Who is he, and where did he come from?

The more she learns about the mysterious Rory Hawthorn, the more Casey believes that his secrets are inextricably tied to the magic of the Highlands. If she uncovers what they are, she may uncover the answer to a long-buried secret about herself. Will she have the courage to face it when she does?

THE OTHER SIDE OF DAWN now available. Click HERE to purchase.

I have never read the “How To Be A Good Mother” handbook. If I had, I am sure I would not have committed so many #MomFails in my son’s eleven years. For instance, I might have read in the DOs and DON’Ts section of the Terrible Twos chapter that no matter how frazzled you are after a long workday, a long commute, subsubsub-zero January temperatures and an overcrowded daycare hallway at the crush of Pickup Time (like rush hour, only with goop-nosed toddlers in snowsuits), you should probably make sure your own goop-nosed spawn is wearing boots before you wrestle him out the door. 

But even though I have never read it, I am fairly confident the handbook does not have a section on how to diplomatically handle the situation when your child is passionate about something, but has absolutely squat in the corresponding talent department. There is nothing, I am sure, on what to do when no matter how much they do “It,” how hard they work at “It,” they just don’t have it, and never will. 

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