Veronica Bale

AND HER LITTLE WRITING LIFE

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 Amazon.com.

Hugs for now,
V.

WHAT IF DREAMS ARE THE DOOR?

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. 

Continue reading

I love art… in theory. I mean, I’m not up on my current rock stars of the art world or anything, but I appreciate the talent and vision that artists have. I can look at a painting and consider what the artist was trying to convey. I can stand before a sculpture and infuse its intended meaning with my own interpretation and insight. An art gallery is, for me, a place of introspection as much as it is a place of culture and the human experience.

This past month, I had the rare opportunity to attend a fundraising event for one of our local art galleries. Station Gallery in Whitby, Ontario is free to the public. It seeks to exhibit emerging Canadian artists along with the aforementioned rock stars of the art world. At a time in my province’s history where sweeping and hard-hitting cuts are being made to arts and education – and particularly arts education – in the public school system by a recently elected government seeking to establish conservative reform, Station Gallery offers off-site and onsite programs to those cash-strapped and under-supported teachers that still want to provide a comprehensive arts education to their students. Continue reading

So there it is. My latest novel is now officially published. The object of my toil for the past two years, the subject of my love-hate relationship, the beast I’ve dreamed about, stressed over, doubted and loved like a proud parent… it’s out there. It’s on its own. Fly, my little bird, take wings and soar.

Shameless plug: Shadow, from the author of the best-selling The Ghosts of Tullybrae House, now available on Amazon. Click on the book title to view online.

Tee hee… okay, I promise I won’t do that anymore. I actually do have something to write about today.

I know have a lot of work ahead of me. I’ve been at this writing thing for a while now and I am not so green that I expect the masses to come flocking just because the Publish button has been pressed. From here on it is legwork, legwork, legwork. Yet I find myself staring into a void. It is the emptiness that fills into the space between an abrupt switching of gears. Mad writing, copy editing, line editing, rewriting, beta testing… they’re all done. And now I’m left feeling like my mind is a bicycle – I’ve stopped pumping the pedals and now the tires are left spinning on their own.

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It’s disorienting, that sudden disconnection from having a manuscript to work on.

This past weekend was the Canada Day long weekend, and I was fortunate enough to be able to escape the city for some quiet cottage time. I could have brought my laptop, I could have spent my three days of tranquility on the porch outlining my next project or working with my publicist on my marketing plan. I chose not to. I ditched the laptop and decided I was not going to do a lick of work the whole time. Veronica’s brain was officially closed.

Except that it wasn’t…

No, nonono definitely it wasn’t. “Silly Veronica,” says Veronica’s brain. “You really thought you could turn me off?”

All weekend I worked at rediscovering the small pleasures of life. I say work deliberately because, at first, it really was. It was effort to not pick up my phone, a chore to keep my mind off my next story line. But somehow I found my rhythm. I began enjoying the cool sensation of lake water on my skin and the sharp peal of screams and laughter as the kids swam and played and dived off the back of the boat. I basked in the fragrance of my frumpy clothes which, very quickly, began to smell of sunscreen, bug spray and campfire smoke. And I listened to other people’s easy chatter – like, really listened, not my pretend version of listening where my mind is actually miles away, plotting out someone else’s story.

In short, it was bliss. Sheer bliss. I’ve forgotten what that was like.

That was when my brain got its say. It waited until I was off my guard to sneak back in and take over. It had never been shut down, it turns out. Quite the opposite – it was on the back burner, simmering quietly, waiting to be forgotten about.

Here’s what happened. It was at the campfire on my second night that I became lost in thought. Everyone had gone to bed except for me, Uncle Bill and Pete. The men, having enjoyed their celebratory libations quite liberally, had happily lapsed into a discussion on the key to happiness in life. Listening with half an ear, my mind (all by itself, that sneaky beggar) wandered away and began considering what other ways one might describe a campfire. I mean, we all know the oft used cliches: the flames are dancing, or they’re licking, or they’re engulfing, or something equally meaningless. But I wondered, how could a log fire be looked at in a different way that would make a new and fresh description?

Well, wouldn’t you know? The more I stared, the more I realized a campfire looks like a reverse waterfall. It is as if the log is the river’s rock ledge, and the fire is pouring over it from underneath and splashing onto invisible rocks upside down. It was like the devil’s waterfall, I thought, and wouldn’t it be so cool if I could use that somehow in my writing…

Ah! Silly me. There I go again. Okay, brain. You sly wee thing, I see what you did there. You caught me unawares and managed to play on my creativity when I was least expecting it.

But I’m glad you did. I’m glad that I took a break from writing, glad that I found my way back to relaxing and enjoying without thinking. I’d been so wrapped up in my own fictional work for so long that I forgot to just be creative for the sake of it. Just for the fun of it, for the pleasure of seeing things on different ways.

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It was a bit of a humbling lesson to learn, since I pride myself on my work ethic. But I have been thoroughly reminded that balance is as much a part of success as hard work is. I’m going to take a bit more of a break, I think. To see what else my sly brain has up there to share with me.

Once we are refreshed, we’ll be back at it, dreaming up new dreams together.

 

I am finally, FINALLY moving on my latest WIP. The end is in sight… I hope.

For now, I am happy to share with you all the masterpiece that my favourite cover artist, Viola Estrella of Estrella Cover Art, created just for me. Her talent and intuition never cease to amaze me. She sends me over the file and says, “Is this okay?”

I mean, seriously… as if I have ever had any response other than: “OMG, you’re brilliant! Don’t change a thing!”

So, without further ado… Shadow, meet world. World, meet Shadow!

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COMPASSION. REDEMPTION. IF SHE CAN FIND ONE, SHE CAN DELIVER THE OTHER.

Halloran Farm—a lonely plot of land and an abandoned Victorian farmhouse. Nearly a century ago it was the site of a gruesome murder which, to this day, resonates within its decaying walls.

 

Tilly Bright is a girl with an extraordinary gift, one which she never wanted and which she has spent a lifetime trying to suppress. At twelve years old Tilly vowed she would never again set foot in her grandmother’s farmhouse. Never again would she allow her sensitive mind to be attacked and manipulated by the vengeful, hate-filled spirit that inhabits it. He is called The Shadow. Nothing remains of his humanity except for the rage that consumes him over his long-ago death.

 

Upon her grandmother’s passing, however, Tilly has no choice—she must go back. Halloran Farm is now hers, as is a significant inheritance which is meant to help her restore the crumbling Victorian to its former beauty. It is what Gram wanted. And Tilly is no longer a frightened child unable to cope with a gift she does not understand. To fulfill Gram’s wishes, she will have to find within herself the strength to confront The Shadow. When she does, she will have to reconsider everything she thought she knew about her gift, about the dead, and about The Shadow himself.

 

Even the most hateful spirits deserve compassion. For through it, they may find their way to redemption.

Fixer UpperI have bought a house. Such a small paragraph for such a profound, life-altering responsibility, isn’t it? Home ownership takes many forms and has many motivators. For me, it’s all about the fixer upper.

Here is where my head was at when I started this process. I was going to find a place that needed me, and I was going to make it my own. All it would need was a little love, a little patience and a little TLC. Me and my home were going to travel on a journey together. I would do the updates, and it would allow me the opportunity to build my (currently non-existent) home improvement skills. In my DIY Utopia, my little house would be an oasis of craftsmanship, and I would be the next Nicole Curtis… complete with bad-ass tool belt and smoking hot body.

Nicole Curtis

Well, step one: Check. I’ve bought myself a beauty of a fixer-upper. Built in 1976, my little raised bungalow has a liveable layout, a good-sized yard, no major structural urgencies, and a swimming pool for my wee man and his friends. And hey, some of the original features are even charming. The yellowing pendant hanging lamp in the foyer, the avocado door handles with the sunburst pattern on the face, the brass door chimes with plastic mount that looks kind of like wood if you squint and don’t look directly at it…

Ah, the joys of nostalgia. Or at least that’s what I told myself when I signed the papers. Continue reading

clock-alarm-chain-flowers-natureROUTINE. That was going to be my goal for 2018. It was going to be my mantra. My raison d’etre. 2018 was going to be a year of order and structure, of productivity and of set times for set activities. After a year of upheaval and personal trauma in which I couldn’t seem to get my shit together, I was finally going to get my life back on track!

It is now halfway through March, and I remain routineless. I am still in a constant state of catch-up, and for every one item I knock off my to-do list, it seems like another one of those suckers jumps on and brings a friend or two. And unfortunately, I have this annoying little personality trait: I am unfailingly hard on myself. I set expectations for my time and my day, and if I fail to live up to them, then I am failing personally. You can imagine that, with no routine in sight, this is exactly how I’ve been feeling for most of 2018: I’m an utter and complete failure!

Okay, reality check. My inner perfectionist is not actually that much of a drama queen. But you get the idea of what’s been going on in my head. Continue reading