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A Date With . . . Kim McDougall

My ‘date’ today is with a multi-talented woman from the York Region of Ontario, Canada. Kim McDougall started off in Montreal, then moved to Ontario, then Long Island, NY. Next was Pennsylvania, and then back to Ontario.

“And I’m glad to be back. York Region is a cultural hub. There is always something going on – festivals, concerts, fairs. I love that. The only thing I dislike about this area is the snow. That was hard to come back to.”

I was curious about a gap in her publishing history. It turns out this was to do with parenthood:

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“My daughter was born in 2000. I thought I could write and take care of a toddler at the same time. That didn’t work out so well. I kept writing during this time, but I didn’t attempt to publish much. This was when I developed my love of picture books. We read so many, and a few stuck with me. My first picture book, Rainbow Sheep, came out of a story my daughter and I made up at bedtime. She asked me to tell it to her over and over again (the way kids do), until I finally decided to write it down.”

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Kim has also written non-fiction, sharing her knowledge of fibre art, writing and marketing. I asked which, in terms of personal satisfaction, she found most rewarding.

513wpwtw6gl-_sy346_“My current non-fiction book, Revise to Write, has been one of my most rewarding writing journeys. It is a guide to self-editing for novel writers. It came about because this was something I struggled with over several manuscripts. I researched the topic and found little real help in existing books. Revision became my topic of choice whenever I went to writers’ conferences and I was fascinated by other authors’ editing routines. Eventually, I developed a routine of my own and it has markedly improved my writing. I wanted to share that experience with my local writing group (the Writers’ Community of York Region), and I did a presentation on the topic.

I like to give cheat-sheets at my presentations, but this cheat-sheet kept growing and growing, until it became a book.

One that I am very proud of. In fact, I will be teaching a class based on this book next year. And that is the really fun part. Writing is a solitary endeavor. So I like to be part of a community.”

We talked about how the places in which she has lived inspired the settings for her fiction – Kim’s most recent work is a series of novels about a secret coven hidden away in the hills of Pennsylvania.

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517jh2bzx-il-_sy346_“I’ve never been a fan of the ‘write what you know’ philosophy, except when it comes to settings. Many of my stories take place in Montreal or Nice, France (where I spent my first year of college). When I wanted a small U.S. town, I had the pick of memories from all the little towns surrounding Allentown, PA. Though my story takes place in an imaginary town called Ashlet, it is based on the beautiful, rugged terrain of this area.51o-eoeaall-_sy346_

I find memories of places I know are best at evoking the moods I’m looking for in my fiction.

This part of PA, with the hills, forests and streams, was exactly the right spot to hide an entire coven.”

How does someone with such a varied and busy lifestyle fit it all in?

“I have to budget my time wisely because I wear a lot of hats. I try to write in the mornings because this is when my muse is the freshest. I do book design and promo videos through my business, Castelane, and I work on these every afternoon. I also love doing craft fairs. I illustrated Rainbow Sheep with fibre art and I make little needle-felted critters to go along with it. This is my busy holiday fair season and I have at least one every weekend until Christmas. Then, as the program coordinator for the Writers’ Community of York Region, I spend much of my free time organizing guest speakers and events. I am pleased to say that we are hosting our first one-day writers’ conference next October. This is a new project that I will have to fit into my schedule.”

Kim ends this section of our conversation: “Phew. Just looking at all that stuff makes me a little dizzy.” Words which I can only echo in admiration.

When I ask Kim to describe her favourite writing space, she tells me she shares it with two cats:

2003006f0df80e37a14b4113921eef1eea1abc5f63a610“Mostly I write in my office. It’s small, but bright. I have two cat beds on either end of my desk that are usually filled with sleeping cats.

The formality of sitting at a desk, rather than curled up in a chair, seems to kick my creative brain into gear.

I never listen to music when I write. I like silence. And a lot of coffee. I usually only write for 2 hours a day. But on a good day I can get out 1500 words during that time.”

Among her many favourite authors, Kim singles out two:

“Ilona Andrews is my paranormal bar of excellence. She (they, actually. It’s a husband and wife team.) write the kind of fiction I aspire to. Neil Gaiman is another. He inspires me for the way he uses such simple language to convey really complex emotions. I would love to sit around a campfire with all these writers and swap stories. I can’t think of anything more fun.”

Outside of writing and all her other creative activities, Kim enjoys most of the things we all love to do when time permits:

“I love to see shows, musicals, plays, whatever. I don’t do it that often, but for special occasions that would be my choice. I also love to be outside (in the summer). My favourite memories are on the water or camping. Even just a hike in the woods recharges me.”

I always end by asking my dates to reveal something about themselves that might surprise their readers. Her reply tells me that she is very like me in at least one respect – and I suspect it is something that would apply to most writers:

2003001403b8bcc4c29f4bd43dcd6c6cc7dae491919b1b“Until they get to know me well, most people don’t realize that I’m an introvert. I’m not shy. I can get up in front of hundreds of people to give a presentation (and actually enjoy it). But mostly, I prefer to be alone or with my family. I would rather spend time in a barn with the horses than at a mall.

Parties, shopping and concerts are among my least favorite things to do.

Which might seem odd, since I like craft fairs. But I like being on the other side of the table at the fairs. I meet people and get to chat, but I don’t have to deal with the crowds. Thankfully, writing and working from home are the ideal businesses for an introvert.”

I certainly enjoyed discovering so much about another independent author and I hope you did, too. Here is where you can find out more about the 3 strands of her professional life:

Paranormal fiction by Kim McDougall

Children’s fiction by Kim Chatel

Book Designs and promo videos

Ornate: Another Prompt Response

I have been subscribing to The Writing Reader’s daily prompts for quite a while now. I tweet them regularly. This is the first time I have used one as the starting point for a piece of my own writing.

Ornate. Ornate and inviting. The oxidation of the copper plate and the heads of the rivets securing it to the body of the door. The bolt that can be slid back from the outside thanks to the elaborately carved pull-ring. And the key left in the keyhole so that it can easily be turned from outside by any half competent lock-pick.

Temptation. Do I enter at once, or stop and study the intricacies of the exterior? Wonder about the person who created it? What was his life like all those years ago? Centuries, even? And it was a ‘he’. Back then women knew their place. But, by the same logic, it was surely a woman who commissioned the construction of this door with its pretense at security. Was the carpenter-locksmith she employed aware of the purpose for which his craftsmanship was purchased? Did she pay with her husband’s money or by some other means? Either way, it is clear that she was betraying his trust.

Who was the suitor for whom the door’s lack of security was intended? Did her husband discover the truth of her barely concealed subterfuge? Did he challenge her lover to a duel? What weapons did these rivals for milady’s favors choose? Foils? Or pistols at dawn? Which of them died? Which claimed her for his own? Was it the one she would have chosen?

So many questions and I haven’t begun to consider what lies beyond the door. A prison cell? A boudoir? A larder, full of oriental spices and dried fruits from distant lands?

I stoop, insert the bent wire into the keyhole. The key is, after all, not easy to turn. Years of neglect, the same passage of time that has allowed the formation of verdigris on the copper escutcheon has caused the lock to stiffen like the rheumatic joints of an old man. I withdraw the bent wire. From my toolbox I take a can of lubricant. The interior of the can is pressurized and the nozzle has a long thin plastic tube attached. I insert the tube into the keyhole and press the red button releasing a jet of lubricant into the mechanism.

I wait for the magic fluid to do its work. To dissolve the cobwebs, disperse the damp and rust, flush away the dust. Minutes pass. I turn to my right and inspect the hinges. They, too, will benefit from a short burst of magic from the end of that translucent tube.

Once more I turn my attention to the lock. This time the key responds to the pressure of my bent wire and moves jerkily, gratingly. I grasp the pull-ring, marveling at the feel of those intricate carvings. The bolt moves easily. Now I push. Gently at first then with increased pressure, my shoulder thrusting the door forward, grinding ancient timber against even older stone. I am greeted by a pungency of odors, mold, rotting timber, decaying drapes. My eyes adjust to the dim light. At first I am transfixed. Unable to believe what I am seeing. Seconds pass as my mind grapples with the reality of what my eyes perceive. Then I am running. Are those screams coming from my throat or just in my head?

Intrigued? Now read part 2