The Thrill of ThrillerFest

This is me sitting in the ballroom. Moments before the organizers invited us to stand and line-up for PitchFest, an opportunity to speak with agents about our projects. By we, I mean what looked like three hundred other writers. And by we, I also mean myself and two others chatting nervously at a table in a far corner of the room. A kind man with tired eyes and a southern accent, and a petite curly-haired woman who says she has been here before, and to ‘bring it on’, both sat across from me. He says he’s not ready, but this is only practice for him. He also tells us he drove all night to get here, which is why he looks so dang tired.  

We chat about our manuscripts, giving words of support to one another after some idle chit-chat. Tired southerner says we are the cool kids because we are sitting calmly, hanging back. The only table still sitting down, as everyone else lined up at the door waiting to be released, despite being asked to remain seated. I’m not sure if we were cool or frozen in place, but I was just focusing on breathing, and grateful for their company.  

This terrifying few minutes of my life shared with some lovely strangers was a long time in the making. I wrote a book! I was over the moon to have completed such a long and painful project. Literally painful. I wrote the rough draft as non-fiction as this book is based on true events in my life. This book lived in my head for ten years, was in progress for three, and was just returned to me from my amazing editor Michelle Barker, a week and a half before this ballroom moment.

When I stumbled across ThrillerFest online, it seemed like a pipe dream, but so did completing my novel. When I booked it, it became real, and fast. I had five months to finish my manuscript. I wrote another draft, did two developmental edits, (including a substantial rewrite) and had a final line edit until it was done.  

I spent the last two weeks prepping a query letter, my pitch, my horrible ‘long’ synopsis (the synopsis isn’t horrible, but writing one sure is).  

Also, in the weeks leading up to Thrillerfest, I ran a weeklong writers’ conference for the Federation of BC Writers on a much smaller scale than the one I was about to embark on. I was exhausted, but finally ready.

I packed my bags in ‘small town BC’, kissed my family goodbye and flew off to New York.

Two of my oldest and dearest friends joined me on the second leg of the trip, and I was excited to see and do touristy things with them. The plan was to attend two days of the conference, pitch my heart out and then celebrate, regardless of the outcome. I wrote a book! Whether or not the world will like it, who knows, but I did it.  

The first day we were tired and took it easy on a three-hour boat cruise around manhattan. The cruise was a great way to orient ourselves to the city, all while sitting on our duff and sipping prosecco. We didn’t expect the 36 degree weather, but still had a wonderful time. What I wasn’t ready for was waking up at 4am my time the next morning.

It wasn’t pretty, but I managed. From the moment I walked anxiously and tiredly into that first session, I was surrounded by positive, excited, friendly people from all over the United States, Canada, and even one lovely woman who flew from Sri Lanka to learn and to meet her idol, RL Stine. I met him too, and though it was way outside of my comfort zone, I asked him for a selfie (nerd alert) to show my kids.

I drank way too much coffee, all while experiencing the soft sway of the boat from the day before. I have attended many conferences, sessions about writing, and have hosted several, but there is something extra delicious when it’s your genre. It was a blast spending two days talking about writing murder and mayhem with others who love it as much as you do.

Day one, I had booked a consultation with an agent and she asked me to send her five chapters – this was an exciting start. After a full day of rapid fire learning by some of the thriller greats it was time for some good eats at Nobu 57. I met my friends there, and it wasn’t far, so I walked. This was great on the way there, but not in the freak thunderstorm on the way back.

A quick dinner with the gals turned into 4 hours. Thank goodness dinner started at six. I had to cram. I had another half day of sessions and some agents to prepare for. My pitch was ‘okay’, but not memorized, and my nerves had a way of messing things up for me. As a child, I vomited every time I was anxious, and even thinking about it, I felt close.

I went back to the hotel room and studied. After an hour of staring blankly at my paperwork, the lychee martini, toban yaki beef, and jet lag caught up to me, knocking me out. Thank goodness I had set a psychotic amount of alarms in my phone, in the room and with the front desk.  

As always, my best moments of sleep are immediately preceding the alarm bell, causing me to hit snooze with my eyes still shut. I had one of my favorite where-the-hell-am-I moments when I finally woke up. Something I miss from years of traveling. I had waited until the last possible moment and scuttled into the shower like the cockroaches we saw playing by the steaming grates the night before. My grand plans of applying make up and styling my hair were trashed for more sleep. New York would have to settle for red eyes, lipstick and a bun. How I normally look, minus the lipstick. I didn’t even wear my pitch outfit. I would doll up later.

I tromped down to the first session and noticed a much smaller attendance than the previous day.  8am is hard. I filled one cup with coffee and one with water and sat in the back slurping life back into myself. I considered wearing my sunglasses, but the presenter kept making eye contact with me, so I couldn’t do that to her.

I only attended three morning sessions, (skipping two) so I could have those two extra hours to practice my pitch and look more human-ish. To save additional time, I opted for an expensive room service breakfast in my room, so I didn’t have to search for sustenance. Everything takes longer in New York. Getting places, line-ups, and making decisions (too many killer restaurants). This small-town girl isn’t used to that.  

I wolfed down my omelette and practiced some techniques my sister shared with me before I left on the trip. Tricks for your memory. Ever since I had covid my memory has been rough. I have an incredible recall of my favorite 90’s rap lyrics and other pop culture, but my short-term memory is still recovering.

The suggestions that came from some podcast she listened to were a mixed bag. Some made sense and others were ridiculous, but I figured, what have I got to lose? One was to drink coffee after you learned or practiced something new, not before. Oat milk latte, check. Another was to dip your arms in ice cold water after practicing. I forget why (pun not intended), but I did it anyway. And then I laughed to myself at the ridiculousness of it. Then I wondered if people in the hallway could hear a crazy woman doing weird shit alone in her room and laughing to herself. This only made me laugh harder. 

After collecting myself, I paced while practicing my pitch. I thought it might help, it was also releasing some of the anxious energy. I had set timers for doing the weird tricks, memorizing my pitch and pitch notes, reviewing the agent information so I would remember who to line up for, and lastly the timer for getting ready. It was like a creepy pitch boot camp, that I am sure no one else did. When the last timer went off, I dressed up in a pre-planned outfit my sister helped me shop for and put on makeup.

I was as ready as I would ever be. Please don’t mess this up.

So back in the ballroom…. Me and the cool kids finally stood up in the lineup with the rest of them and wished each other good luck as we filtered out of the ballroom and into three other rooms filled with in-person agents and laptops zooming with a few agents who couldn’t make it.  

The next three hours were spent fidgeting in those line-ups for agents while watching other lines moving faster or slower, always second guessing my choice. Not the agent, but that line up at that time. I had a list of twelve who I really wanted to see as their wish lists lined up with my manuscript. I saw nine. Two were immediate ‘no’s’ which stung, not because I wasn’t expecting some rejection, but because each line up was 30 mins long. I quickly scurried away into the next line and awaited my turn. Most of my pitches were confident and exciting, resulting in requests for pages, even a few for full manuscripts. During a couple of my pitches, nerves got to me, but the agent either saw through it or liked my rambles enough to ask me for more. At the end of three hours, I had sore legs and blisters from standing in my cute shoes. I was bagged. 

I sat for a moment before leaving, reflecting on the day, the conference, and the years leading up to it. Even though it was stressful and tense waiting to pitch, I talked to dozens of kick-ass writers while waiting and felt like I was where I was supposed to be. Sitting there afterward, I felt euphoric and proud.  

I don’t know if any of those agents will like my manuscript or offer representation. In fact, I have no clue what the next part of this process will be like or how long it will take. Two weeks? Two months? Longer? I have no idea. What I do know is, I did it. I wrote the dang book; I pitched and gave it my all, and now I wait. 

But while I wait, I begin writing the next one. Why? Because I love it.  

I fished out my flip-flops and went to take a cab back to the other hotel. A friendly doorman asked me if I sold any books when he spotted my conference name tag. I said I didn’t know and laughed. He asked what it was about, and I told him. He kindly said he would buy a copy in a heartbeat and waved a cab over. He then told me his favorite book was the Power of Now by Eckhardt Tolle. I found this random yet fitting and told him he had good taste as he closed the cab door. I grinned like an idiot the whole way back to the hotel, beating my friends there. They were picking up wine to celebrate. It was perfect to have those few moments alone. Before I celebrated and moved onto the touristy part of my trip, and after I called my number one fan club at home. I snapped this picture.

This is me, done.

Ischia’s Lemons

I love to write about the places I have been to and am lucky to have seen many. Even though this was quite a while ago, it certainly doesn’t feel that way. This picture was taken on a trip to Italy many years ago. This portion of the trip takes place on the island of Ischia. I entered a non-fiction writing contest with this story, ‘Ischia’s Lemons’ and got an honourable mention.

You can read it here, Ischia’s Lemons.

Healing with Words

I have been so busy with work, and kids, and avoiding my editing, that I haven’t really posted much here or anywhere. I have entered a few contests (more on that another time), done some content writing for a small contract, and had an article published in WordWorks Magazine which you can read below.

Healing with Words – WordWorks Magazine – Click Here

Exotic Cheese

I had a sassy, angry post ready to launch related to Covid, but am just so tired of it. Instead, here is another fun flash fiction entry I did a few months ago, I hope you enjoy it.

My husband was recently prescribed medical marijuana for various work-related injuries. He enjoyed experimenting with different strains.  Some were helpful for sleep, some were great for quelling anxiety, and others dulled his twisted sense of reality. 

He tried many methods of consumption.  Cooking with it and eating edibles was delightful if he didn’t miss the mark and take too much.  A good old-fashioned joint was preferred though he couldn’t roll very well.  Vaping was the easiest way. 

One night, he tried a particularly strong strain.  He had just fixed himself a snack and was looking at me through red swollen eyelids. 

“Mmmm… what kind of cheese is this?”  He asked while chewing too loudly. He was eating a cracker with a piece of cheese on top. Cracker was falling out of his mouth and onto the floor. “It’s so exotic and smokey.” 

“What cheese? I haven’t bought any new cheese lately.” I had groceries delivered to the house while I was at work. 

“That grocery order had cheese in it, I put it in the fridge yesterday.” The look on his face was slowly changing. Panic was spreading from his squinched eyes to his now-open jaw. “My throat is burning; this is very spicy!”  

Now concerned, I ran over to the counter where he prepared his snack. I picked up the package next to the crackers and it clicked. 

“You are eating artisanal soap!”  I wasn’t even halfway through my sentence before he was scratching away at his tongue and running to the bathroom to induce vomiting. I read the soap wrapper and it contained a few worrisome ingredients, including cedar and eucalyptus essential oils. 

I called poison control while he got busy throwing up. “I’m frothing!” He was extremely high and becoming frantic. 

“Don’t worry honey, it’s just soap, it does that.” 

“Poison control, how may I help you?” I went through the painful process of telling them my husband was so stoned that he decided to serve himself a slice of soap on a cracker and was now foaming at the mouth while trying to barf it out.  I was met with silence, so I quickly added, “There is eucalyptus oil in the soap and google says it is poisonous….” 

She assured me that the tiny amount contained in a sliver of soap would not be enough to harm him. It would likely cause stomach upset, and I should feed him something. When she added that he probably had the munchies anyway we both couldn’t contain our laughter. She thanked me for the giggle and hung up. 

After some more dramatics, frothing and barfing, my husband emerged from the bathroom.

“How are you feeling?” 

“Clean.  And hungry.”  With that, he made himself a sandwich, and I made sure to hide the ‘cheese’ in the process.

More than a Game Show

My first introduction to game shows was by my Grandmother, in the early 80’s.  I would lay on the floor of her trailer, in a forest of orange shag carpet.  She sat behind me in a beat up recliner smoking cigarettes with her hair in curlers, drinking reheated coffee and shouting out the answers.  We watched Bumper Stumpers, Let’s Make a Deal, Chain Reaction, Press Your Luck, The Price is Right, Wheel of Fortune, and Jeopardy.  I was very young and rarely got anything right but loved this time and these shows.  

As the years passed and some of these games faded away, Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy remained, and were my nightly routine.  I was very good at Wheel of Fortune, as word puzzles have always been easy for me, but Jeopardy was hard and I loved that.  There were some categories I would never get as they didn’t hold my interest, but other categories I kicked butt at.  If you were in the living room while I was watching and dared to speak when Alex was reading the question, you got the dirtiest of looks.

Alex was a huge source of joy for me.  So smart and so sassy.  I didn’t know if I had a crush on him, or wanted to be him.   I smiled as he threw his quips at the contestants when they answered incorrectly.  In later years his remarks seemed more canned or polite, likely due to the changing climate of political correctness.  I did adore the brash, biting Alex from earlier years.  He always made me laugh.

As soon as they allowed Canadians to apply to be contestants on the show, I applied annually.  You take an online test, that is fast and stressful, before moving on to the next step.  When you take the test, you have limited time to read the question yourself, think of the answer, and then type it and click okay.  This is far worse than shouting the answer at the TV willy-nilly.  I never made the cut, but never stopped trying either.  I knew being a contestant on the show would be stressful, but it was a dream of mine.  

I heard he was unwell and followed his story and kept watching.  I enjoyed the interview he did with his wife at home talking about their life, and his battle with cancer, and how he had lived a full life.  I forget how he phrased it but he said he wasn’t exactly young and had done it all.  I thought he was getting better but I know cancer is brutal and unpredictable.  It also took my grandmother.

I was heartbroken to hear the news this morning.  Alex inspired me to be the proud nerd I am today.  Saying he will be missed, is not enough.   

“My life has been a quest for knowledge and understanding, and I am nowhere near having achieved that.  And it doesn’t bother me in the least.  I will die without having to come up with the answers to many things in life” ~ Alex Trebek

Must. Water. Lawn.

Here is a wee story I wrote for a Flash Fiction Contest. It has to be less than 500 words and they give you 4-5 words you have to incorporate and sometimes a theme. These happen monthly, and they are a lot of fun.

Must. Water. Lawn, by Angela Douglas

I felt like I was floating.  Putting one foot in front of the other, slowly, methodically, and lightly.  I could see the grass blur past my bare feet, but could not feel the ground underneath them.  I looked up briefly and became dizzy, so I quickly looked back down.  Drifting, gliding, moving with a strange grace.

My speed slowed slightly when I reached the rocks at the top of the hill.  Although they were small in size, I could feel each object jabbing into the arch of my foot.  Why wasn’t I wearing shoes?  

I needed to move the sprinklers around the yard.  They were twisted, and tangled, and it was going to be a hot one tomorrow.  

My sight was fuzzy and unclear.  It was hard to focus on any one thing in front of me.  My other senses were heightened.  I heard every cricket, and smelled my sugary gardenias in the distance.  I could feel blood seeping from a fresh wound on my foot.  It was quite dark.  I could hear someone calling my name.  Or at least I thought I could.

“John!  John!  Jooooooohn!”

I turned to look in the direction of the voice, and I couldn’t make anything out at first.  I blinked a few times and it looked like a silhouette of my wife eating a sandwich on our front porch, hollering at me with her mouth full.  Now it looked like she was choking.  I turned to move toward her but my legs were stuck and then I hit the ground.

Splash splash splash – the sprinkler was gushing into my face.  I could see more clearly now, though it was still black outside.  I looked up and my neighbour Frank (who I hate) stood above me with his hands on his hips.  No wife, no sandwich, no choking.  “What on earth are you doing here?  It’s 3am.  Care to elaborate?”

I looked around and noticed I was outside of his barn, quite a distance from my house.  At three o’clock in the morning, stark naked, wrapped up in a band of sprinkler hoses.  All I could muster was “Err….I suppose I was sleepwalking?”

He sounded angry, but looked amused.  “Get back home before I call the cops!  Or your wife.”

He returned to his home and left me lying there, in his yard in the middle of the night.  I was wearing nothing but shame, face down with my bright white butt illuminated by the moon.

My First Post!

Welcome to my site and my first post.  I have been writing up a storm but you wouldn’t know it since I have been so quiet here and on social media.  The first one I will share, is also the first story I had ‘published’.  It’s very dear to me and is filled with TMI.  If you are not interested in reading birth stories, skip this page!  I entered both kids birth stories in this contest, and the below link is the one I got an honorable mention for.  The second one didn’t get a mention but is a lot more lighthearted than the first.  Also shared below.  Thank you for reading! 

Worth It – Johnny’s Birth 

The Potion – Gabby’s Birth, by Angela Douglas 

With my first child, I nearly died.  Looking back at the hospital records years later, it’s clear we were both in trouble.  I had pre-eclampsia and was induced early.  I had placenta accreta, emergency surgery, a long hospital stay, a severe post-op infection, difficulty breast feeding, and a heavy dose of postpartum depression.  That birth didn’t follow any plan.  I threw expectations out the window for this one.  My only plan was to get through it.  

With my first birth, I had a team of doctors and the one that was in the delivery room with me, I had never met.  This time, I insisted on a mid-wife.  I was terrified to give birth again, and I needed all the help I could get.

I knew from my first meeting with my mid-wife, Carolyn that things were going to be different.  I felt supported and heard.  This pregnancy was smooth.  No wild cravings this time around, my blood pressure was normal, and I felt great.  I worked right up until 37.5 weeks as planned and was as ready as I ever would be.

Three days after finishing work, it began in the middle of the night.  I was having a vivid dream that ended with a whisper in one ear, ‘wake up’.  My heart was pounding when I woke up and realized I was wet.  It was strange because I had gone to the washroom an hour prior.  Strange but not completely impossible.  It was when I rolled to my side and heaved into an upright position that more liquid was pouring out of me.  My water had broken.  I was thrilled.  Something natural was happening and it felt like a great start.  

I skooch-waddled over to the bathroom and let some more water come out into the toilet.  Mild contractions began.  I laid back down and cried a few tears of joy that this had begun on its own.

I remembered the midwife saying to call her right away if my water broke because it was my second child, it could come faster, so I did.  I also called my sister, who lived an hour away and told her to start making her way to us so she could look after my son when it was time.

My husband popped out of bed with one move when I told him my water had broken.  After he calmed down, we went downstairs to grab him a coffee while we timed the contractions, leaving my son to sleep.  It’s funny how peaceful it was.  So different than the time before.

Labour progressed slowly enough for my sister to arrive. I had told her to take her time.  My contractions were still coming but less consistent.   Eventually they stopped.  Completely. 

I called the midwife again and she said, in her cheery way, not to worry.  She suggested a long walk to get things going again.  We also tried everything we could google for ‘getting labour started’.  Several hours passed without success.  The midwife said she was on her way.  I was feeling defeated at this point.  Like my body had let me down somehow. Things started off so well.  

She said I had a decision to make.  Because it had been so long since my water broke and there were no signs of labour restarting, the hospital would want to induce me to reduce the risk of infection.  

There was, however, another option.  “The Potion.”  Before hearing about it, I said yes, with enthusiasm.  

“Wait a minute….”  She cautioned, “There are risks.  It doesn’t always work and can sometimes cause intense back to back contractions.”

In my opinion, anything was better than induction.  I was in.  The potion it is.

My husband went to the store to pick up the ingredients.  All but one key item that you cannot get at a store.  Carolyn went to her office to get that last element.

As soon as they were back. we mixed everything in the blender, adding 2 drops of her liquid last.  I took a sip while she was making notes in my chart and before she could say I had an hour to finish the drink, it was gone.  I drank it like it was a shooter at a bar, no time wasted.  

She let out a little giggle at my drink-slamming antics and prepared to leave.  “It can take a while to kick in, call me when things start.”

With renewed hope I moved around throughout the house.  I started to feel twinges again.  I set the timer on my app.  I was hungry and not allowed to eat when I was in labor with my son, so I decided to order some pizza.

Halfway through the order it became difficult to talk through the growing contractions.  I finished the call and went to have a bath.  

My husband noticed the pain increasing.  He followed me upstairs with the phone.  I sat down in a mostly empty tub waiting for it to fill.

I was experiencing active labor for the first time in my life and I was grateful.  I could no longer talk through contractions or focus on what my husband was saying.

He put the midwife on speaker just in time for me to hear her say, “Get her out of the tub, and head to the hospital.  I will meet you there.” 

It took a while in between contractions to get out of the tub, get down the stairs, and get some clothes on.  We threw some cash to my sister for the pizza I wasn’t going to eat and kissed my son goodbye.  It would be the first night I had ever spent away from him in his 18 months.  A flash of fear ran through me as I contemplated ‘what if’s’.  

I got into the car somehow and my husband’s skills as a police officer got us there in record time.  The only hold up was me grunting every time he had to tap the brakes during a contraction.  

It was late afternoon and the hospital was busy.  John pulled up to the emergency and I wobbled through the door, while he went to find parking.  I had to pause twice because the contractions were coming so fast.  I found a bench and eased down onto it.  A young girl and her mom approached me and asked if I needed help.  They went to admitting and came back with a nurse and a wheelchair just in time for my husband to return.    

Away we went to the maternity ward.  Timelines no longer existed for me.  I was getting ready for the main event.  I remember some paperwork, being on a bed behind a curtain waiting for my room to be ready.  I saw my midwife arrive and I also recall hearing someone moaning in pain.  I was later told that someone was me.

My room was ready, and the midwife was already filling up the birthing tub.  This hospital’s maternity ward was brand new and this was a rare and welcome surprise.

Getting undressed and getting in was rough, but once I was inside, and the water covered my bump, I could focus.  I began to feel powerful.  It was painful and intense, and though the small breaks were almost non-existent, I was able to channel and focus my pain.  I was gripping the sides of the concrete tub with a strength that was making the skin in my arms and hands turn white from the force.  I remembered noticing this, and noticing the roof, and then looking down.  I also can recall my husband’s face regarding me as though he had never seen me before.  

The midwife was in and out checking us while giving us the space to manage on our own.  I felt looked after and not alone.  

I was eight centimeters dilated and began to ask for interventions.  “Please just a tiny epidural, I don’t think I can do this.”  I began to panic when the breaks in between stopped.  

My husband and midwife looked at one another and she mouthed ‘no’ to him.  I was in too much pain to ask why, maybe they were honoring my wishes, maybe it was too late.

The contractions were now the intense kind she warned about.  I was wailing.  From a moan, to a wail, to what sounded like baritone screams.  They sounded like they were coming from someone else.  I looked down and I could see someone wailing, and concentrating, and squeezing a tub.

Suddenly I was back in the tub and my body was pushing.  I wasn’t doing anything.  I noticed my entire bump shift downward as I felt the pressure of my child trying to come out.  At this hospital, tubs were used for pain management, not for the actual birthing, so a flurry of activity began to happen around me, as my body pushed by itself twice more.

The water in the bathtub was draining, and I was getting cold.  I also had nothing on and began to feel self-conscious about my nakedness.  I saw some new faces in the room, and they were ready for me.  Now the task of moving this giant, wet, pained animal from the tub to the bed.  In between contractions with my body doing whatever it wanted to.

During this transition, my body stopped pushing.  A few minutes after laying down and being toweled off I felt the need to push again.

I was ready now.  Pain or no pain, my little girl was on her way out.  I wasn’t scared.  I followed Carolyn’s guidance, took a deep breath and pushed.  We did careful, guided pushing same as with my first birth.  

When the moment called for a big one, it was easy.  That pain didn’t bother me, and I didn’t have to push too many times.  I had to pause in some very uncomfortable positions, but when given the go ahead, one more powerful push and she was here!  Ava Gabriella Douglas.  Born at 718pm.  Weighing 8 lbs 4 oz, 2 weeks early, the day before Halloween.   

I felt elated holding her, looking into her eyes.  Success at last – I did it.  My body did it.  

Then I started to feel anxiety.  The placenta wasn’t out yet.  I handed the baby back to the nurse, and focused, and begged please, please let it come out.  One little squeeze and light traction from the midwife and it was gone.  Fully intact, with no issues.  I was crying now and only my husband knew why.  

Would I like to see it the nurse asked?  This time laughter cut through the tears as I said much too loudly, “No thanks, that thing tried to kill me last time.”  

Gabby was handed back to me, swaddled and content.  Once she settled, she latched on immediately.  She fed like a champ.  Another luxury I didn’t have last time.  I was literally beaming.  

I sent my husband home to relieve my sister and told him I would see him tomorrow.  I sat there alone with my daughter, feeling relief, pride and gratitude.  I gave her a kiss and we went to sleep.  That was my first full night of sleep in almost 2 years.

We were discharged before noon and settled in nicely at home.  Johnny met his little sister and went out trick-or-treating with his Dad and Auntie.  I stayed home and handed out candy with a baby in my arms, less than 24 hours after giving birth.  I was near death last time.  And this time I felt great.  My arms were sore from hulking out in the tub, and I felt like someone kicked me in the behind.  But I felt fantastic otherwise.  

What an extraordinary experience this was.  Having a midwife made all the difference.