Month: January 2016

Legacy

Do you ever play that game, what will the world look like fifty years from now?  one hundred years from now?  Will we still read books on paper?  Will we listen to the Beatles?  Will anyone remember me?

In the world of literature there are some authors whose work is so significant, it forms the basis of our culture.  The surviving Greek classics are over 2500 years old.   The King James Version of the Bible was completed, in the age of Shakespeare.  The works of Jane Austin depict life in England two hundred years later,  while Wordsworth, Keats, Dickens and a host of other authors shared a golden age of letters at the end of the eighteenth century and into the nineteenth.  These works will be read and studied so long as our civilization remains.

For writers of popular fiction today, the situation is quite different.  For most of us, six weeks in a publisher’s rack, maybe a reissue a few years later, and a digital copy buried somewhere in cyberspace is the norm.  There are exceptions.  The works of Agatha Christie and Georgette Heyer, have become classics of their type and remain in print for another generation to enjoy.  Every writer dreams of that kind of success, but few realize it.

There’s also the question of the medium.  Electronic files are at particular risk as technology changes.  Floppy discs anyone?  How many of you have lost files when you upgraded your software or operating system?  I threw out a  box full of those 3½ inch squares when my new computer didn’t have a slot for them.  At my alma mater, there is a whole department devoted to maintaining old records and new donations.  The head of that department, Jeremy Heil,  has had to become a tech wizard in order to do his job.

He is faced with a wide variety of file formats, operating systems and hardware, including floppy disks, 8-tracks, vinyls and any number of computer file types, many of which are now obsolete.  “Every day,” he says, “I have to evaluate old formats that can no longer be read.”

Predicting the future is risky business, but I can now state with confidence that at least three of my books will be around fifty years from now.  My municipality has created a time capsule and books from local authors, including me, are in it .   Turns out there are a lot of authors in my region, including M. Wylie Blanchet, author of The Curve of Time.  Mrs. Blanchet died in 1961 but her book about exploring the waters around Vancouver Island with her five young children is considered a Canadian classic.  I’m honoured that my books share a time capsule with hers.

Town hall has created a wall of author pics and bios to publicize the event — it’s part of the fiftieth anniversary for the municipality.  As you can see from the picture at the top, I got a wall all to myself while others had to share window space.   What you can’t see is that my page is behind a card rack!  I realized I’m in good company when I discovered Myfanwy Pavelic’s page  behind a potted plant.

Ah well, it’s all publicity and it’s exciting to think my books will be around fifty years from now.

The Kitchen Stove

In a previous version of my website, I wrote an article about wood-burning stoves.  That text has long disappeared from here, but search engines continue to direct seekers to my website in response to the word “stove.”  So, here once again, is my tribute to the heart of the home.

 

The Humble Kitchen Stove
     When woman first began cooking inside the cave, she used an open fire and a stick to sizzle the venison.  Man liked the results and over the centuries applied his ingenuity to improving the techniques used to render the result of his hunt into palatable victuals.
In medieval castles and hovels the size and decoration of the cooking fire  varied, but the science was the same.  Build a big fire to produce heat, build a chimney to vent the smoke, hang pots over the fire for cooking.  Western civilization continued with this basic concept right up until the eighteenth century when, in 1735 a French architect by the name of Franççois Cuvilliéés, designed a completely enclosed fire with fireholes covered by perforated iron plates.  This Castrol stove was much more fuel-efficient and allowed the cook to simmer her soups and stews in relative safety without fear of embers from the fireplace shooting out and burning her.  Toward the end of the century the Castrol stove was refined by hanging the pots through the fireholes, allowing for heating on three sides instead of just one.
One of the biggest leaps in the technology of home heating came with the invention of the Franklin stove, named after its inventor, Benjamin Franklin.   Intended primarily for home heat the Franklin stove used a labyrinth system of baffles and plates to circulate the air through the stove giving us both radiant and convection heat.  The front of the stove was still open, like the conventional fireplace, but the top of the heater was flat and allowed for cooking with flat-bottomed pots and pans.  Another step in the evolution of the kitchen.  Previous to this, cooking was done in round bottomed cauldrons.

As an aside, did you know that Benjamin Franklin put all of his inventions into the public domain, refusing to file patents or to collect royalties?

    In North America, where winters were long and severe, foundries everywhere turned out variations on Franklin’s stove.  Pot-bellied stoves, Quebec heaters, box stoves and dumb stoves proliferated in every home, taking the place of the inefficient fireplace.  Although a round-bellied stove glowing red with heat wasn’t as romantic as a blazing open fire it was essential for warding off freezing temperatures inside as well as out. Martha Louise Black, a veteran of many Yukon winters vowed she’d never been so cold as when trying to keep warm over a grate fire in England during World War One.  The fire barely took the chill off the room and “was a criminal waste of fuel, too, as most of the heat went up the chimney.  Our little Klondyke stoves could have warmed the rooms with half the fuel. ” Below is pictured a Quebec heater such as Mrs. Black might have used in her own home.

Quebec Stove

Quebec Stove

Nineteenth century ingenuity resulted in some odd  forms of heating. In 1888 the US Patent Office issued a patent for a corn-cob burning stove.  Since it was considered inappropriate to place stoves in meeting houses during the early 1800’s, preachers carried a little foot stove with them as they travelled from service to service.  The box, about 12″ x 12″ by 8″ high was filled with burning embers, fitted with a handle and used to keep the preacher’s feet warm both in the pulpit and in the sleigh as he travelled on to the next service.  Portable tin ovens were used by the military in the field and by prospectors rushing to the latest gold strike.
But, back to the harried homemaker bending over the hot stove.  At the turn of the nineteenth century, Benjamin Thompson produced one of the first metal kitchen stoves, called the Rumford.  Pots were still hung inside the firebox through the fireholes and the heat on each pot could be regulated..  Sadly for the humble housewife, the Rumford stove was designed for castle kitchens only.  It wasn’t until 1834 that Steward Oberlin patented a compact iron stove and revolutionized the North American kitchen.  Refinements on Oberlin’s basic design added cooking ovens, water heaters and warming ovens, bringing us to the beauties that sat in our grandmother’s kitchen and for which I pine on long days when the electricity goes off.

Klondyke Stove

Klondyke Stove

Note the ornate chrome work.  The stove was a work of art as well as an essential element to comfort.

Modern refinements on the wood stove have added catalytic converters to reduce emissions and improve the efficiency of combustion.  Construction materials include soapstone, ceramics and glass as well as iron and steel and those of us who’ve endured a loss of power on a cold winter’s day are leading the charge to resurrect the humble kitchen stove – even if it lives in a forgotten corner of the basement most of the time.

Sources:  Black, Martha Louise  My Ninety Years  Alaska Northwest Publishing Co. Anchorage, Alaska, 1976
Curtis, Will and Jane, Antique Woodstoves, Artistry in Iron, Star Press, Kenebeck Maine, 1975
http://collectionscanada.ca

http://www.canadian-antique-stoves.com/Z-kootenay1910.htm

Declutter

Every January, after I’ve put away the Christmas decorations, I’m seized by a strong desire to clean house, and I don’t just mean scrubbing the floors and vacuuming under the beds.  I mean turning out closets, emptying shelves and tossing the old, broken, worn and useless stuff I’ve collected over the years.  At one time of my life I moved every year.  In those days, I had no clutter!  But, I’ve lived in my current house for more than thirty years and “stuff” accumulates.   This urge to clean house is rare and must be acted upon immediately or it crawls off into a corner for another twelve months and hides under the piles of old magazines.  However, when I do complete a proper clean out I feel great, full of energy and purpose, ready to tackle something new.

As a writer, it strikes me that decluttering has a place in my process as well.  The first (really ugly) draft is full of verb phrases, redundant adjectives and meandering plot lines.   All of which seemed essential at the time.  Just like that broken clock I thought could be fixed rather than thrown out.  But now that I’m at full-on declutter, I’ll take a sharp blue pencil to my verbiage too.

Here’s an example from my WIP:

“Come on, Bonaparte!”  Marie Dubois rubbed her gloved hands together while she waited for the short-legged mutt to do his business.  She glanced at her watch and felt Her heart thudded against her ribs.  She had exactly seven minutes to get to work.  If the dog didn’t perform soon, delayed her, she’d be late for work — again!  Not that she blamed   She didn’t blame Bonaparte.  The poor thing had been   After being stuck inside for hours, he needed exercise.  But not now! “Come on, Bonaparte!”  she tugged on his leash.  “I can’t be late today, of all days.  The new boss is expected.  would still be there if she hadn’t used the key stored under a stone owl on Mme Ethier’s front step to pen the door and rescue him.”

Well, it’s a start and I feel better already. What about you?  Care to put on your editor’s cap and have a go at my prose?  Don’t be shy.  I won’t be insulted — but I reserve the right to ignore your suggestions.

You’re a Writer When . . .

You know you’re a writer when . . .

  • you spend three times longer than necessary wrapping up a few bits of stained glass from the Nativity set and start to contemplate the power or ritual and how it might be used in a story.  Ritual takes time.  So, if you have a scene that you want the reader to pause over, to savour, to spend time with, try adding some ritual.  It will slow the pace while deepening the emotion.
  • you put away the stacking Russian dolls and begin to think of layers of story, how each fits inside the other, how they must lock together seamlessly.  The magic number with dolls is five.  Are there at least five layers of meaning in your story?
  • you re-read the notes attached to Christmas gifts from years ago and think of how our treasures reveal character.  In this case, the character of the note writer and the character of the one who kept it in a special box.   What do your heroine’s treasures reveal about her character?
  • you are gripped by melancholy as the tree is dragged out the door, denuded of its finery, the needles leaving a trail on the carpet.  You feel sorry for the tree.  You imagine a Christmas story where the tree is forgotten and stays in the corner of the living room all summer.  Why is it forgotten?  What does it see?  Is the tree happy to live past its time?  Does the tree have a name?
  • a new journal with lots of empty pages so fires your imagination you walk away from that stack of new books and start filling the pages with what if . . .

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