Month: April 2016

Lilacs and Apple Blossoms

Scent is the most emotionally evocative of our senses.   Why else would the house stagers recommend baking bread before showing your home?  The fragrance of fresh bread conjures whole pages of positive feelings.  One whiff and we’re transported to grandma’s house and all the love and comfort and security offered there.  Who wouldn’t want to buy a house that offered that?

Right now, it is lilac season in my part of the world. and lilacs are like fresh baked bread to my olfactory senses.  I walk downstairs and the bouquet in the front hall lifts my mood even more than coffee.  The smell of lilacs takes me home, where we had a whole hedge of them and I was allowed to pick as many as I liked.  In fact, I was encouraged to fill the house with blooms.   I’d even sneak a few apple blossoms into the bouquet, their scent lighter but every bit as wonderful.

Lilacs and apple blossoms signalled spring.  After schlepping about in heavy coats and winter boots for six months, spring meant freedom.  We could run outside in our shoes.  Our feet were light, our bodies buoyant.  We’d run for the sheer joy of it, raise our arms and twirl in a circle, faces to the sun.  Lilacs were part of that moment.

When I married in May, I carried lilacs in my bouquet — a bridge between my old and new life.  For me, lilacs mean love and joy.

As a writer, I’m inclined to insert lilacs into a story when I want to show happiness.  In fact, my first book is called Love and Lilacs.   Sadly, there are people in this world who hate the sweet smell of my delightful lilacs.  While I think love and springtime, they think hay fever and itchy eyes!  They’ll never buy a book with “lilacs” in the title.

So what’s an author to do?  Our stories would lose all power if we only referred to generic flowers, or pets or people.  Who wants to read about a thirty-something woman who had a nice job and lived in a pleasant house?  Readers want specific details if they are to identify with this heroine.  If she were in my book, she’d have a garden around her pleasant house and it would bloom with lilacs in the spring and roses in the summer.  She’d have fresh cut blooms on her desk at work and she’d take deep breaths to enjoy the scent.   But, what if she met a man who hated flowers, associated them with funerals, the funerals of his wife and daughter?  Hmm.

Flying . . .

“Pantsers and plotters” is a shorthand phrase used by writers to describe their process in creating a story.  Plotters are the ones who prepare an extensive outline, chapter by chapter, sometimes scene by scene, before beginning to write the story.  They have already worked out the plot, the twists, the climax and the conclusion before writing that first sentence.  Plotters are organized, efficient and highly productive people.

I’m not a plotter.

Pantsers, or those who fly by the seat of their pants, or, more elegantly, “fly into the mists” have an idea about a story, they sort of know who the characters are and they’re pretty sure what the ending is.  After that, they’re flying blind.  Pantsers like to think they are free-spirits, creative, inspired and original.  In my case, what that means is, hair-tearing re-writes, dozens of cut scenes, tortuous back-tracking to create plausible motivations, and a lot of staring out the window wondering what should happen next.

For my latest work, I tried to be more like a plotter.  I wrote a whole notebook full of scenes I confidently believed would appear in the final story, once I got down to organizing them into a reasonable time-line.  With the notebook full, I turned to a fresh page and wrote the first sentence, and the second.  This was going really well, I was on page two when the story took a twist I’d never envisioned in my preparations.  I was excited.  This twist really added to the story, it gave another layer to three of the characters.  Wow!  I was rolling.

Only trouble is, all those scenes I wrote before, don’t really fit the new direction.  My attempt to be efficient, was a waste.

Or was it?  The truth is, whether any of those pre-writing scenes make it into the final version, doesn’t matter.  The notebook full of imagined dialogue and action, gave me the characters.  I know about them.  I know their backstories.  I can predict how they will act in a crisis.  I know the story-setting.  I know the secondary characters.  I know the time of year and the time of history.  I’m excited to tell their story.  The fact that I’m not certain how that story unfolds, makes me even more excited.  Like a reader, I want to know what happens next.

Writing should be fun.  If you’re a plotter, more power to you.  If, like me, you’re a pantser, enjoy the journey.  It’s going to be a wild ride.

In the Company of Adventurers

The Hudson’s Bay Company, long a staple of Canadian shopping centres and a significant part of our history, was officially termed, “The Company of Gentlemen Adventurers.”  Formed in 1668 by edict of Charles II of England, the company received exclusive trading rights to all of the waters in North America that drained into Hudson’s Bay. It became the longest, continually operating commercial venture in Western history.

Saturday, I spent time with another company of adventurers, VIRA, the Vancouver Island Romance Authors. We have no relation to the Hudson’s Bay Company, there’s not a gentleman among us. Men are not prohibited from membership, but at the moment we’re a company of Lady Adventurers.
Why adventurers? For starters we’re all exploring the dangerous waters around writing and publishing romance novels. Some through traditional methods, others, bravely launching their work into the self-publishing stream.
We write about adventurous women. Some involved in derring-do, like steam punk heroines or secret agents, others in the shark-infested waters of families and small towns.  Some of our heroines look the part, with super-powers and enough gadgets to make James Bond envious.  Others, appear demure, conforming and obedient, but beneath the crinolines and behind the fans they are every bit as adventurous as their fantasy counterparts.

We “ladies of the company” trade in information.  We share data and strategies for finding an editor or an agent.  We discuss the tools of self-publishing where fellow-travellers are more important than ever.   We need to know how to utilize facebook, twitter, algorithms, blogs, websites, cover artists, formatting tools . . .  the list goes on and on.  Alone, in front of the computer, the task is daunting.

On a Saturday afternoon with other lady-adventurers it’s fun.  We laugh, we commiserate, we encourage, we read and edit each other’s work.   We go home energized and filled with hope.  Thanks VIRA.  I enjoyed your company.

The Women’s Institute

I’ve been talking on this blog about the fight for women’s rights in Canada.  One of the agents of that struggle is the Women’s Institute.  Founded in 1897 in Stoney Creek, Ontario, the Federated Women’s Institutes of Canada has championed women, particularly rural women from its very beginnings up to the present time.

The inception of the Federated Women’s Institute of Canada (FWIC ) grew from a personal tragedy.  Adelaide Hoodless, a young wife and mother, lost her fourth son to “summer milk fever,” an infection carried in unpasteurized milk.  The bereft mother turned her attention to educating women, particularly rural women, on proper hygiene and the safe handling of food.

“A nation cannot rise above the level of its homes, we women must work and study together to raise our homes to the highest level possible.”  Adelaide Hoodless.

After that first meeting in Stoney Creek, the WI flourished.  By 1913 there were institutes in every province. In 1919 at a meeting in Winnipeg the FWIC was formed to co-ordinate and support local chapters.  In 1958 a national office was established in Ottawa.

Rural women banded together to educate and support each other as a parallel organization to the Farmer’s Union, but they weren’t content with just putting healthy food on the table. The phrase “think globally, act locally,” was  a watchword for the Institute.  They were instrumental in the establishment of Macdonald Institute at the Ontario Agricultural College in Guelph, Ontario and in the creation of Macdonald College in Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, P.Q.

They aided the cause of women in the political field, rallying around Emily Murphy in the “person’s case.”  They lobbied for counselling for farm families during hard times.  They worked for facilities to benefit their communities.  The WI Hall is a common sight in rural Canada.  They manned food tents at the Fall Fair and Ploughing Match. They offered courses in safe canning methods, first aid, farm ownership succession and estate planning.

During WWI and WWII they knit socks, rolled bandages, fund-raised and worked to increase food production and decrease waste.

They volunteered and fund-raised for rural clinics to improve infant health.  They operated book-mobiles to bring information and education to rural homes.  In the 1940’s the brought hot meals and school milk days to the local school.  They lobbied for the establishment of Brock University in Ontario.  They wrote “Tweedsmuir Histories,” a valuable documentation of community life throughout the country.

The motto “For Home and Country” reflects FWIC aims: to promote an appreciation of rural living, to develop informed citizens  and to initiate national programs to achieve common goals. Today, true to its roots, The WI is focussed on rural child care, farm safety, legal rights, fair pay, literacy, health, stress on farm families and financial planning.

Internationally, the WI assists craft programs in developing countries, helping rural women to increase their family income and to educate their daughters.  They also contribute to efforts for clean water, literacy and women’s rights.

My mother was a proud member of the Women’s Institute.  Despite the complaints of her family about a cold supper, she attended a meeting one afternoon a month where she and her cohorts worked for the common goal of healthy families, informed citizens and the recognition of the farm family as the foundation stone of our community.  I miss my Mom.  Kudos to her and all the other Institute Women.  They persevered in the face of hardship, criticism and selfish children, and created a better home and community.

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