Month: November 2016

Collage

p1020740At a recent meeting of VIRA (Vancouver Island romance authors) we were invited to tap into our creativity by creating a collage.  So, with scissors, glue stick and magazines in hand I took my place at the table.  Now, I’m not a visual artist in any way.  In public (elementary) school I got A’s in reading and grammar, B’s in arithmetic and a pity C in art.  The only project I ever felt good about was one where we covered our fists with paint and made swirly patterns on a sheet of Bristol board, folded it in half, punched holes on two sides and sewed it up to make a portfolio for our art that year.  I can make swirls with my fists so for once I thought I’d do well in art.  Wrong!  The teacher didn’t like my choice of colours, purple and green.  Whenever I see a purple flower with lovely green leaves I want to shake my fist in the air and say “See!  God put them together.” 

But, I digress.

Back to collage making. We were to cut out any images that appealed to us, including words, then stick them onto our backing holus-bolus.  The idea was to be a wild mind, not plotted and planned and edited. 

I’m currently working on a project set in nineteenth century British Columbia, so when I looked at my finished work I sought expressions of that time and place.  I had an antique looking map of Vancouver Island and coastal B.C., a woman with a horse, sheep, a feathery hat, china teacups and iced sugar cookies.  I also had “for Queen and Country,” a definite sentiment of patriotism for that era.  The picture at the top left is my “wild mind” collage.

 

p1020742We were then instructed to build a collage with more specific intent. So, I looked for images of prospectors, pioneers, and fledgling towns.  I found horses pasturing beside a river, a picture of lots and lots of purple flowers with green foliage (ha!), some stylized Mounties, a polar bear and blueberries in whipped cream.  The latter two have nothing to do with my story, but I love the polar bear and the whipped cream balanced the picture, in my opinion.  Remember, I’m not a visual artist.  But the prize image came from a colleague at the same table, Peabody’s Photo Parlour.  The heroine in my wip is a lady photographer.  If you look closely, you’ll see a lady photographer in bustled skirt and big had operating a box camera on a tripod as an inset to the larger image of the frontier traveller.  I doubt my “plotted” collage is any better than my wild mind one, but looking at it does help keep me in the story place.

 

The best thing about the afternoon was sitting with other writers, talking story lines and plot problems and pesky grammar points. When I look at my collages, I see not only pretty pictures, but I remember my friends and am grateful

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Kindness

 

images-1There has been a lot of hate and ugliness spewed into the mainstream media and into social media in recent months. As an antidote, I present these tales of kindness.

 

A woman I know lives next door to an elderly gentleman. The man has no family and is becoming increasingly frail.  My friend is a banker, so she began helping her neighbour with his financial affairs – trips to the bank, bill payments, taxes.  Then, as time when on, she did his grocery shopping, arranged for a lawn service, cooked him some meals.  Every day she calls on him to see if he needs anything, and if he does, she provides it.

This woman has no obligation to the old man, other than the kindness required of one human to another. She is not paid for her service nor does she expect a reward.  She simply follows the golden rule and is kind.50125194-the-girl-under-an-umbrella-with-a-small-homeless-puppy-protect-pet-from-autumn-rain-funny-cartoon-ch

 

Another woman I know goes every day to a seniors facility and reads the newspaper to those whose eyesight makes such a pleasure impossible. She chooses articles she thinks will be of most interest to the residents – mostly veterans from WWII and Korea.  She had done the same for her father and when he passed away, thought there might be others like him who would enjoy keeping up with the news and engaging in discussion about the affairs of the day.  There was no formal program for this woman to plug into, no core of volunteers to spell her off.  She simply saw a need and responded.  Another person who acts out of the kindness of her heart.

 

Our local newspaper runs a weekly column on acts of kindness. Amid the headlines of war and strife and disaster, these little tales are a welcome counterbalance.  We read of lost wallets returned intact, stolen bicycles replaced, ambulances called, tea and sympathy offered to someone who fell in the street.  Last week was a story of a woman who got into her car and drove to the rescue of a stranger being harassed by a deer.  Yes, we have a problem with urban deer and they can get quite aggressive, especially toward small dogs.  The woman walking her dog was trapped by a doe with a fawn.  When her rescuer appeared she was only too happy to climb into the car and be driven to safety.

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In troubled times small acts of kindness can have a monumental impact. They can change the tenor of the debate.  They can remind us that we are all in this together.  They can change a child’s fear to hope.

 

But what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with you God. Micah 6:8 ESV

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Piper James Richardson

 

images-4With Remembrance Day just past there have been plenty of stories for a history buff such as myself to read and contemplate. One of those stories involves James Richardson of British Columbia.

Young Jimmy was just 19 when he enlisted in the 72 Seaforth Higlanders of Canada. He went overseas with the 16th (Canadian Scottish) Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force, During the Battle of the Ancre Heights on 8 October 1916 at Regina TrenchSommeFrance, the company was held up by very strong wire and came under intense fire.  Young Jimmy asked permission, then jumped out of his trench and played the pipes in full view of the enemy. Fired by his example, the Battalion forced its way through the wire and made it to their objective. Amazingly, Piper Richardson survived the battle. When the fighting paused, he acted as a stretcher bearer, bringing wounded comrades off the field. At the end of the day, he realized he’d lost his pipes. He returned to the battlefield to recover them and that was the last anyone saw of him. Jimmy download-1Richardson  disappeared into the mists of battle.  He was awarded the Victoria Cross, Canada’s highest military honour, posthumously for “conspicuous bravery.”
It was believed his bagpipes had been lost in the mud but in 2002 they were discovered in Scotland. A British Army chaplain had found them and brought them home where they remained on display in a school where he taught.  The pipes were then returned to the Canadian Scottish Regiment (Princess Mary’s).download-2

I first learned this story when our Victoria Symphony presented a Lest We Forget concert at the Bay Street Armoury in Victoria in 1914. “The Piper” composed by Tobin Stokes commemorates Richardson’s exploits and his tragic end. The presentation included film and readings as well as music and stands as one of the most moving Act of Remembrance services I have ever attended.

At this sombre time of year, Canada is once again preparing to send troops into troubled places around the world. They take with them an inspiring history of service and bravery. They also take with them the love and prayers of the citizens of the country they serve.  We wish them God speed, safe passage and the knowledge that they bring light and goodness into places of horror and evil.download-3

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Lists Revisited

p1010439It has been two months since I began my experiment with lists to order my writing life and some of my “real” life, so today I’m going to review and assess the method.

If you missed my original post on the method, you can find it here.

So, I give you my take on the experiment.

    

  Pros:

  • Making a list for a week, then dividing it up over the days of the week is a useful exercise in time management.
  • The list helps me realize how many demands there are on my time so I don’t beat myself up over not getting to everything.
  • Making a list helps to prioritize tasks.
  • Writing down my tasks relaxes me.  I don’t have to keep remembering what I meant to do.
  • Making a list reminds me to make time for exercise and other healthy activities. 
  • There is great satisfaction in putting a tick mark beside every accomplished item.
  • The list gives me permission to play when I’ve finished every item.  As writers know, there is always more to do.  Homemakers know there is always more to do.  Setting a specific goal gives us a finish line for the day.  We can chose to work more, or we can play.  Play is vital to the creative life.

 

   Cons:

  • Life is busy and it is not possible to itemize every activity of every day.  Sometimes, when life has taken me off-list and into something wonderful, I add it to my list after the fact.  When life takes me off-list into a time-waster, I gloss over it and scramble to catch up the next day. 
  • In the beginning I often bit off more than I could chew, especially if the list seemed too short. It’s important to break tasks down to their component parts in order to create a realistic list.

 

     Conclusion:   I plan to continue to make a weekly list and break it into daily tasks.  As a tool for time management, the list works for me.  It helps me focus.  It makes me happy.  It forces me to set realistic goals, then pushes me to accomplish them.  Since the first week, I’ve had some great days and some disasters.  I continue to refine my list-making so there are fewer disasters.  I’d recommend this method to other writers but with one caveat:  the list is only a guide.  Family, friends, colleagues, even pets, have emergencies.  At those times, forget the list and follow your heart.

 

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From Blah to Brilliant

imagesOne of my recurring disappointments when it comes to writing is the first read.  When I’ve laboured on a scene, poured out passion on the page, sifted and sorted for just the right word, moved my characters to a new place in their story arc, I shut down the computer with a sigh of content.  I’ve written “good stuff.”

     The next day I read what I wrote and my bubble bursts.  Where’s the passion?  Where’s all that emotion and angst?  It’s in my head all right, but it didn’t make it to the page.  Why not?  One of the reasons, I suspect, is that I’m a slow writer.  Just because it took me several hours to wrestle out that scene, I think it must be huge.  In truth, I discarded more words than I committed to the manuscript, so instead of the earth-shattering scene I thought I’d written, I’ve a couple of paragraphs that don’t do much.

            Once I’ve gotten over my disappointment, it’s time to rework that scene, get the passion on the page.  Here are some of my methods.

  •   Metaphor/simile:  We’re all cautioned against “purple prose” but emotional writing has to call on the reader’s senses, her experiences and her culture.  So, if my heroine is angry, here’s a place where I can up the emotional quotient.  Is her anger white hot rage that bubbles and flows into every nook and crevice of her mind, burning everything and everyone with molten fury?  Or is her anger cold, calculating, vengeful, coiled like a serpent, ready to strike when the time is right?
  • Pace: If this is a reflective scene, where the heroine comes to a new understanding of herself or the hero, it doesn’t hurt to slow the pace of the narrative.  Give her time to process the new information.  She doesn’t need to sit still while she does this.  She can do the dishes, pick apples, talk to a mentor or go running.  Giving the character and the reader a little breathing room will give your next adrenalin-shot scene more impact.  If it’s an action scene, make sure the heroine and the reader are breathless.
  • Humour: Even Shakespeare used comic relief in his tragedies.  No character and no reader can function on high intensity all the time, they burn out.  Your character runs out of ways to heighten the tension and your reader decides to put down the book and watch cartoons for a while.  You can give everyone a break but still keep them involved in your story with a little light-heartedness.
  • Details: If my scene is too short – it usually is – now is a time to layer in details that carry an emotional impact.  The setting, the time of year, the time of day, the pattern of the carpet.  All of these details can stretch out the scene, give it the importance required by the story, without coming off as “fill.”  Maybe the complicated pattern of the carpet represents the complicated feelings of the heroine for the hero.  Maybe the first star of evening offers hope to a character in despair.  No need to get the story bogged down in pointless details, but a few carefully chosen ones, can lift the writing from blah to brilliant.
  • Print it out:   I’m old school.  I read better on paper.  Often what is blindingly obvious in print eludes me on the screen.  I recycle and reuse, but I need to print it to truly see it.
  • Read it out: Once I’m sure I’ve done everything I can with the written word, I read it aloud.  If the prose can pass the read aloud test, I’ve done my job.

 

Now I’m off to practice what I preach.

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