Flowing Waters

Spring has arrived in my corner of the world.  Blossoms popping out of the ground, buds swelling on the trees and ditches full of running water.

Don’t know if it’s the weather, but the creative juices are flowing afresh for me too.  I’ve an idea for a spin-off from my latest book (to be released in early summer).

This is that lovely honeymoon stage of the writing process.  The stage where I believe the book will be easy to write, the story will come together like magic and the finished product will be brilliant.

This is also where I employ my favourite plotting method.  The one where I lie on the couch and stare at the ceiling, letting words and pictures and ideas float freely through my mind.  Kind of like looking at clouds when I was a kid. No barriers to the imagination. The part before the hard work.

All the school children in my district are on spring break.  I feel a bit like I’ve been let out of school too.

Happy Spring, everyone.

Change the World?

 Placido Domingo is said to have given this advice to a young musician.

  • Give the audience your all, even your mistakes.  You are human.
  • Put on a smile.  It is a gift.
  • Never stop trying to change the world, no matter what your age.

It is that last point that intrigued me.  As writers we rarely meet our audience face-to-face so they won’t know if we smile.  Writing allows time for re-writes, proofing and corrections, so we have a chance to correct out mistakes before they are in the readers’ hands. 

Change the world?  That is what the arts are all about.  No matter if we write or sing or paint or sculpt, the artist’s job is to change or clarify the way people view the world.  We evoke emotion that inspires action.   One has only to pick up a newspaper or turn on the television to realize our world is beset by problems that are overwhelming to the individual.  It would be easy to take refuge in cynicism or ignorance. Yet, collectively, we can make a difference.  The artists among us have a responsibility to reach that place within humanity to urges us to build a better world.

Remember “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson.  Published in 1962 it inspired the environmental movement that began in earnest two decades later and resulted in the ban on DDT.

Consider the “Singing Revolution” where hundreds of thousands of Estonians gathered to sing forbidden patriotic songs as a protest against occupation by the Soviet Union. Estonia is now a free nation.

Aesop used story to illustrate and motivate in his famous fables.  Who doesn’t know the tale of the tortoise and the hare, with it’s moral of perseverance over flash and dash. Written over 2500 years ago, the lessons still resonate.

Setting a romance novel alongside these great works may seem presumptuous, but romance is read by millions of women.  In the past few months we’ve all seen the power of women united in a single cause.  The romance genre has been routinely dismissed by academia, but now various universities are offering courses on it.  That’s the power of good story-telling; the power of art.

I’m a fan of Mr. Domingo.  His advice resonates with me.  I do try to give my best in all circumstances.  You can’t see it, but I’m a smiling sort of person. Change the world?  That’s a big task.  Still, my stories celebrate love. They illumine positive relationships between men and women and children.  They are hopeful. They are uplifting.  They portray a world of decency and faith and good neighbours. That’s how I try to change the world.



The Most Important Element

“The most important element is passion.”

Those are the first words I heard when I turned on the radio this morning.  The announcer was speaking of music, but the same applies to all walks of life, whether it be career, sports, relationships or hobbies.  I’m watching The Brier (the national championship for men’s curling in Canada).  One of my favourite teams has had a poor year, losing many matches.  But they’ve got their old form back and are top of the standings now.  The difference?  Passion.  Even the broadcasters remark that the team is demonstrating the intensity that won them past championships.  They are exciting to watch.


Last week the clutter in my office reached the tipping point – literally. The pile on the desk tipped over into the pile on the chair which tipped into the pile on the floor.  I was trapped.  Unless I did some clearing out, I couldn’t get from the desk to the door.  It took a whole day and some tears as I sent old notes, cards and manuscripts to the recycle bin, but now when I walk to my desk, I’m energized by the clean surfaces and neatly stacked supplies. 

As part of the clear out, I examined old workshop notes. That brought a few tears too.  I remembered my naïve self heading off to those classes convinced I would learn the “magic” element that would turn me into a prolific, best-selling author. I’d come home from each session invigorated, eager, feeling on the cusp of something wonderful.

Time passed. I’m not a best-seller.  Realism has overtaken passion. The manuscripts are more polished, better structured.  The characters are more rounded. The prose is clear and fluent.  So, I’ve learned much in my years of writing, but I’ve also lost some of the passion.

How to get it back?  

Last week I talked about learning something new. That’s a good step. 

Reading a good book is another. My tablet is full of new e-books, my bedside table has a stack of TBR titles, but so much of that reading feels like work. I’m studying my craft.  For a change of pace I returned to an old favourite.  Joy coloured my reading time. I remembered that, as an author, I wanted to give that kind of joy to my readers.  The passion is stirring.

Make new friends. There is nothing so wonderful as an old friend, but a new friend can stir up  the soul. It’s kind of like going out on a blind date. So much to discover.  Will she become a soul-mate or turn out to be a dud?  I don’t know, but the journey promises excitement.  I’ve joined the Pioneer Hearts group on facebook, where I’m meeting new people who share my passion for history.  I’m excited to chat with them.

In her iconic book on writing, bird by bird, Anne Lamott talks about the writing frame of mind. She points out that starting and abandoning numerous projects indicates a lack of passion for them.  She recommends that writers look to their core values and write from that place.  You probably aren’t even aware of your core values, they feel like universal truths that no one has ever not known.  But it is the job of the writer to explore those truths, to lay them out for the world to see, to dissect them and put them back together again.  A writer’s passion lies in telling her truth.

I’ve made a start on all of the above. Now, I’m going to do some of the exercises from those old workshops.  After all, in my office clean up I unearthed coloured pencils, index cards and a variety of charts. I’m already smiling in anticipation. The exercises won’t create passion in the work, but they may put me in the frame of mind where passion happens.

Anyone else like to share some tips on how to keep the passion alive in your writing when you feel jaded with the whole thing? Please share.

Benefits of Learning New Things


In the last issue or RWR® Holly Jacobs reported on her return to school and taking ceramics. She liked it.  It improved her writing. It improved her life. Her story is only one of many describing the benefits of life-long learning.

Google “try new things” and you’ll get a raft of articles, some scientific, some opinion, some psychological and some medical.  From all of them, you’ll get encouragement to try something new.  Here’s a brief summary.

From a “happiness” perspective.

  • You grow as a person
  • You rejuvenate yourself.
  • You’ll become more adept at every day skills, saving time and reducing stress.
  • If you’re not learning something new you stagnate.
  • Learning something new improves your self-esteem.
  • You meet new people. As old friends drop away through life changes, it is essential to cultivate new friendships.
  • You become a more interesting person
  • You aren’t bored

From a scientific point of view.

  • Learning new things changes the white matter in your brain, improving performance.
  • The more you learn, the easier it becomes. By stimulating neurons in the brain, more neural pathways are formed and messages from one part of the brain to the other travel more quickly.
  • You make connections between different skill and knowledge areas. In other words, the more you learn, the more you learn. The more you exercise your brain, the better it works.
  • You adapt better to change. In our world where change is happening at an unprecedented rate, the ability to adapt is priceless.
  • You may decrease your chances of developing dementia, or, at the very least, slowing its progress.

Let’s look at these benefits as they apply to writers.

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron explores a number of ways writers can become more creative, productive, and happy. Among her chapters are:

  • Recovering a sense of Identity.

Surely learning new things plays into that sense of identity. You are not the person you where at 15 or 25 or even 55. You are a life-long learner, an interesting person.

  • Recovering a Sense of Power.    

Having more skills and information at your disposal must confer a sense of power.

  • Recovering a sense of Possibility.

Once you’ve mastered one new skill you are open to the possibility of learning another, and another. Your mind is open to new experiences, your senses are tuned to notice the world around you. With a sense of possibility, your writerly antennae are aquiver.

  • Recovering a Sense of Abundance.

With an ever expanding circle of friends, days filled with satisfaction of learning and striving, your creative well is filled—abundance.

  • Recovering a Sense of Connection.

Taking a class, joining a new group, reading outside your comfort level. All of these things connect you to the ever-changing world around you.

  • Recovering a Sense of Autonomy.

Fear is an unwelcome companion to many writers. It sits there on your shoulder whispering that “you’re not good enough. You can’t do this. You will fail.” By learning new skills, you whack Fear in the solar plexus. You have an A+ on your paper, or your musical composition or your woodworking project. Proof positive that you can. You are free to pursue your writing career without constantly worrying that you can’t.

I did a very small new thing this week. I downloaded the Libby app to my tablet in order to borrow electronic books from my local library. It worked! A miracle considering how many computer glitches I’ve encountered in the past month.

As a result, I feel empowered, connected, and my self-esteem has risen. Such an amazing lift to my spirits from a very small accomplishment.

Have a happy week. Go learn a new thing.



Opening Lines

Heading into my final round of editing this week. I’m very excited and scared to death at the same time.  This book, the third in the Prospect series, has been a long time in the incubator.  Now that it’s ready for publication, I want to get it “right.”

I’ve already made several passes through the ms on the computer, now I’ve printed it out for a final read. My twentieth century brain “sees” things on paper that it misses on a screen.

Aside from the usual eye out for typos and inconsistencies, like changing hair colour or a week with two Mondays, I want the story to engage the reader right from the start. I’ve been studying opening lines in my favourite books, reading advice columns and watching “flog a pro,” on Writer Unboxed.  Ray Rhamey  writes a regular feature on that blog where he quotes the opening paragraph or two of a best seller and asks readers if they’d turn the page.  It’s a fun game, but I’m often at odds with him.  Rhamey wants lots of tension and action in the opening lines.  I understand that.  It’s a great hook.  Yet, when I check out my favourite stories, they often begin slowly, setting the scene, hinting at a problem but not diving straight in on the first page.  Many books on my keeper shelf begin with dialogue, which may seem innocuous but speaks to character and motivation.

Advice for writers always emphasises the importance of the opening line. It should ask a story question, hint at the protagonist’s character, introduce the setting and exhibit the author’s “voice.”  All in ten words or less.

I think lots of writer advice books are geared to high-concept stories – thrillers, action novels, suspense; the type of book, that when turned into a movie, opens with a gun fight or a car chase.

Romantic movies usually start more gently. “You’ve Got Mail,” begins with a long sequence of shots setting the location in Seattle.  “Casablanca” starts with a map and ominous music while a voice over sets the scene.  In a book, that would be omniscient author. “Titanic” is a sepia scene of passengers waving from the deck of a cruise ship.  There are other examples, but you get the idea – no gun fights.

My book starts with setting, gold rush town in 1888. The heroine is excited about a new business venture.  She has risked her inheritance.  She has a sister.

There’s more, of course, but if we were to follow Ray Rhamey’s model, that is all you would get before he asked the question “would you turn the page?”

Over to you, dear readers. How do you like your opening lines in a romance?  Would you read the next line after this opening?

On a hot sunny morning Louisa Graham stood on the boardwalk of Prospect’s main street and pointed with pride to the brand new sign over the photography studio.  “What do you think?” She craved her sister’s approval.

Twists and Knots in Yarn

On Valentine’s Day is seems appropriate to talk about expressions of love–handmade love. As witnessed by the response to last week’s blog, quilters love their craft .  This week, let’s hear from the knitters and crocheters.

I’m more adept with needles and yarn than I am with needle and thread.  As usual the impetus for my projects is a baby in the family.  This little blanket is not much to look at, although I tried to dress it up with a picot border, but it is made of a yarn that babies love.  It is very, very soft and the little ones always reach for it when they want to snuggle down.

This was a more ambitious project and one of my favourites. I loved the soft texture of the yarn and warm cream colour.  I did not love sewing it all together!  Each square is made up of four little squares. I had eighty short seams, then twenty long seams to do, then a border.  By the time I finished I was vowing never to tackle that project again.


For the next project I used a technique where each little square is attached to the next little square as you go along! There is a term for this but I can’t remember what it is.  I’ve tried Google, but they only help when you can tell them what you’re looking for. J  Anyone here remember the name of this technique?

And while I’m on the subject of baby projects, here are a couple of crocheted blankets I made to welcome newborns to the family. The pattern is all printed on a grid so I had to get a magnifying light to read it.  Very easy to lose count of the stitches.  The one with the pig I did twice as the first effort was lost in a house fire.  I thought, if I could replace at least one of the items destroyed it might help to ease the family’s pain.


Not all my projects are for babies. Here is an afghan I started to use up the leftovers in my stash.  My friend persuaded me to put it in the fair, where it won a “special mention.”  The judges loved the colours but noticed that I’d run out of yarn on one stripe and had to substitute another.  Just like with quilting, I like to use up my left over bits.

Anyone else want to share? I’d love to see pictures of your favourite projects.

Do you like to read about household arts in your favourite books? I enjoy weaving a bit about my hobbies into my books.  In “The Man for Her,” the heroine is adept with needle and thread.

And please, if you know the name of that technique for knitting one square onto another, please tell me.

Happy Valentine’s to all my readers.



Are you a quilter?  My friend is a first-class practitioner of the art.  Here is one of her machine-stitched prize-winners at our Fall Fair. See the blue ribbon in the lower left corner?

In my heart, I’m a quilter, but my skill level sets me as rank amateur.  Still, I keep trying.  I love quilts for special occasions.  Here are a couple I made for new babies in my family.  I get along all right in putting the pieces together and in doing the stitching – I prefer hand stitching to machine stitching, but I really have trouble finishing the edges.  I’ve tried adding a border, turning the bottom up over the top and turning the top down over the bottom.  All come out as less than picture perfect.

The examples on this page are made of new material and designed as artwork, that’s the modern way.  But what really appeals to me about quilting is the old-fashioned notion of using up scraps of worn-out items to create something new and useful and beautiful.  That was the impetus behind the pioneer woman’s quilt-making.  That and the quilting bee, I would imagine.  An opportunity to spend an afternoon with other women, catching up on the neighbourhood news, exchanging recipes, and having a cup of tea together would seem like a vacation to our hard-working foremothers.  And at the end of the day they had several finished quilts and a perfect excuse for taking the day off from their other household chores.

I recently cleared out several bags of fabric scraps that are never going to make it into a quilt of mine, but I’ve kept enough that if I’m ever struck with a burning desire to frustrate myself again, I’ve got bits of red velvet for the heart of a log cabin design.

One of my favourite examples of quilting is a wall hanging my mother made years ago.  She used bits of fabric from my old clothes.  I can look at that hanging and see the blue velvet of a flower-girl dress I wore when I was five, or the embroidered white organdy of my graduation dress, or the red velvet she remade many times as a Christmas dress for her daughter.  I also see one of her favourite blouses and something in mustard yellow that I hope neither of us ever wore as a garment.  To me, this hanging represents the spirit of the quilt; practical, beautiful, and glowing with love.

But, our foremothers were creative as well as practical.  They could have just cut out squares and sewn them together to achieve the practical and useful portion of the equation.  However, they looked around them, and just like an artist in paint, transferred the everyday of their lives into patterns that reflected the country they inhabited.  “Duck’s Foot in the Mud,” must have come from a woman living near a slough, where she saw the tracks of a waddling duck on a muddy bank.  Or how about “flying geese?”  I live on a migration path for Canada Geese and their twice-yearly honking and long vee formations always stir my soul.  Of course that shape belongs in a quilt.

For years I had a hand-made “grandmother’s flower garden” quilt on my bed.  It looked a lot like this one, with the yellow centres and single row of matching petals against a white background. Now it is worn threadbare, the colours faded, but the quilting stitches are still intact.  I keep it in a memory corner.  Maybe one day part of it will end up in a memoir hanging of my own.

And speaking of memories.  I had an idea for a project for the Fall Fair this year.  I took a bunch of my old prize ribbons (I win prizes for my roses, not my quilts) and wove them together to make this colourful hanging, the little one on the right with the “well done” ribbon.  No prize—my imagination continues to outrun my skill—but lots of fun and a great conversation piece.


What about you?  Do you quilt?  Do you have a favourite example?  Hand-stitch or machine?  Purpose bought fabric or scraps  from the rag-bag?  Share your thoughts in the comments section and win a free e-copy of The Man for Her, first book in my Prospect Series.  Limited to first five commenters only.

Life in a Small Cabin


In my part of the world it has been raining for days and days and days. Hard rain, the kind that dances on the pavement, makes big puddles, and turns the ground sodden.  The skies are unrelenting grey, the cloud cover so low I can’t see a 100 yards from my house.  (I normally have a panoramic view.)  We keep the lights on all day to dispel the gloom.  I’m getting cabin fever.

How easily that phrase comes to mind – and how ridiculous! In my “cabin,” I have many rooms.  I have the distraction of radio, television, internet, books and the telephone.  I have electricity, that allows me to keep the lights on.  I have natural gas that keeps the fireplace burning with no effort on my part.  I have running water – no need to visit an outhouse.  And I have a vehicle that allows me to travel in comfort and connect with others. If I think I suffer from “cabin fever,” what did our forebears suffer during long winters when deep snow cut them off from fellow human beings?

From Wikipedia: “Since prairie madness [cabin fever] does not refer to a clinical term, there is no specific set of symptoms of the affliction. However, the descriptions of prairie madness in historical writing, personal accounts, and Western literature elucidate what some of the effects of the disease were.

The symptoms of prairie madness (cabin fever) were similar to those of depression. The women affected by prairie madness were said to show symptoms such as crying, slovenly dress, and withdrawal from social interactions. Men also showed signs of depression, which sometimes manifested in violence. Prairie madness was not unique from other types of depression, but the harsh conditions on the prairie triggered this depression, and it was difficult to overcome without getting off of the prairie.”

The short story, “The Lamp at Noon,” by Sinclair Ross gives an indication of the overwhelming sense of helplessness of a woman on the prairie during the dustbowl. The isolation, fear, and daily life in harsh circumstances overwhelm her.  Would a friend have helped?  Even a casual visitor from the outside world?  Ellen is imprisoned by hardship, dust, poverty and loneliness-a graphic description of cabin fever. “One’s a Heifer,” by the same author follows a similar theme.

The photo at the top of this blog is of a replica log cabin close to my home.  The collage at the left is of the interior. The whole building is roughly 12×24 ft.  It is one room with the bed, the baby crib, the cookstove and the table all squished in together.  Note the “distractions” for the woman of the house–the cookstove, the wash tubs, the sewing machine, the baby crib, the baking cupboard, the hand-braided rug, the handmade quilt, the spinning wheel, the water bucket–“women’s work is never done.”  Imagine a whole family, mother, father, baby and likely other children, living in these tight quarters.

In my stories, my heroines have space to call their own.  My heroes embrace the rugged landscape.  Children run and play, unfettered by fences or timetables.  Note, I write fiction.


So, now that I’ve considered the true source of the term “cabin fever” I’ll stop my grousing, turn on my full-spectrum lamp, and enjoy my photo-album of sun-filled days.

What about you? Does the weather get you down?  What are your coping mechanisms?




Item F-08807 in B.C. Archives- Susan R. Crease.

            Last week I wrote about the use of the word “idiot” in my ms.  This week, I’m showing you a portion of the unedited ms and my re-write. This if from a scene where Rev. Daniel Stanton goes down on one knee in the dusty road to propose.



The impatient mare tossed her head, and whinnied breaking the spell. Louisa gasped. “Get up, you idiot! What if someone saw you?  The gossip would be hotter and faster than a wildfire.”

            “Is that a yes, then?”  He rose to his full height with a lithe grace Louisa admired. Convention demanded that he conduct himself with dignity and decorum. It was easy to forget that, behind the collar was an attractive and athletic man in the prime of life.

            “No it is not a yes.”  Her chest ached and she felt an absurd impulse to scream. Shock, she assured herself, Too many shocks in too short a time. “I won’t marry to save face.”


          The impatient mare tossed her head, and whinnied breaking the spell. Louisa gasped. “Get up, Daniel, do.” She plucked at his coat, while trying to look in all directions at once, alarmed by his extravagant gesture. “What if someone saw you?  The gossip would be hotter and faster than a wildfire.”

            “Is that a yes, then?”  He rose to his full height with a lithe grace Louisa admired. Convention demanded that he conduct himself with dignity and decorum. It was easy to forget that, behind the collar was an attractive and athletic man in the prime of life.

            “No it is not a yes.”  Her chest ached and she felt an absurd impulse to scream. Shock, she assured herself. Too many shocks in too short a time. “I won’t marry to save face.”       

    Just a note, I did have her use the word earlier in the ms where she is laughing and clearly making a joke. Daniel did not take offence. Is that enough set-up to let the original of this passage stand, or do I need to eliminate the problematic word?

   I’d love to have your comments both on the original and the re-write. It is always easier, and more fun, to critique another’s work than our own! 🙂

P.S.  The photo at the top comes from the B.C. Archives.  I wanted to show you an historical image of a woman and a horse.  Most photos show only men, but there were horsewomen in our past as well.

Save the Cat


Blake Snyder’s classic advice to “Save the Cat” came forcibly to mind this week.  I was reading a best seller where the protagonist not only didn’t save the cat, he aimed a kick at it.  At this point my dh put down the book and refused to read further.

I carried on reading. The novel is a book club assignment so even if I don’t like it, I have to read it to justify my opinion.  In this case, I came to empathize with the hero—he had a hard life and in the end he did rescue the cat—but I did not identify with him.  In other words, the story was entertaining and well-told, but it kept me at a distance.

For some types of novel, that distance is not an issue, but for romance novels, we want the reader to enter into the story, to put herself in the heroine’s shoes and feel every heartbeat with her.  Having a heroine who even contemplated kicking a cat could eliminate a large readership.

This little vignette was a good reminder to me to choose story words and actions carefully. What may seem like good characterization to an author– being mean to a stray cat—may offend readers so deeply that they cease to be  readers.  Snyder’s example was intended to help authors write empathetic and complex characters. In real life, no one is all good or all bad.  Unless they are comic book caricatures, even villains will have at least one redeeming feature.  They care for their mothers, or they send money to an orphanage, or they rescue a stray kitten.

I had an object lesson on this topic in my WIP. I used the term “idiot.”  A beta reader found the word harsh, denoting anger and insulting to both the heroine, who says it, and the hero, to whom it is applied.  Such was not my intention.  I had used the term the way Georgette Heyer used it, almost as a term of endearment.  She also uses “stupid,” and “wretch” in the same way, playfully and with no intent to hurt.  Clearly, I’m not as skilled as Ms Heyer in portraying the meaning of the word in this way.

I could argue with my reader, or I could put in a long explanation of how the word “idiot” is intended in this context, but none of that would be helpful. If the word offended one person, it might offend others.  Why would I want to annoy readers when I could avoid the issue by re-writing the sentence?  I’m not suggesting that writers should water down their prose to be as bland as a blanc-mange but I do recommend paying attention to possible misinterpretations.

English is a living language and words change their meanings and connotations over time. For example, hussy comes from the word housewife and used to refer to the mistress of a household, an honourable position, the exact opposite to the disreputable woman it refers to today. When writing historicals it is wise to keep an etymology dictionary handy.  I find this one on-line useful.

So, now I’m going through my WIP on the hunt for unintended red flags. My heroines can still be strong, decisive, and, occasionally cranky and plain-spoken, but they must remain likeable.

So, thanks to Blake Snyder and the unsympathetic hero for warning me away from “idiot” unless I really mean it.

How about you?  Are there words or actions that cause you to close a book and write the author off your TBR list?  Are there themes that are auto-buy for you? I’d love to read your comments.


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