Category: Writing life (page 1 of 8)

Writers Extraordinaire

Thanks to Marion Ann for the photo

Summer time and these writers are taking it easy.  This is my local authors group, VIRA.  On a hot, sunny Saturday we retired to the front porch to enjoy a picnic pot luck and talk writing.  The food was delicious.  The company was entertaining and the writing was downright terrific.  Part of the day included an anonymous reading for one or two pages of a member’s wip.  The pages were all dropped in a basket. Volunteers selected one submission and read it out to the group.  We then did a little kindly critiquing.  And we weren’t being kind just because we’re nice people.  We were kind because the writing was excellent.  We had to really nit-pick to find something that could be improved.

I’ve always enjoyed and admired the women in my group, but this week I really applaud them for their creative talents, their command of language, and their ability to spin a tale.

I recommend you check them out here.  There’s a new release page on the website.  I’d encourage you to look at both the romance releases and the non-romance.  These writers are funny, clever and daring.  Read one of their books.  You’ll be glad you did.

A Painful Lesson

This week I’ve been given the opportunity to experience what it is like to count the minutes until your next dose of pain medication. Complications from a dental procedure left me with a swollen face and an aching jaw that sent me to emergency over the weekend.  For two days I literally counted the minutes, day and night, until my next set of pills.  Of course, my pain was no where near that experienced by cancer patients or trauma patients, but I now know a little of how it feels when pain rules every moment of your day. Perhaps I can use that in a story some time.

Some writers will tell you that they use writing to get through the bad times. Not me.  I couldn’t put myself into an imaginary world when the real one demanded so much attention.  However, I could read.  I’m so grateful to authors who tell stories that, even for a little while, distracted me from my aching jaw.

And on that note, here’s a link that may interest you.

It’s a Book!

Getting the notice, “your book is live” from Amazon is a thrill.  Holding the paperback book in your hand makes it real.  Today I got my author copies.  Picked them up at the mailbox, walked home with the box in my hand then ripped into it to reveal —  A Book!

Cover Reveal

At last I’m able to show you the cover for my latest book in the Prospect Series. You may remember that it was delayed due to the unexpected passing of my cover artist, Dawn Charles.

Fortunately I was able to find someone who would pick up on the previous books and create a design that maintained the series brand. Thank you to Lori Corsentino/Harmony Creative Design.  She worked very hard to make the cover reflect my story. Notice the signs on the stores in the background? Those are all names of businesses I use in the story. The Prospect Photography Parlour is the name of the heroine’s business.

 

The picture on the right is one of the covers Dawn  did.  You can see how well the new cover artist picked up on the “look” of the series.

We played around with colours quite a bit and I’m delighted with the colour of the title and the ribbon behind the author’s name. We called it cranberry. I love names like plum, cranberry, mulberry, etc. for colours. They give the artist a wide scope in finding just the right shade. I guess you can do the same with “red” and “blue” but the “food” colours stimulate the imagination . . . and the appetite.

The book is not yet for sale as the formatting isn’t complete, but I’m giving you all a preview of the cover. Watch this space for release details in the next few weeks. Meantime, leave a comment telling me if you think “cranberry” is the right name for the colour.

World Building

We celebrated Victoria Day in my part of the world, which meant a long weekend. I took that as permission to forget about chores for three days.  We went off to our favourite holiday spot and walked the beach, ate food that someone else had prepared, and read books until late into the night.  What a treat.

The first one I read was a real page turner. It combined elements of mystery, history and romance to take me into a world of glitz and glamour far beyond my own experience. In retrospect, the plot was improbable and there was a fair bit of friendly coincidence in the action.  But those weaknesses didn’t matter because the story and the characters hooked me in from the first line – a break-in where something spectacular is discovered. 

The author doesn’t tell me what so, I turn the page to find out.  Only now I’m in a different place, a different time and a very different mood, a family reunion, full of memories and nostalgia – and a dreadful foreshadowing.  It isn’t until the third chapter that the main action of the story gets going.

If I were to apply many of the “how-to” criteria for how to write a book, this one would fail. And yet, it was a great book.  How could the author break so many “rules” and still come up with a best seller?

I think her use of language to build a story world deserves a large part of the credit.  The book is thick with descriptive passages –a no-no in writing classes – yet the descriptions impart so much emotion, they aren’t the bits one wants to skip.  The settings convey fear, or anger, or sorrow or longing with such intensity they draw the reader deeper into the story.  Even when I closed the book to go for a walk, the mood of the thing stayed with me.  The author succeeded brilliantly at drawing me into her imaginary world and making me care about it. That’s the other key element.  I cared about what happened in this world.

The other book, was short, a straightforward “who dunnit.”  It was a classic goal/motivation/conflict story, yet it failed to capture me. Why? Because the story-world didn’t draw me in.  I know the action took place on a university campus because the author said so, but I couldn’t imagine myself walking the tree-lined paths of that campus.  In fact, I don’t know if it had tree-line paths, or dirt tracks or grassy boulevards.  Those details of setting were not on the page.  I didn’t encounter hoards of students rushing to class.  There were no bikes overflowing the bike stand and shackled to trees.  There was a library, but I’ve no idea if it was a nineteenth century cathedral to learning or a modern stone and glass monolith with banks of computers instead of bookshelves.

The characters had names and personality quirks, yet still felt interchangeable. i.e. pick one quirk: apply to a character: add a name.  These people didn’t come alive to me, they did not haunt my imagination and they certainly didn’t stay with me as I packed my suitcase.  The most serious character failing, in my mind, was the protagonist.  He is a male, yet his actions and thoughts all felt feminine to me.  Also, contrary to every writer’s advice book, each chapter ended with him going to sleep. A great excuse for the reader to do the same.

Both books were published by one of the big five publishing houses.

World building is a much studied aspect of fantasy/paranormal novels but those who write contemporary works are often chided about wasting words on description. Jack Bickham even has a whole chapter titled “Don’t Describe Sunsets” in his classic The Thirty-Eight Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes (and how to avoid them.)

In the first book I read the author described sunsets over the Mediterranean, inky black nights in Paris and a perfect summer day in rural England.  She made me want to go there.  Made me want to experience an impossibly beautiful sunset, always just out of reach, always pulling me on one more step, one more page, one more hour.

I didn’t do any work on my own writing over the holiday weekend, but, as a writer, I never really stop thinking about writing. What makes it good? Why does it fall flat?  Learning those lessons in story is more fun than reading about them on the “help for writers” shelf.

What about you? Have you read a good book lately? One that grabs your imagination, pulls you into its fearful and complicated story-world and won’t let you go until you get to ‘the end?”  How did the author do that?  Did she use description and setting? Unforgettable characters? Non-stop action? In other words, what do you look for in a good book?

The Practice of Gratitude

A writer’s life can be lonely and disheartening. We work away in our little cubby-holes.  We wonder if our stories are worth telling.  We worry that no one will buy them.  We worry we’ll get bad reviews.  We worry that we’re wasting time and space in our lives.

Of course, if you get “the call” from a publisher or agent, you get validation, and life isn’t so worrisome. If you get tons of sales on your self-published novel, your time and effort is validated.  But between those moments, there are many days, weeks, even years, when a writer can feel cut off from readers.  It’s easy to feel discouraged.  It’s easy to give up.

I have found a solution.

Some years ago I read Ann Voskamp’s 1000 Gifts. I found the book inspiring.  I followed her formula for finding grace in every day things.  I made a list, and over the course of a year, I reached 1000 gratitudes.  The first few were easy; friends, family, flowers, trees, rivers, pets, food on the table . . .  But one thousand?  I learned to break down the gratitudes into individual items.  Food on the table, one item of gratitude, became roasted chicken, glistening with perfectly browned juices; fluffy, white mashed potatoes piled in a blue bowl; apple pie made with fruit from my own orchard, spiced with cinnamon and baked in a flaky crust.  You see how it works.  One thanksgiving became three when each element was considered individually. The practice also improved my powers of observation which translated into better detail in my writing. Just writing out a gratitude became a mini exercise in writing emotion into description. 

After I’d reached the 1000 mark in my original quest, I stopped. I’m a goal-oriented type and I’d achieved the goal.  I noticed, though, that my days felt a bit flat.  Then I got busy and forgot about it.  But lately, that “flat” feeling has been creeping into more and more of my minutes.  I looked around, and, there on my desk, was Ann’s devotional journal, inviting me to live in gratitude. Beside it was a beautiful, leather-bound journal, a gift from a niece. All that was lacking was me. So, I’ve started again.  This time, my goal is to list at least five gifts every day, and no repeats until I’ve reached one thousand.  This is day three, and I’m feeling more hopeful already.

Whether you’re a writer, a reader, a homemaker, a doctor or a candlestick maker, I recommend a gratitude journal. We cannot control the world around us, we cannot control how others treat us, but we can control our own attitude.  A grateful heart and a mind full of thanksgiving will transform your life – even if no one buys the book.

Books that Matter

My book club recently read a book titled, The Book That Matters Most, by Ann Hood.  The book tells the story of people in a book club where a year’s reading was chosen from the “book that mattered most” to each member of the group.  

I won’t go into detail of the book, but I will say that in my book group, we were all struck by the title, “the book that matters most,” and had a really fun evening discussing the books that have been most meaningful in our lives.

Of course, I put the Bible, at the top of the list. The Word of God has transformed millions, even billions of lives over time and shaped much of Western thought.

But leaving aside the Bible, we played with the notion of books that mattered. For many of us, it was childhood books., those tattered volumes that taught us to love reading.  For me I’d say Mother West Wind Why Stories, by Thornton W. Burgess. Burgess was a conservationist who wrote about the natural world, particularly animals, for children. This site lists his work totalling 172 books. My mother had read many of the books aloud as bedtime stories. My brothers and I knew all about Sammy Jay and Unc Billy Possom, and Grandfather Frog, and Reddy Fox, and Blackie the Crow. By the time we reached Mother West Wind our family was growing and Mom was short of time. It was also a period when I was learning to read for myself.

In school we had Dick and Jane books. If ever there was a series designed to discourage reading, that was it. How boring is “Look, look. See Dick. See Dick run?” Using those texts, I’d learned to read words, but Mother West Wind was the first time I read a story for myself.

Another of our book club named Anne of Green Gables as a seminal book for her. The reason? Her teacher read it aloud to the class. My friend’s home was different from mine – no one read bedtime stories. So, for her, hearing a book read aloud left a lasting impression.

Our group had a lively time calling up Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, Cherry Ames and Little Women as favourites from childhood. One woman mentioned Catcher in the Rye, a book that was included in Ms Hood’s novel. My friend read the book as a teenager and found it “perfect” for the time.

As an adult, I discovered Georgette Heyer while travelling through non-English speaking countries. When I found Frederica in a book store, I had to buy it. It was my first experience of Regency Romance and opened a whole new world of books to me.

My book club had a delightful evening. I won’t expand on our discussion of The Book that Matters Most, you can read it for yourself and form your own conclusions,  but we all agreed that the title was a great conversation starter and proved that books matter.

How about you? What book matters most in your reading life? Leave a comment and I’ll enter you in a draw to win an advance copy of my not yet published book, Her One True LoveTwo winners to be announced May 2, 2018.

 

To Tell or Not to Tell

 

 

My local authors group, VIRA, held their monthly meeting on Saturday. It was great to mingle with so many talented women.  The sharing of information, achievements, heartaches and life events during our “accolades” time is truly inspiring.  For many, that would be enough, but we had a workshop as well, presented by Susan  Lyons (w/a Savanah Fox, Susan Fox.)

Susan had asked the group beforehand what they’d like to work on. The response was huge and wide-ranging.  I wondered how she’d by able to turn all the varied suggestions into a cohesive workshop.  But Susan is a very organized person. She took everyone’s pet problem and lumped it into the challenge of conflict. 

Makes sense doesn’t it?  If you’re trying to develop a plot, external conflict is essential.  If you want to create memorable characters, they need internal conflict.  If you want emotional intensity for the reader, it starts with conflict. If you have a sagging middle, turn up the conflict.  Nearly all the difficulties writers encounter in creating a great story, can be addressed through conflict — or struggle, if you prefer that word.

Once she’d laid out the basics of conflict, Susan divided us into small groups – very small, three—and let us brainstorm. Using Deb Dixon’s formula of Goal/Motivation/Conflict, we talked about character, theme and plot in our work-in-progress.

I’m a little nervous of these types of exercises. Either I have nothing to say because I cannot create on the spot, or I’m afraid that my work is too new to withstand the scrutiny of other opinions.  When I start a story, it’s a bit like digging a well.  When the first trickle of water appears, I must be very careful not to damage the water table or the geology of the site.  One mistake and the water disappears.  It can be the same with story.  One criticism, one chance remark, and the “idea”, instead of developing, vanishes.

In my little group we had one story nearly finished, one that was well-started and mine, which is still a glimmer.

When the session ended, Susan was enthusiastically thanked. Everyone in the room had learned something, either about the story she was working on now, or one she might tackle in the future.  Despite my misgivings about “crowd-sourcing” my story, I got some good ideas and no damage occurred.  A very successful afternoon.

 

What about you?

As a writer, do you like to talk about your project from the first inkling or do you prefer to have the story down on paper before you share?

As a reader, do you like to see work in progress, or do you want the author to give you only the finished and polished version?

 

Down the Rabbit Hole – Research

What I learned this week while writing my “discovery” draft is that I need to discover some more historical facts. To that end, I’m reading 40 Years in Canada, by Samuel B. Steele. This is a wonderful, first hand account of the formation of the North West Mounted Police and they’re trek west in 1874-75. The impetus for this undertaking was to end the whiskey trade that was devastating the First Nations of the western plains.  In Steele’s day, they used the term Indian or Redman.  He writes “For the credit of the Dominion and humanity, it was absolutely necessary that a stop be put to the disgraceful scenes which were daily enacted on the Bow and Belly rivers and in the Cypress Hills.”

I’m a real fan of Sam Steele, who seemed to meet hardship and trial with good cheer and hard work.  He offers his greatest praise to men who did not grumble and who vied with each other to carry the heaviest load or make the most trips back and forth on the near impossible portages from Lake Superior to Lake Winnipeg. And he did it all “for humanity.”

As we live in an age marred by corporate greed and a “me first” attitude, it brought joy to my heart to read that when, after a march of 1,959 miles, a new fort was established, the first structures built were stables for the horses, then barracks for the men and lastly, quarters for the officers.

Much as I’m enjoying Sam Steele’s memoirs, they do not provide me with the details of a pioneer woman – what she wore, how she cooked, what she did for a sick child.  I’ve another book, Never Done—Three Centuries of Women’s Work in Canada, written by The Corrective Collective, and published in 1974.  This volume attempts to tell “her-story.”  The title comes from the old saying, “a man works from sun to sun but women’s work is never done.”

The authors have tried to tackle women’s history in Canada from the time of New France and les Filles du Roi through to World War One.  The resource yields many interesting facts such as, in 18th century Halifax the Inspector and Surgeon General was paid a guinea a day to operate a hospital.  The Matron of said hospital, while responsible for changing bandages, cleaning wounds, administering medicines, applying poultices, arranging food preparation, ensuring hospital maintenance and sweeping the floor, received no salary. (Picture me shaking my fists!) However, aside from sending me into a rage, the book is still sketchy on the details of daily life in a gold rush town.

Next stop, B.C. Archives.  They have letters and diaries on file.  Here’s to “discovering.”

A “Paws”

I’ve had a really busy Easter weekend — lovely, but busy.  Now I’m off “discovering” my story in draft form.  I’ll report on that later.  Meanwhile, here’s a picture of my cat for your enjoyment.

 

This is my black cat soaking up a few rays.

This is my tabby cat soaking up a few zzz’z.                                                               

Happy Easter week to you all.  May you “discover” many wonderful things.

 

 

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