Month: November 2023

5 Takeaways from Craft Workshop

My writer’s group held a hybrid in-person/on-line workshop this month. Since I’ve missed the company of other writers since COVID changed the way we do business, I went to the in-person part. There weren’t a lot of us in the room, but man, was it good to reconnect. I know on-line offerings use the word “connect” but electronic connections are not at all like human connections. So, before the workshop ever began, I was in a positive frame of mind. Here are some of my takeaways from the afternoon.

  1. When the presenters from DarlingAxe.com started their talk, I was totally engaged. The title of the workshop was “Killing Your Darlings,” which is a common concept among writers and a play on the company name so it is not surprising that the afternoon was filled with wisdom and laughter and some basic writing advice dressed in new clothes. ( Kill your Darlings is writer shorthand for cutting out flowery, unnecessary words that please your creative side but do nothing for the story.) 
  2. One often hears experienced writers complaining that craft workshops have nothing to teach them but I disagree. There is always something new to learn. For years I’ve been hearing about “stimulus and response,” “scene and sequel” and it didn’t help me a bit when it came to the actual writing of my story. Sometimes intellectual concepts provide knowledge without striking the emotional chord a writer — and a reader — needs.Michelle Barker and David Griffin Brown talked about “causality.” i.e. every scene requires a character to make a decision. That decision propels the story into the next scene.  This is not a new concept, but, for me, the language was new and effective. While they talked I pondered the short story I’m writing for my newsletter readers. I knew it had problems because what my main character wanted was a negative. i.e. she didn’t want Christmas.
  3. One of the creative concepts presented was the “thread test.” This is a way to test if your idea can translate into a story. It goes like this: when A happens, B must do C before D. A is the inciting incident, B is the protagonist, C is the conflict and D equals consequences.  Eventually those consequences should lead the protagonist — and the reader — to the goal of the story. In the case of romance that goal is happily ever after. 
  4. As the afternoon progressed, aspects of story-telling were presented, examined, and remade. By the time we got to quitting time, I’d managed to rethink my Christmas story into action instead of static emotion.  I’d given the heroine an achievable goal and I’d created scenarios which would prevent her from getting it. In other words, I’d made a rudimentary outline. For a pantser that was an amazing accomplishment.
  5. When I celebrated my last birthday, I considered dropping out of my writing group. It had become a chore. I volunteered on the administrative team, but I wasn’t feeling the joy. I missed the people. In the end, I gave it another year. I’m so glad I did.If you’re struggling with your writing, I highly recommend finding a supportive writing group, taking courses, meeting up with a critique group — anything to give you real, live, human contacts. Artificial Intelligence is getting better at doing our work but it isn’t a friend. It isn’t a hug on a bad day. It isn’t a cheerleader when you finally finish that manuscript.

 

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Terror in Topaz

Just finished reading Terror in Topaz, the fourth in the Harriet Gordon series by A.M. Stuart.  I’ve written about her other books, here, here and here.  All three books were set in Singapore in the early twentieth century.

For this adventure, the author takes us away from Singapore and into Kuala Lumpur. Harriet, one of the main characters, does not like KL and neither did I. 🙂 Which just proves the author did a really good job of portraying this less than salubrious place.

As we’ve come to expect from Ms Stuart, the story is rich with local colour and a conviction that comes from the author’s own experience living in this part of the world. Harriet’s story takes place in 1910, during the period when the British Empire was at its height.  So, not only do we have the heat and humidity and mosquitoes of the Far East, we have them while wearing Edwardian clothing and trying to maintain a proper English attitude. Kuala Lumpur, smaller and more insular than Singapore, is particularly hot and sticky.

The mystery plot of this story concerns an infamous brothel named The Topaz Club, but there is plenty of intrigue surrounding the “upper class” English establishment as well. Curran’s mission, to investigate the club, is not as straightforward as it might seem. He learns early in the book that there is no one he can trust — except Harriet, of course. The story leads both characters into dangerous situations and, finally, a fight for their lives.

There are quite a number of sub-plots as well —  another love story, family betrayal, an unrelated murder, more murders . . .  Oops, don’t want to give away too much. 

Anyone who has followed the series knows that Harriet and Curran have had a long and complicated relationship. In this, book four, they finally declare their feelings. So, HEA? Maybe. I know the author is at work on a fifth instalment of the series and I doubt she’ll let our lovers have an easy road. At least, for now, the romance looks rosy. 

If you love a little mystery in your romance, or a little romance in your mystery, I recommend Terror in Topaz.

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Feeding the Pioneer Spirit

I’ve been feeding my inner pioneer spirit this week. The long range forecast is for a cold winter. Since I live in a normally mild climate, suggestions of a real Canadian winter have me scrambling. I’ve worked diligently putting the rose garden to bed, pruning and picking up every bit of fungus infected leaf. What a job!

Apple Sauce

We harvested the last of the apple crop.

I’ve given away several bushels and am now making apple sauce from the ones with spots. I’ve got my mother’s old colander and pestle.

 

 

When I first set up my own household I bought a new one but it was useless. The shape was wrong. The peelings (which give such lovely colour to the sauce) clogged up the holes and I ended by throwing out more sauce than keeping it. When Mom broke up her household, I got the applesauce maker and I’ve been happy ever since.

 

I’ve seen social media posts making fun of old homemaking skills but I don’t laugh. For me, those skills are a tie to my foremothers. They speak of thrift and inventiveness. They remind me of the hardships overcome by those who came before me. I love quilts that are made from scraps of old clothes or leftover sewing yardages. Modern quilts, with fabrics purchased specifically for this work of art, are stunning and creative. But, I like to think of the frugal homemaker who salvaged usable bits from worn out clothes to make something lovely that would keep her family warm. The news has been filled lately with the amount of wasted textiles in landfills. The women who made quilts new all about recycling long before it became a “thing.”

I feel the same about my applesauce. It’s a great way to use the fruit that has bruises or worm holes. Just cut out the bad parts and use what is good. Maybe that would be a good motto for life — discard the bad parts and use what is good. Part of the “good” has been the gratitude from recipients of my surplus crop. Those who live in apartments, or long-term care no longer have an apple tree at the door, but they have memories.  A fresh, hand-picked apple (even and imperfect one) brings smiles to their faces.

Practising these old arts also helps my writing. I can read about peeling apples, but that’s not as immediate as holding the peeler in my hand. I know the pleasure of a long curl of apple peel. I know the pain of a cramped hand. I know the feel of juice running over my fingers. I experience the crunch of a Northern Spy between my teeth. One of the current buzz words for writers is “authentic.” Sowing, nurturing, reaping and preserving the garden add authenticity to my tales of women in an earlier time.

Anyway, I’ve been happy channelling my ancestors this week as frost touched the ground and I held a crisp, red apple, fresh from the tree, in my hand.

What pioneer skill makes you happy?

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