Tag: Susan Wiggs

Distractions

It’s bird hatching season in my part of the world. (My friend A.M. Stuart lives in Australia and I always do a double take when she writes of cold, wintry days while I’m picking roses.) Anyway, here in the northern hemisphere the baby birds are hatched and learning to fly. On Sunday we found a tiny sparrow sitting on the grass beside the porch steps. He had no injuries and was breathing fine. We couldn’t find a nest, so we put him into a berry box and set him up on top of the hedge away from feline predators and waited. I was astounded –and indignant–that  no parent birds were flying about raising a fuss. 

However, when I looked up fledgling sparrows I learned that this is normal behaviour and that the parents could be absent for several hours. We tried not to harass the little fellow  but we did check on him three hours later and he had gone. I trust he just flew away and wasn’t snatched by a raptor. 

This morning I watched the world’s stupidest bird, a killdeer, bring her two chicks out of a safe, fenced field to sit in the middle of the street with cars whizzing by. There is nothing to eat on the pavement but there they sat for what seemed like ages while I watched anxiously from the window. Eventually they completed the trek from the yellow line to the ditch and then onto our lawn. At last check they were happily pecking about under the apple trees — lots of chickweed there.

All of this is a round about way of saying I’m spending a lot more time watching life in my garden than creating stories at my computer. My excuse is that someone has to keep an eye on the little feathered ones. 

Beach Reads

But we are officially into summer, the season for lemonade, lazy afternoons and beach reads. I just visited my local library and all their suggestions for beach reads were tragedies. The characters in these novels grew and learned from their heartbreak, but that is not my idea of a gentle few hours.

To counter the darkness, I offer my suggestions for a summer holiday reading.

The Village

When it comes to easy reads I find myself drawn to “village” type stories. I’ve mentioned The Chillury Ladies’ Choir on this blog, but there are others. Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple stories are usually set in the village of St. Mary Mead. One of the major appeals of Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache mysteries is the village of Three Pines with its assortment of eccentrics. Maeve Binchy’s Whitethorn Woods is peopled with interesting characters, but it is the village that is at the heart of the story. Romance author Robyn Carr makes use of the village trope in her Virgin River series. I used the idea of place in my three Prospect books. 

As an author, I find returning to a familiar setting deepens the writing. Once I know the layout of the town, the folk who live there and the themes of the times, I am free to concentrate on developing my characters, deepening the love story, and adding in sub-plots for the minor characters of Prospect, B.C. 

As a reader I like to return to a setting I’ve enjoyed for the comfort of the place. Even though there are a remarkable number of murders in Three Pines, I love the sense of tranquillity and sanctuary Penny evokes when she describes the spot. I also enjoy learning more about the minor characters and how their lives evolve over the course of eighteen  novels.

Of course, these suggestions barely scrape the surface of books I love for summer reading. Susan Wiggs, Nancy Warren, Kathleen LawlessJane Austen, Alice Munro, Helen Simonson, Helen Humphreys — all of these writers are engaging, accessible and take the reader on a wonderful adventure — and, in my opinion, qualify as a beach read.

In honour of summer, this blog will publish only sporadically over the next two months.

Happy holiday reading.

 

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The Wisdom of Susan Wiggs

 

On a rainy Saturday, I attended a workshop given by Susan Wiggs and sponsored by my local authors group, VIRA. Wonderful way to spend a gloomy day. 

Being in a roomful of writers is a bit like going into the sunshine.  This group is positive, upbeat and cheerful – most of the time.  The workshop was no exception.  The room buzzed with energy and “reunion” conversations between Susan’s lessons.  While she spoke about her writing journey, you could almost hear the wheels turning as each writer present took in the information and considered how or if a similar strategy might be useful in her own path to publication.  I say “her” because it was an all female event, by accident, not be design.  Then again, the “femaleness” of the day may have contributed to the ambiance.  I’ve nothing against men, I’m quite fond of many of them, but a gathering of only women does have a certain vibe not present at mixed events.  I’m sure all-male events could say the same thing, although the vibe would be different.

Anyway, back to the workshop. Our group had send a list of topics we’d like to hear about.  I expected Susan to pick one or two.  Instead, she tried to touch on the entire writing journey from newbie to old pro and from idea to finished product.  A jam-packed day to say the least. 

Although time was limited, she did give us a few minutes to write down our three writing gurus, three essential writing tools and three writing triggers. Sadly, there wasn’t time to share, but even thinking about my own answers helped me to see a pattern in my process.  If I can exploit that pattern, perhaps I can increase my productivity and my craft.

One of my triggers is a clean slate.” That means a clean house, a clean desk, and a mind free of “musts” and “shoulds.”  For someone who procrastinates endlessly about housework, this creates a problem.  I have a cousin who sews and says she can’t work unless her sewing room is spotless and organized.  So long as I can find the sewing machine, I’m good to go.  Unhappily, I can’t apply that technique to writing.  Perhaps that’s why my second trigger is a coffee shop.

I believe the reason I escape to a coffee shop to write is because it provides that “clean slate” for me.  If there’s a streak on the window, it’s not my problem.  If the used cups are piling up in the bin, it’s not my problem.  If the lawn is a muddy mess, it’s not my problem.  At the coffee shop, the only requirement for me, is that I write.  Having coffee and chocolate for fuel doesn’t hurt. 🙂

My third trigger is research. I love to poke around in the library, the internet and newspaper archives for arcane bits of information.  Sometimes the research answers a question in my ms, sometimes it sends me down a whole new path.  I’d add a caveat to the research trigger though.  Be careful that it doesn’t take the place of writing.  Scholars have spent lifetimes on research.  A writer of commercial fiction can’t afford that luxury.  I try to make sure my research is focussed and doesn’t take me into a rabbit warren of facts that detract from the prime task of writing.

I’d love to hear from other artistic types. What triggers your creativity?  Can you work in a hurricane?  Can you balance your laptop on top of a to-do list and still make progress?

Leave a comment and get your name in the draw for a free copy of my Christmas short story anthology, The Man Who Hated Christmas.

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