‘The Next Big Thing’ Meme


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There’s this Meme going around, called The Next Big Thing. Folks have been sharing details of their current writing and up-and-coming projects. My DD, Shari Green, was tagged and I was happily reading her post when, wham! I came across my name. So I’ve been tagged now, too.

The idea is to answer the questions and then pass them along to another writer. It’s a great way to learn about each other’s work and to do a little self-promotion. Here are my answers:

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What is the working title of your book?

Since I don’t have a working title for my current w.i.p. yet, I’ll use the previous manuscript, and its title is UNLIKELY SHOWDOWN.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

I’ve been involved with the world of purebred dogs and dog shows for more than thirty years, and have seen some bizarre situations and behaviour. I heard of dogs being killed by obsessive competitors and that got me thinking about what might drive a competitor to murder someone.

What genre does your book fall under?

It’s fallen all over the place, from cosy mystery to romance to inspirational romantic suspense! The revision I’m currently querying is simply a romantic suspense.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

If it wouldn’t be considered too arrogant I would love to see Meryl Streep as the MC and David Strathairn as her husband. On stage they both display the strong, independent personalities that cause so much conflict in this story.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

UNLIKELY SHOWDOWN is the story of what happens when one woman’s addiction to purebred dogs and the competitive world of dog shows speeds out of control and turns deadly.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I have friends who have very successfully self-published so I know it’s possible, but it’s not for me. I can’t imagine myself venturing into today’s tough publishing scene without the guidance of a knowledgeable agent and the help of an experienced editorial team. Does that make me a wuss?

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

If I said ‘forever’, I’ll bet other writers would understand. Much of it was written during last year’s NaNoWriMo month, but I continued to work on it right through the spring. I guess that means about nine months for the first draft, but I was still rewriting  parts of it earlier this fall, and am continually tweaking it now… especially since attending a recent workshop by Donald Maass on the topic of Writing Twenty-first Century Fiction.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I left this question until last, but even now I can’t really pinpoint perfect titles. I’d like to say a movie match-up would be combining the quirkiness of BEST IN SHOW with the out-of-control adventure of THE RIVER WILD, but that’s not exactly right either. Let’s just move on, shall we?

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I think my earlier answer covers this. The plot reveals an aspect of the dog show world few people know about, and should. Once the idea germinated, the story pretty much blossomed on its own.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Everyone loves a dog story, but this one is more about the people who love dogs. There are many wonderful people involved in the dog show world, but also many eccentric ones. I was the official consultant for the filming of ‘Best In Show’ and if you’ve seen it, you’ll remember how passionate some people are about winning at any cost. There might be “eight million stories in the Naked City”, but there are a whole lot of them lurking behind the scenes at dog shows, too.

There! Now you have it. And now that I’ve done my share, I’m to tag others and invite them to participate. So, in alphabetical order…

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Laura BestFirst victim:  Laura Best

Laura’s first novel was an historical YA story, although I think I recall hearing her hint that there’s a non-fiction project somewhere in the works, too. She can be a little kooky at times (yes, you have to read her claim to the Booker Award) but when she talks about her little Miss Charlotte, you know she has her priorities straight.

KeliGwyn-V4-SmallSecond victim:  Keli Gwyn

Keli writes inspirational historical romance. Long before she was published herself, she interviewed me on her Romance Writers on the Journey blog. There is nobody with a heart like Keli’s when it comes to supporting and encouraging her fellow writers.

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 Third victim:  Ruth Logan Herne.

Ruthy is a multi-published inspirational romance author, a dog breeder, and an out-of-this-world cook, plus she has an outrageous sense of humour. I met her on Seekerville, but she has multiple websites for her books and a couple personal sites as well.

Katherine WagnerFourth victim:   Katherine Wagner

Katherine writes Gothic horror, but I like her anyway. Anyone who has attended the Surrey International Writers’ Conference more times than I have has to be on the right track. She’s the co-facilitator of my writing critique group, Golden Ears Writers, so I have to be nice to her and her red pen.

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If you’re tagged and don’t have time to take part, or would prefer not to, it’s okay to decline… although since I’m dying to hear more about your “next big thing”, I’m going to be very curious about your answers to this meme, so I hope everyone will choose to participate. :)

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Subtle Differences… or maybe not so subtle

Earlier this month on the way into our cabin I took this photo:

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On the way out a week later I took this one:

Same horse, same general location, but the weather had changed. Who would have thought a few snowflakes could alter the mood of a scene so drastically?

The same thing happens with point of view in our novel writing. There is a subtle change — or maybe it’s not so subtle — when a scene is viewed through different eyes or in different conditions. If you have a ho-hum scene, consider changing the perspective and see if that brings the scene to life.

Do you have an essential scene in your writing (or perhaps in a photograph) that lacks punch? What might you do to make a difference?

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(A click or two will enlarge any photo for a closer look)

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It’s coming: a new month… a new season… a time of preparation

Yesterday was the last Sunday of the church year. Next Sunday we begin again. Advent — advenio, “to come to” – is a four week period when we prepare for the coming of the Christ. We prepare for his birth at Christmas, his coming into our lives, and his eventual Second Coming.

For many, this preparation also means getting organized for the December 25th celebration… gift purchases, food preparation, home decoration. My hubby has put up outside Christmas lights already, although he won’t turn them on until this weekend. I can hardly wait! I love the special holiday lights that sparkle through December nights. But none of them can equal the glory of God’s light.

This was sunrise a couple weeks ago while we were at our Cariboo cabin.

I began my NaNoWriMo month of writing there, pulling out my laptop every morning soon after dawn when the men left for their day of hunting. Without my usual daily distractions I accumulated words in excess of the daily average and returned home to post over 18,000 words on Day #10. Since then… well, let’s just say I haven’t quite maintained that average.

November 30th, and its conclusion of NaNoWriMo, is creeping steadily closer. I may or may not complete 50,000 words by then, but I will have made significant progress on the first draft of a new novel. I will be ready to change my focus from intense writing to a more normal pace which will give me time to also concentrate on Advent.

I love all the different preparations that will come with the new month. The house will have evergreen boughs and twinkling lights, and the fragrance of sugar cookies and shortbread. There will be family and friends visiting, special music playing, and wrapped presents under a tree. I hope there will be a little snow, too, although I know better than to count on it.

And there will also be time — time to ponder the coming miracle of God’s personal Christmas gift to the world, to me. Oh, the wonder of it!

What’s your favourite part of this season of preparation?

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How do you describe the bite of winter’s chill?

You’ve undoubtedly heard of iced tea and iced coffee, but how about iced juniper? Freezing rain preceded us on a recent trip and we discovered iced everything when we stopped in Cache Creek to fuel the truck. The sidewalks were slick, plants and branches shimmered, and the sky moped silver grey.

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Boy, was I cold! Even with my fleece jacket zipped and hoodie tugged tightly over my ears, I still shivered. I read somewhere that shivering, or the twitching of muscles, is a physiologic method of heat production. Who knew??? It didn’t seem to help much that day, but I suppose my body realized I wasn’t in any danger of approaching hypothermia.

Back in the truck I flipped the switch to activate our heated seats (I know, I know… it’s a ridiculous luxury, but it was a feature already installed when we bought the truck second-hand) and then spun the heater’s dial to high. As I waited for my hubby to join me, I thought about one of the characters in my novel who relocated from a balmy city to the winter-chilled north country. In an effort to ‘show not tell’, there are numerous scenes where I need to display how he copes with frigid temperatures. How many ways can you indicate a person is very cold?

That’s a good question for today. Are any of your characters ever in the position of being uncomfortably or dangerously cold? What ways do you (or could you) choose to show, not tell, how they react? 

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What constitutes success for a writer?

Can. Ch. Shiralee’s Elizabeth Barrett (“Sonnet”)

I’m not keen on being in the spotlight. My comfort zone is more behind the scenes. But since the mid-1970s I’ve lived with show quality purebred dogs. For years I subdued my nerves and stumbled around the show ring with our Shelties. Eventually a good friend (who later became an all breed judge) rescued me, and I soon discovered it was much more exciting to watch from the sidelines as the dogs won.

Our Labrador, “Tynan”, third from left with handler and friend, Jayne Luke

Many exhibitors thrive in the competitive environment – one of my recent manuscripts features a character who is addicted to it – but I’m not one of them. My thrill comes from being the breeder and/or owner of a dog whose quality is well presented, acknowledged and rewarded. I don’t need to be in the ring trying to make it happen.

In the purebred dog fancy success means different things to different people. It can be achieving goals in a breeding program – producing sound minds in sound bodies, and great family companions…

Can. Ch. Riversedge Tynan at Careann (“Tynan”)

owning top quality show dogs that can win trophies and ribbons in competitions…

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or becoming a celebrity (of sorts), perhaps in a movie or magazine.

Yes, that’s our “Tynan” on the cover

In the writing community defining success can be challenging. Many writers labour over their words in private, satisfied by their written expressions in journals and personal memoirs. For some, having their words make a difference to others is the goal as they write devotional material or create encouraging messages for greeting cards. Still others strive for publication of books that will garner great reviews and take their names to the top of bestsellers’ lists.

“For every available bookstore shelf space,
there are 100 to 1,000 or more titles competing for that shelf space.”

[OutThinkGroup]

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Not everyone reaches a specific goal. Sometimes the criteria for doing so is beyond their control. Sometimes the effort put forth isn’t adequate for the desired result. For me, what’s important is acknowledging my motivation, seeking God’s will in my decision making, setting realistic goals, doing my part to reach them, and enjoying the process en route. That’s a hefty list, but I believe each item on it is crucial if I’m to feel fulfilled and be content with my level of success.

What’s your interpretation of ‘success’ in your current endeavour(s)?

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Focal Points in Photography and Fiction Writing

Ask any real photographer. There’s more to good photography than pointing the camera at something and clicking the shutter. Unfortunately, I don’t know how to do much more than that. If the subject matter is interesting and the lighting is right, I may be fortunate in catching a photo worth keeping. More often than not, however, I discard 90% of my efforts.

One thing I’ve learned by trial and error is that a good photo has a focal point – one single thing that captures the viewer’s attention. However subtle it is, it’s going to be the whole reason for the photo. Wherever the eye wanders, it will continually be drawn back to that one feature.

I’m convinced that’s as true in writing as it is in photography. Every chapter – indeed, every scene – should have a focal point. If the reader wanders into the scene, wallows there a while, and moves on without receiving a significant benefit, it’s likely that scene is superfluous to the story.

What’s meant to capture the reader’s attention? What’s the purpose of the scene? If there isn’t one you can point to, why is it there at all? I ask myself that question about a lot of the photographs I take. It’s the reason I throw so many of them away! It’s why I recently deleted over nine thousand words from my latest w.i.p., too.

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Do you agree with me, or do you think there’s a place for ‘transitional’ scenes in stories? I’d like to hear your opinion.

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 “I pay close attention to the variety of shapes and sizes, and place the objects so that the lines and edges create a rhythm that guides the viewer’s eye around the image and into the focal point.”

Sergei Forostovskii

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“If Jesus Christ was who He claimed to be,
and He did die on a cross at a point of time in history,
then, for all history past and all history future
it is relevant because that is the very focal point
for forgiveness and redemption.” 

Josh McDowell

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An early bit of Christmas nostalgia

Back in the age of dinosaurs when I was a pre-teen, my parents built a log cabin on a lake in BC’s back woods. Dad and the only other person living on the lake, a trapper, cut the trees on the site and managed to maneuver them into place while mom and I did our part by peeling off the bark.

(Clicking on any photo will enlarge it for a closer look.)

My dad was a masonry contractor who had built two homes in Vancouver, but this was unlike those city houses. It was primitive accommodation – just one tiny room, initially with a dirt floor, a front window salvaged from a Vancouver streetcar and small windows in two of the other walls. The roof was finished with a multi-hued assortment of leftover shingles.

New citified luxury – a light below the old cabinets, usable only when the generator is operating.

Sixty years later, all that remains of that cabin is a shell. A small set of sturdy cupboards, handmade by a family friend, was rescued out of it several years ago, along with the original yellow-print cotton curtains that served to cover lower shelves. My son re-installed both in our own little cabin and we continue to use them in a more comfortable albeit very rustic setting.

Last Christmas I received an unusual and precious Christmas gift from my husband. He had salvaged a damaged piece of donnacona from the old cabin and framed it for me. It bears my dad’s block printing: “This cabin belongs to John McGuire…” and a series of updated addresses and telephone numbers.

I was reminded of this when Laura Best asked in her post yesterday, “What is the most unorthodox gift you ever received?” I think my framed piece of donnacona qualifies. It has no monetary value at all, but it was given and received in love, and to me it’s priceless. As I begin to think of Christmas 2012 and what gifts might be bought or made, I recall a quotation from Mother Teresa: “It’s not how much we give but how much love we put into giving.”

The Christ child whose birthday we will celebrate next month was born so that he could die for us. The ultimate gift of love.

“But God has shown us how much he loves us—
it was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us!”

Romans 5:8 [GNT]

The old cabin as it looked last Friday.

Christmas… that magic blanket that wraps itself about us, that something so intangible that it is like a fragrance. It may weave a spell of nostalgia. Christmas may be a day of feasting, or of prayer, but always it will be a day of remembrance — a day in which we think of everything we have ever loved.”

[Augusta E. Rundel]

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I think it would be interesting to keep Laura’s question going, so…
“What is the most unorthodox gift you ever received?”

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Bright Idea — but not mine!

During the night I awakened and joined my characters in the better part of an hour’s discussion about an idea, a brilliant plot twist that would punch up the suspense in my story. The idea, unfortunately, didn’t make it through to the light of day. Normally when something occurs to me during the night I write it down because I know I won’t remember it in the morning. But by the end of the discussion I had already decided it wasn’t an original idea. It was only the lingering fragments of a dream — an idea gleaned from somewhere else, something recently read or viewed on television.

I know every plot idea has already been done before, and what counts is the unique fingerprint we place on its development. But this idea? It felt like a reflection of another one. I couldn’t quite pin down where it came from, but it definitely wasn’t mine. Such a shame. Under the cover of darkness… under my covers… it seemed so promising.

How do you know your stories are truly original, and aren’t simply mirroring one from among the multitude you’ve previously read?

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“Writing is a struggle against silence.”

Carlos Fuentes

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“The process of writing has something infinite about it.
Even though it is interrupted each night, it is one single notation.”

Elias Canetti

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The Missing Bits

It’s not fair! I went on a personal writing retreat and while I was gone, all the lovely fall colours that had barely begun to emerge before I left, arrived and departed again.

In late October, for instance, the leaves of our ‘Bloodgood’ Japanese Maple tree were their usual deep burgundy. While my back was turned, they turned… and fell. All that glorious colour is now merely a blood red puddle on the ground. I missed the best part of the show.

While I was pushing to craft my draft novel for NaNoWriMo, I had no thought for what might be happening back in my garden at home.  When I returned, it was a shock to discover a gap between what was, and what now is.

And as I read over parts of my budding manuscript I recognize a familiar truth: there are gaps in my storytelling, too. While I know what happened, my readers are not being given the privilege of seeing those rich details for themselves. They’re still in my head. Mundane bits can be skipped over, but there are some happenings that should be captured in the narrative to add spectacular colour to the story.

I may be back from my offline writing retreat but I still have almost three weeks of NaNoWriMo writing to do. When December arrives I’ll be doing major revisions on the new story that’s currently obsessing me, and I’ll remember the bare trees and all those leaves on the ground. My revisions will include the addition of missing details and description.

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What kind of details do you think readers want to see? What kind would they prefer to skip over?

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“If a writer knows enough about what he is writing about,
he may omit things that he knows.

The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to
only one ninth of it being above water.” 

Ernest Hemingway
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