The countdown has started

When there is only one day left, one last opportunity to finalize details and get myself ready for a major event, I usually panic! I can be heard muttering, “I don’t want to do this! Why did I ever say I would?”

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I think there’s a quotation somewhere about a character riding off in several directions at once. It’s impossible, you say? Well, let me tell you about fragmenting. When enough pressure builds up, you can expect the container to explode, forcing its fragments to be flung in multiple directions. That is SO what I feel like.

This is NaNoWriMo Eve! Ackkk!

I mentioned NaNoWriMo in last Friday’s post. I presented my lecture at the library that evening and made mention of how this final week should be used for preparations. Did I follow my own advice? Of course not! And now, when Halloween shenanigans wind down at midnight tonight and NaNoWriMo gets underway, I’ll be scrambling. ::sigh:: This is my eighth year; how is it that I end up doing this every time?

Remind me next October that panic attacks aren’t pleasant and I should try to avoid them at all costs.

Are you taking part in NaNoWriMo this year? Are you prepared and ready to dive in? (If the second answer is ‘yes’, I don’t want to hear it!)

(I’m NaNoWriMo’s Wildwood Gal,
the one with the glazed expression.
)

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It’s all about communication

There’s a very nice little mailbox standing at the end of our driveway. It meets all the requirements that Canada Post has for an individual rural mailbox … but our mail is not delivered there. Instead, we walk or drive the equivalent of about three city blocks to where a set of group, or community mailboxes are located.

Mailboxes

It’s not a huge problem for us to pick up our mail there. We’ve been doing it for almost twenty years. But recently Canada Post changed its services and began phasing out home delivery even in the cities, causing much indignation from those who have always enjoyed the convenience of door-to-door delivery. It’s an economic move for Canada Post.

I understand their rationale, but this business of raising postage costs while reducing services has been going on for many years, and I’ve never understood why they think charging us more but offering us less is going to make them more money. The more it costs me to mail a letter, the fewer letters I mail, and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. This has the potential of being a constant downward spiral!

I like the personal touch of handwritten cards and letters, but as they become more expensive, I resort more to e-mail and telephone calls. When I look at the number of people I contact regularly through e-mail, Facebook, and Twitter, I recognize the convenience and immediacy of digital communication with them has many benefits. I probably wouldn’t handwrite long, newsy letters every few days if I needed to seal pages into envelopes, affix a costly stamp, and trundle them off to the post box, then wait a week for them to be delivered. Instead, I resort to a quick few paragraphs on the computer or iPhone, press ‘send’ … and my message is instantly in a friend’s home to be read at their convenience.

Is it a better way to communicate? I don’t think so, but as long as Canada Post continues to make it more expensive, more difficult and more time consuming to do it ‘the old fashioned way’, I won’t hesitate to follow the digital trend.

As a writer, I think communication is a big deal, but I seem to be in the minority when it comes to the personal version. Even cursive writing and penmanship are becoming a lost art as they are being phased out of the curriculum in many schools. I sometimes wonder if there is a correlation between the decline in personal communication and the breakdown of social standards — i.e., lack of respect for other people and for public property, ignorance of etiquette and common courtesies, etc.

That may be taking it a little too far, but it’s food for thought.

One dilemma that the decline in personal communication creates is in novel writing, where rapidly changing technologies outdate what would otherwise be timeless stories. Any mention of faxes, cell phones, thumb drives or CDs, for instance, will sandwich a story firmly in a particular decade, and possibly make it less relevant to potential readers.

We’ve come a long way from author Jack Whyte’s “cold stone slab and a chisel”* but I’m not sure every step has been in a desirable direction.

How do you address constantly changing methods of communication in your novel writing?

* Jack Whyte, Surrey International Writers’ Conference 2014

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It’s (almost) that time of year again: NaNoWriMo

If you listen carefully you may be able to hear the distant chant starting: “NaNoWriMo! NaNoWriMo! NANOWRIMO!!!” Yes, word-loving folks are beginning to get fired up about the annual month-long, international writing marathon that is known as National Novel Writing Month. It happens every November, and it arrives on the heels of Halloween … eek! …  just one week from tonight.

The idea is to write a complete novel of at least 50,000 words between November 1st and November 30th.

I know, I know, it’s insane. The quality of the writing is secondary to the quantity, and that very concept turns off people who consider giving anything but their best is a waste of time. Why write garbage? Why not slow down and make the effort count for something? Truth is, those who want to write a novel but over-think the details, often bog down before they ever get to ‘The End’.

A well-known line in writing circles is, “You can always revise a first draft, but you can’t revise a blank page.” I suggest adopting Nike’s motto: “Just do it!” Devoting November to NaNoWriMo gives us an opportunity to toss ideas out onto a page, and chase them along in front of us until a story is fully formed. Some multi-published authors use NaNoWriMo for this purpose, so who am I to suggest it’s not a valid novel-writing process?

FVRL PosterIn the spirit of encouraging those who have often thought they might like to write a novel but thought they didn’t have a lot of time to devote to the project, I’m presenting a lecture tonight, sponsored by the Maple Ridge Public Library. It’s called “How to Write a Novel in a Month”, and it’s an introduction to NaNoWriMo.

Yes, I’m an introvert and everyone knows I hate public speaking. Yes, I’m already having palpitations and wondering why I agreed to do this. It’s also going to help me kick start my own writing. Very public commitments have a way of motivating me forward — a little like getting a boot in the backside.

If you’re interested in joining me (either at the Library tonight, or in doing NaNoWriMo yourself), or if you have any questions that could use some answers, give me a shout in the comments below.

Oh, and on the NaNoWriMo website you’ll find me writing as Wildwood Gal. Come look me up and offer some sympathy.

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Choices, choices — so much good reading ahead!

There’s always excitement surrounding the release of a friend’s new book. I’m not sure how one contains all the excitement when suddenly several friends have books hitting the shelves all at pretty much the same time, but that’s what’s happening this month.

In my daughter’s writing group, not one but THREE of the members have books published this month:

Alibi Book CoverKidlit author KRISTIN BUTCHER had a YA novel, ALIBI, published on October 1st by Orca Books.

  • Fifteen-year-old Christine is visiting her eccentric great-aunt in historic Witcombe, where a pickpocket has been victimizing tourists. Aunt Maude owns an antique store and also runs the town’s ghost walk, which gives Christine the opportunity to meet local characters and visitors, including a mysterious young man who seems to know far too much about the crimes. When the pickpocket targets Aunt Maude’s store, Christine is determined to find out who is behind the thefts. Her search takes her through the nooks and crannies of the quaint town full of stories, and she unearths more than one surprise.

Cry From the DeepDIANA STEVAN‘s debut romantic mystery, A CRY FROM THE DEEP, was released October 15th.

  • An underwater photographer about to cover the hunt for one of the lost ships of the Spanish Armada buys a Claddagh ring and begins to have nightmares and visions more compelling than the hunt itself.

.

.

SHARI GREEN‘s debut YA novel, FOLLOWING CHELSEA, was released on October 17th by Evernight Teen.

  • Following Chelsea CoverWalking in the footsteps of a dead girl isn’t easy.After her social life flatlines, seventeen-year-old Anna Richards wants nothing more than to lie low at her new school. But it seems Anna looks an awful lot like Chelsea, the sweet and popular girl who recently died, and Anna finds herself stepping into the void created by Chelsea’s absence.Anna is determined to make the awkward situation work in her favor, because Chelsea didn’t just leave a spot open with the in-crowd; she also left a gorgeous—and now available—boyfriend. But it turns out that following Chelsea might be a lot more complicated than Anna expected.

Foreign Exchange CoverThen, there’s DENISE JADEN‘s newest YA release, FOREIGN EXCHANGE,  just out, too, (along with her non-fiction book for writers, FAST FICTION).

  • Jamie Monroe has always played it safe. That is, until her live-for-the-moment best friend, Tristan, jets off to Italy on a student exchange program. Left alone with her part-time mother and her disabled brother, Jamie discovers that she is quite capable of taking her own risks, starting with her best friend’s hotter-than-hot older brother, Sawyer.Sawyer and Tristan have been neighbors for years, but as Jamie grows closer to the family she thought she knew, she discovers some pretty big secrets—not only from her, but from each other. As she sinks deeper into their web of pretense, she suspects that her best friend may not be on a safe exchange program at all. Jamie sets off to Europe on a class trip with plans to meet up with Tristan, but when Tristan stops all communication, suddenly no one seems trustworthy, least of all the one person she was starting to trust—Sawyer.

Corpse Platinum Hair CoverAnd, if that weren’t enough, CATHY ACE‘s fourth book in her Cait Morgan mystery series, THE CORPSE WITH THE PLATINUM HAIR, was released October 14th by TouchWood Editions.

  • Welsh Canadian foodie and criminologist Cait Morgan takes off on a short break to the fabulous Tsar! Casino and Hotel in Las Vegas with her significant other, retired cop Bud Anderson. But before they can start celebrating Bud’s birthday in style at the casino owners’ exclusive private dining room, the death of Miss Shirley — a woman with a colorful background and the acknowledged Queen of the Strip — results in a security lockdown. Cait, Bud, a corpse, and ten possible murderers are trapped in the luxurious restaurant for twelve deadly hours. The bodies pile up, the tension mounts, the list of suspects dwindles — and Cait knows she has to work out who within the group is an audacious killer because there’s no telling who might be next to die.

UnknownRACHEL ELIZABETH COLE‘s newest kidlit, THE RABBIT ATE MY HOMEWORK, is available in paperback now, in addition to the Kindle edition, published by Tangled Oak Press.

  • Eleven-year-old Drew Montgomery has not, does not, and will not ever want a stupid old rabbit. All they do is sit in their cages, eat carrots, and poop. Then his annoying little sister blackmails him into hiding a bunny in his closet. She knows what really happened to his “stolen” bike and she’s threatening to tell. Now Drew’s in a real jam. If his “No pets!” parents find the rabbit or, worse, his sister blabs the truth, he’ll be grounded till Grade Seven for sure.

    And if that’s not enough trouble, two girls at school drag him into a prank war that goes from bad to worse–and it’s all the rabbit’s fault. Plus, the weirdest girl in his class wants to be his science partner. If she tells him she wants to be his girlfriend, he just knows he’s gonna die.
    Drew must find a way to outwit the mean girls, wiggle out of the blackmail deal, and get rid of the rabbit before it destroys his bedroom and his life.

perf5.0625x7.8125.inddAnother great new children’s story is from DARLENE FOSTERAMANDA IN ALBERTA: THE WRITING ON THE STONE.

  • Amanda is delighted to show Leah around Alberta during her visit from England. They take in the Calgary Stampede, go on a cattle drive, visit Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, spend time with the dinosaurs at the Royal Tyrrell Museum and explore the crazy Hoodoos.
    When Amanda finds a stone with a unique mark on it, she doesn’t think it’s important until everyone seems to want it – including a very ornery cowboy. Is this stone worth ruining Leah’s holiday and placing them both in danger? Spend time with Amanda as she explores her own country while attempting to decipher the mysterious writing on the stone and keep it from those determined to take it from her.

There are even more! If you’re looking for stories to start getting into the mood for Christmas (you didn’t hear me suggest that, did you?), the HOPE FOR THE HOLIDAYS Contemporary Collection is out with inspirational novellas from Mary Connealy, Ruth Logan Herne, Audra Harders, Missy Tippens, Sandra Leesmith and Tina Radcliffe, with the HOPE FOR THE HOLIDAYS Historical Collection available for pre-order. The small town holiday romance, MIDNIGHT SPRINGS, Book 4 in the Springs series by Elena Aitken, is also available for pre-order!

I’ve probably forgotten to mention somebody’s book baby, so feel free to mention other new releases in the comments. But what an abundance of choices… something for everyone, and it totally boggles my mind. I don’t know where to start. Oh yes, I do! My daughter, Shari’s book, FOLLOWING CHELSEA, was the first one I reached for. You’d expect a mom to make that obvious choice, wouldn’t you?

 

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Sometimes it’s hard

Earlier this week, on Thanksgiving Monday, under the title “In all things give thanks“, I posted a photo I’d taken during a drive in the Fraser Valley,  and I included a quote from Psalm 95:2.  We have so much in our lives for which to be thankful and I was feeling full of praise.

Give Thanks

Tuesday morning we were once again driving in the Fraser Valley and I took this photo as we crossed the Golden Ears Bridge. We were on our way to an appointment with our veterinarian. Our eight-year-old Labrador Retriever, Tynan, hadn’t been well over the holiday weekend and we were looking forward to finding a solution for whatever was ailing him.

The solution wasn’t at all what we expected.

After x-rays, ultrasound and various tests we were confronted with the devastating news that what was ailing him couldn’t be fixed. Even with immediate surgery, the prognosis was poor. Less than three hours later we were retracing our route, returning home without him, in shock from the unexpected loss.

To add to the ache, for the first time in over fifty years there were no canine greetings to distract us when we arrived home. We’ve had many dogs during our lifetime. Our first were Labrador/Shepherd crossbreds. Later I bred, trained and exhibited purebred Shetland Sheepdogs for thirty-five years. We’ve always shared our home with anywhere from two to five dogs at a time, but somehow, after the passing of our last Sheltie, Tynan ended up as our lone canine companion. Now the house is painfully empty.

With this heaviness permeating our hearts and home, how can we obey the admonition to give thanks? It isn’t easy. In fact, it’s very hard today. And yet, while my mind wants to complain bitterly at the sudden loss of our dearly loved companion, at the same time bittersweet memories are bubbling up and bursting out — memories that bring with them joy and thanksgiving, not for what is, but for what has been.

Best Buds

Best Buds

Through my tears I give thanks for:

  • the experience of smelling his baby puppy breath the day I carried him home on my lap those too-short eight years ago;
  • remembering how he  would clamber onto the shelf under our coffee table and fall asleep there, until he was eventually too large to fit the space;
  • how he and our younger daughter’s Lab and Aussie were always so excited to see each other, no matter how long it had been between visits;
  • the day our other daughter’s Brittany Spaniel taught him that there was joy in swimming, not just walking in the ocean waves, and how, at our Cariboo lake, he would happily do the work of swimming out to retrieve sticks, only to willingly give them up to our son’s chocolate Lab who was waiting at the shore to snatch and claim them as her own;
  • watching him shadow my hubby everywhere he went, even to waiting outside the bathroom door for him;
  • giggling at how he leapt into the air like a gazelle and gambolled about when asked if he thought it was his dinnertime, or if he was ready for his daily 3 km walk with my hubby;
  • loving how he would slowly elbow the front half of his 90 lb. body up on the couch beside me until he could nuzzle my ear and leave a tiny kiss on my nose before being chased off;
  • knowing how much he loved to go for a ride with us, and always knew which vehicle to approach when we mentioned we were taking the truck or the van;
  • marvelling at how he could instantly turn from a couch potato into a showdog when it was time to go to a dog show with his special friend and handler, Jayne Luke, and how he adored the specialty cookies that always arrived with her and the toys she bought for him after each of his wins;
  • laughing at his love of a plastic garden pot and how, whenever I was planting bedding plants, he delighted in stealing just one empty pot and racing ’round and ’round the back yard with it;
  • smiling at how his head tipped, his ears lifted and his expression brightened whenever we told him one of our family members was coming to visit — he knew everyone by name, including their dogs;
  • remembering how he watched inconspicuously for the last corner of a sandwich, bit of toast or pizza crust, because he always got it if he wasn’t blatantly begging.
  • how he would roll over on his back and freeze there, all four legs in the air, hoping for ‘a tummy rub’ whenever we walked past;
  • and perhaps most poignantly, how happy he was at the end, tail wagging, munching a generous supply of biscuits provided by our caring and compassionate vet, content and unafraid because we were there.
Saying Goodbye

Saying Goodbye

He had his own toy box, and today the dozens of plush stuffies that he adored and played with but never destroyed, have been washed and put into storage — even the very first fabric squeaky toy made for him by his breeder. There might not be another Labrador in our family, but you never know, perhaps one day some new puppy will come along to adopt them.

You’ve been a long-suffering reader if you’ve persevered this far! 

My point, of course, is that no matter what disappointments or catastrophes life dumps on us, we won’t likely be thankful for them, but hopefully in retrospect we’ll look for snippets of joy in the experiences we’ve had despite them.

~

R.I.P. sweet friend

CAN. CH. RIVERSEDGE TYNAN AT CAREANN
January 22, 2006 – October 14, 2014

Tynan 2012

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The clutter in my life, garden and writing… better known as reality

In the pre-dawn stillness yesterday morning I lay awake, contemplating the coming day. Its square on the calendar was empty. I love non-designated days with their freedom to pursue whatever tasks come to mind. One of retirement’s perks! I tugged the duvet close and snuggled down to think about what I might undertake once daylight broke.

My mind began lobbing ‘could’ and ‘should’ ideas at me like a tennis ball machine. Soon I was burrowing deeper and wishing I could go back to sleep, but it was too late. I was overwhelmed with mental clutter. If you could have seen into my head you would think it looked a lot like my gardens.

Back Garden Flowers

A landscape designer would be horrified by the gardens here. In each of the eighteen or so years we’ve lived on this rural property we’ve planted a few things — sometimes a half-dozen new perennials, sometimes a woody shrub or another tree. Goodness knows we don’t need any more of the latter! Our home is surrounded on four sides by towering trees…lots of cedar, hemlock and fir interspersed with a few poplar and alder. But one can’t really consider them ‘landscape’ trees, so I’ve added others like Japanese Maple and Dogwood.

Fall Backyard

Hubby and I have created assorted garden beds around part of the yard’s perimeter, prying out the boulders and filling the holes with whatever needed planting. There was never much planning done, except to choose things that could cope with the soil acidity and abundant shade. We have a well for water, and once things have been established we don’t waste any on them, so they also have to be hardy and drought tolerant.

The beds are a mishmash. That’s the nicest thing I can say about them. In one area Solomon’s Seal has all but choked out a clump of Siberian Iris and one white Astilbe. Wild ferns poke out from the middle of  sprawling Junipers, and everything leans in the direction of the sun, eventually overlaying whatever is in front.

It’s a muddle.

Except for a few tubs and baskets on the deck, we don’t plant annuals in the backyard. In fact, we don’t plant them in the front either, except for a small bed that edges the sidewalk at the front door. For the past several years I’ve bought one flat of colourful bedding plants, usually Begonias, and tucked them into unoccupied nooks and crannies. It’s my one concession to summer colour…a bright spot in the chaos of green. I try to remember to water them in May and June, but once summer comes, they’re on their own like everything else. I am always surprised that they survive and sometimes even flourish.

Fall Flower Garden

It’s all somewhat reminiscent of what comes out of my cluttered mind. Little ideas germinate and manage to develop into potential stories. I nurture them along for the first while and then, without plotting or planning, give them the freedom to grow or not. Most times they surprise me by producing an abundance of words. Occasionally, like one I’m considering now, they shrivel up and disappear from the page. The fact is, not all ideas are sturdy enough to last.

It can be discouraging in writing when enthusiasm for what seemed like a good idea fades; or in gardening, when a pot of cheery marguerites suddenly stops blooming and turns brown; or in life, when some days just seem like too much. But that’s my reality. Fortunately, there’s always another idea, a fresh blossom or new day coming.

Have you ever abandoned what at first seemed like a promising idea? Do you save it for reconsideration later, or toss it altogether?

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Facts or Fiction in Writing a Novel

One of our signs of autumn is the Woolly Bear Caterpillar, which is the larva form of Pyrrharctia isabella, the Isabella Tiger Moth. It waits out the cold winter, sometimes freezing solid, and thaws out in the spring to pupate and eventually become a moth. (Such interesting tidbits I provide for you on this blog!) The width of its coppery brown stripe is said to be an indication of the severity of the approaching winter  — the thicker it is, the milder the winter. That’s the myth, anyway. 

Furry Fellow

Wikipedia says, “Folklore of the eastern United States and Canada holds that the relative amounts of brown and black on the skin of a Woolly Bear caterpillar (commonly abundant in the fall) are an indication of the severity of the coming winter… In reality, hatchlings from the same clutch of eggs can display considerable variation in their color distribution, and the brown band tends to grow with age; if there is any truth to the tale, it is highly speculative.”

Separating truth from fiction can sometimes be a challenge. When we’re writing non-fiction or memoir, truth matters, but in a novel it’s not so important. At least, that’s what some writers seem to think.

There’s a difference between truth and accuracy. A novel may be fictitious but any details must be accurate for the story to remain credible. But, you say, it’s contemporary fiction. We write what we know. Why do we need to research anything?

Yesterday on the Seekerville blog, author Amanda Cabot‘s post, “So You Want to Write a Contemporary“, asked seven questions writers should consider when deciding whether to write contemporary or historical fiction. In her sixth question she debunks the idea that contemporary doesn’t require research. The reality is, all writing requires research.  It’s true that research for contemporaries is different from historicals, but it’s still essential that your details are correct.  If anything, readers are more critical of contemporary authors who get their facts wrong because it’s so easy to get them right.”

Hopefully our contemporary fiction isn’t devoid of an interesting setting or enriching details just because we’re writing only “what we know”. It’s good to stretch our horizons and venture into a bit of unfamiliar territory once in a while.

What kind of facts do you deal with in your writing? How did you research their accuracy?

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