White… or not

I’ll warn you right now. This is one of those ‘musings and mental meanderings’ that gave rise to the sub-heading of this blog!

With Lent underway and Easter approaching, thoughts of Christmas should be well shelved, tucked away to rest in the basement alongside the bins of lights and decorations. Strange as it may seem, however, the anthem I chose for yesterday’s church service was joyously Christmas-themed: “I Bring You Good News.” (No, the link isn’t to our choir or even our church, but it’s a chance to hear a generic version of the song if you’re interested. I won’t mind if you’re not.) 

Christmas music in Lent. Eyebrow-raising? Maybe. But my rationale was that the good news of the Gospel is appropriate in any season. That, and the chosen scriptures mentioned good news twice, and I suddenly couldn’t think of a better title.

The trouble is, now I have the song stuck in my head. You have to know my quirky brain to understand how the tune in my head led me to notice the patches of vivid white Snowdrops that greeted me as I arrived home from church, which in turn led to conversations with myself as to why the makers of Christmas tree lights can’t seem to agree on what is white.

SnowdropsMatted

It wasn’t so long ago that you could buy a new string of white Christmas lights without giving it a thought. Now, the choices include warm and cool whites, and goodness knows how many others, but the terms don’t seem to mean much when it comes to matching last year’s strings. And don’t get me started on shades of white paint!

I’m contemplating a minor redecorating project, covering a few grey walls with white to brighten the room, but who knew there were a thousand shades of white paint to choose from?

Choices come down to personal preferences. When it comes to Christmas lights, I prefer a crisp clear white, without blue undertones. Ask interior designer Candice Olson what her favourite ‘go to’ white paint is, and you’ll likely hear ‘Benjamin Moore’s Cloud White’…except it isn’t white. It’s one of the many off-whites with a hint of yellow.

Diversity is a wonderful thing, as are choices. That’s true in books, too. When it comes to writing and reading, there is a profusion of titles among many different genres — something for everyone. At one time it was simple to identify a genre, but now many authors are crossing genres with their writing. Old genre lists are no longer indisputable. I could use a good basic description of each one to simplify identifying exactly where my stories fit in.

Ah, but this isn’t the time to be worrying about that. I have paint chips to peruse. As for the colour, maybe I’ll grab a handful of Snowdrops on my way to the paint store and see if it’s possible to match them. Hmm, that might not be a bad way to choose replacement Christmas lights, too.

Do you have a favourite shade of white (white anything)? How on earth do you describe it?

(Sorry, but I warned you at the start this would be a mind meandering post. There’s no stopping my brain when it chooses a tangent to explore.)

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Super, Black and Blue, Full and New

No, I’m not bruised. I’m referring to the moon. There hasn’t been one visible in recent night skies. I would have called it a New Moon, except I read that “the third new moon in an astronomical season with four, is called a ‘Black’ moon”, and Wednesday, February 18th was a ‘Black’ one.

I’ve taken photos of Super moons, Blue moons, and just plain full moons, but a Black one defies my abilities, thus my photo of a near-full one instead. (I know, that makes no sense at all. Cut me some slack! It’s all I could come up with.)

Moon_2

Wednesday also marked the beginning of Lent, the period prior to Easter when “we journey through Jesus’ adult life as he reveals to us who God is and how much God loves us.”* Somehow it seems fitting that we should begin Lent in darkness. There will be full moons between now and Easter, of course, but consider this: on April 4th there will be a full moon accompanied by a total lunar eclipse — that’s on the eve of Easter Sunday, which falls on the 5th.

I expect it will bring home the reality of the Easter scriptures.

~

When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?

[Psalm 8:3-4, NIV]

~  ~  ~

 * Pastor Gerard Booy,
Haney Presbyterian Church

Working on Websites (Oh, my!)

I’m not a computer dummy, but neither am I a guru. I deal with my computer and make my way around the internet in a fairly competent manner, but some days it isn’t without a degree of stress.

Some writers have multiple websites or blogs. I have just one, but have established cyber locations for three organizations and three other writers. Mostly it has involved using WordPress templates and has been relatively easy.

Then the day arrived when it became necessary to revamp my church’s website! (Yes, that sentence was meant to end with an exclamation mark.) The original server was going down, and it was the opportune time to start over from scratch.

It was decided we needed a professional look, not achievable with a blog template. This time we would have a brand new site, created by a professional web designer.

While the new website is beautiful, it’s requiring a steep learning curve for me, and that’s both challenging and stressful. I’ll survive, but I’m sure it’s going to be quite some time before this shiny new website is ready to ‘go live’.

Website Screenshot 2

For those of you who have gone this route, too, how much value do you place on the aesthetics of a site? I tend to think first impressions are important — that visitors judge the appeal and suitability of a congregation/writer/product by its cyber-face. Am I wrong? Is the bare message conveyed by text and photos more important than a polished presentation? When you visit a website, how do you react to your initial encounter?

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From the Archives: Partying in the Bedroom

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Once the bed is made, thoughts or dreams from the night before usually disappear into the fabric of a new day. But not always. The following account comes from my 2008 archives.

~

By 2:00 a.m. last night (technically, I guess it was this morning) I was ready to evict everyone. Some time prior to midnight characters from my novels had decided to gather at the foot of my bed and challenge my right to go to sleep.

Normally such nightly encounters are welcome. The twilight zone between yawning and oblivion is often my mind’s most productive time. As the day’s memories slip away they are replaced with solutions to story telling dilemmas that eluded me during an earlier writing session. Conversations with my characters are not unusual. It is in those not-quite-asleep-yet moments that just the right words jump into my unfettered brain.

What was distressing about last night’s group was that they weren’t the characters from only my current w.i.p. (work in progress), but also from the previous book. Granted, some of them appear in both, but their stories are not connected and last night’s dialogues won’t fit into either plot. It was a useless waste of my mental energy. I would rather have been sleeping, but the unruly guests wouldn’t go home.

We were out for dinner during the evening. Maybe I drank too much coffee? (Or not enough wine?)

~  ~  ~

Finding inspiration

Quilt-1

One of my newest treasures is this hand stitched Double Irish Chain scrap quilt made by my aunt. She was 86 at the time. It took her two years, and I believe was the last one she made. I apologize for the cliché, but it truly is a work of art.

She had a sewing machine, but it was too heavy to lift from the cupboard shelf, so she decided she would sew the quilt entirely by hand, just as her mother and her grandmother had, and as she had done before. She said if she’d realized at the beginning, however, just how much work this one was going to be, she might not have undertaken it.

Quilt-2

I wonder if that isn’t true for many novelists, too. Few realize how much work will go into producing 90,000 ‘just right’ words, until ‘The End’ is staring back at us from the page. If we knew how much effort and time it was going to take, and the possibility that it would never be of publishable quality anyway, would we even begin?

While some might not, I believe the dedicated ones would, simply because they have a creative spirit and the desire to try. The drive to produce something special, something of significance, has to be followed by the determination to make a start. Then, word by word, stitch by stitch, we keep going. We know our earliest creative attempts aren’t going to be perfect, but only by learning and experience will we improve, and we have to begin somewhere.

Like playing a concerto, hand stitching an intricate pattern, or painting a masterpiece, writing an outstanding story takes more than desire. It takes ability, dedication, perseverance, and very hard work.

I’m not there yet as a writer, but the exquisite beauty created by my Aunt Norma inspires me to continue on my journey.

What inspires you in your creative pursuits?

~

“For everything that was written in the past
was written to teach us,
so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures
and the encouragement they provide
we might have hope.”

[Romans 15:4]

~  ~  ~

 (Photos by Norma McGuire)

 

Putting the ‘friend’ into cyber friendships

On her blog a few years ago, author Jody Hedlund questioned if our modern cyber world is distorting the meaning of the word ‘friend’. She asked, “How would you define a true friend and can you find that kind of friendship in the cyber world?” I’ve often thought about that question but never really come up with a definitive answer.

“What constitutes a friend in the truest sense of the word? We all value different qualities in our friends. but certainly we can all agree that a friendship must involve a genuine relationship. My pocket Webster defines friend as: close companion. More specifically as writers, we need genuine friends who can encourage and challenge us in our writing journey and we can do the same for them. Do Facebook friends fit that definition? Are they close companions or are they another “list” of people to help us in our quest for publication? For that matter, do any cyber friends live up to that definition?” [Jody Hedlund]

::shifting gears here::

On Friday, June 6, 2008 Joylene Butler published her first blog post. At least, it was the first one that I know about. She had sold five copies of her first novel and was moving to the next step: blogging to promote it and become more visible.

I didn’t know her then, nor had I found her blog when I began my own three weeks later with an initial post on June 28, 2008. My fiction wasn’t published yet so I had nothing to promote, but I was following the trend to be prepared by developing an online presence in the writing community.

There were no comments on my first post, just as there weren’t any on Joylene’s. We were newcomers in cyberspace.

CG&JBI don’t recall how I found her blog. Something in the mysterious realm of cyberspace drew us together. There was a post that November about eagles ‘fishing’ among the ducks on her lake that caught my attention and prompted me to respond with a comment about the goose who nested atop a beaver house in our marsh. Later in November she left a comment on my blog, and as our exchanges continued we discovered we had a lot in common.

When her second novel was being released I interviewed her on my blog. At some point she read and critiqued a story for me. Mostly, though, we’ve just played the role of encourager for each other. She has her own long-standing circle of writer friends and I’m involved in a writing group of my own.

We interact online regularly but we’ve met only once. She lives about 900 kilometres from me, but we managed to arrange a rendezvous when she came south for one of her book signings and I was visiting with family in a nearby city. When she answered the door that day I felt I was being greeted by an old friend.

::returning to the original question::

Friend? One who can encourage and challenge? Hmmm.

JB2Joylene and her husband went to Mexico on November 1st and are renting a casa for the winter at Los Arroyos Verdes in beautiful Bucerias. It’s a place that obviously agrees with her. But two weeks ago she posted about how she had fully intended to set up a strict writing schedule and finish a WIP while there, but so far hasn’t managed to write much at all. You can read the post here, but she concludes, “It’s disheartening to realize I’ve turned into one of those well-meaning persons who can’t get anything done past getting her nose burned.”

Dozens of people have left encouraging comments for her that range from, “I don’t blame you for being distracted. I’m sure you’ll settle back into writing soon,” to “Enjoy yourself and don’t worry too much about the productivity side of things,” and “Keep the faith. You will get there.”

It’s comforting to receive this kind of response, but I’m starting to wonder if any of us were being true friends in offering those consoling virtual pats on the shoulder. Maybe we should have been saying more challenging things like, “It looks gorgeous there. Take a day or two or three every week to soak it all up, but be sure to honour your desire to use a portion of the time for finishing that manuscript (or starting another if that’s the direction you’re led). If you don’t, after six months away you’re going to be cross with yourself when you get home.”

What do you expect from your cyber relationships? How would you want a friend to react when you were avoiding the very thing you normally loved to do — the writing that you promised yourself (and all of us!**) you were going to do during your several months of free time?

If I actually said that to Joylene, would I be a true friend, or just a nag?

Joylene writes suspense thrillers … has two published, with two more in the works, and has a story in a recently published collaborative steampunk anthology.

After reading this she’ll probably write me into her next story and kill me off!

~

 

** I will gain momentum soon and begin a routine of writing and blogging and whatever else I promised myself I’d do while here. The right schedule will arise in short order. In fairness, my internet connection has been terrible and I’ve had to stifle my impatience. Which also means I’ve had no excuse for not writing. That will change. I pledge to finish my current WIP, Shattered and to smooth out any clinks in my Vietnam political thriller, Kiss of the Assassin.” [Joylene Butler, Blog post: November 17, 2014]

~  ~  ~

How do you feel about construction?

 

BackhoeHorror stories are not uncommon when it comes to home renovations. My father was a masonry contractor and built a couple of our homes when I was a child. I don’t recall it being a particularly stressful process, but that may have been because I was young and oblivious.

Later years Dad helped one of our churches build a new manse for us, and I quite enjoyed that, even when construction didn’t overlap with our holidays as planned, and it meant a week of bunking on the church lounge floor in sleeping bags with four children, and cooking in the church kitchen. We got to choose the design and all the interior and exterior finishes, fixtures and appliances, while the church paid all the bills. Now that was an ideal arrangement. ;)

It’s been almost fourteen years since I was last involved in a construction project. In 2000 our church added a new wing to its building, and everyone participated in whatever capacity they could. I ended up on the interior design and décor committee, helping to select wall colours, carpets, and furniture.

My hubby would probably tell you that I must have been an interior decorator in another life because I’m always rearranging furniture in our home and thinking about new colour schemes! During the months of church construction it was messy, and noisy, and tiring, but despite all that and the occasional frustration, I loved the whole experience!

 

Construction

In retrospect, I found similarities to my novel writing. Before driving a single nail, there was the initial planning stage, researching, establishing the game-players, and drawing up blueprints. We had a ceremonial turning of the sod, which was followed by the massive backhoe that arrived to begin the groundwork. Forms and foundation undergirded the subsequent framing and roof structure. So much work went into it before it began resembling the rooms and stairwells and gymnasium that were the eventual result. And even after it was finished, it wasn’t.

There was still a lot of fine-tuning. Extra coats of paint. Miscommunication required the change of some light fixtures. Trim was missing in a couple places. Little things, but important pieces in the overall finishing.

So it is with my storytelling. All that mulling of ideas, the research, setting up characters and POV. I dig through magazines and catalogues, putting together the bits and pieces of a collaged storyboard — my ceremonial start to every new story. Finally, with it set out for inspiration, I begin writing.

I’m not a fast writer, so it can be a long time before the essence of the story begins to take shape. It’s a lot of work. I think I’m on track, and then I’m deleting paragraphs and pages that don’t fulfill their intended purpose. It gets messy. Even when I think I’m done, I’m not. There are endless revisions, beta reading and further edits.

ChurchKitchenReno

Is it worth it? When I stand back and view the completed manuscript, despite its lingering flaws, there is satisfaction from seeing how all the pieces came together to create the harmony of a pleasing story. I find characters I’d like to live with, in a world I’d like to inhabit.

There are endless writing analogies in the construction process. Perhaps the most enlightening discovery is that no one part of the process is more important than another. Remove the initial idea, or the blueprints, the coordinating contractor, quality materials, or careful workmanship, even the final check of all the finishing details … miss any one of them, and the resulting structure may not be sound. It may collapse under scrutiny.

Do you understand the basic steps in creating a story? Have you read any good books on the topic lately? I still like James Scott Bell’s PLOT & STRUCTURE, and now he has a brand new book I’m anxious to read: SUPER STRUCTURE: THE KEY TO UNLEASHING THE POWER OF STORY.

So, how are you at dealing with construction?

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