A Project Completed (proclaimed with great jubilation!)

Done! Finished! The church history I began writing in October of 2012 (was it really that long ago?) is finally complete. Well, more or less. The illustrated narrative has been printed, but there are accompanying heritage albums that will be ongoing as I attempt to keep an up-to-date photographic record of the life and ministry of our congregation.

DSC04206

I’ve always been interested in our family’s genealogy, but I admit as a more general study, history is not one of my strengths. My original plan was only to update an existing historical document and augment it with photographs, but as the mounds of resource material grew, so did my passion for the task.

Authors of historical fiction would probably confirm that research can take longer to do than the actual writing. When it came to this non-fiction project, however, that part was a surprise to me. I knew where to look for the facts. There were also previous, albeit condensed, histories to access for material. Still, I encountered time-consuming roadblocks — there were inconsistent ‘facts’, incompatible dates, and conflicting memories!

My goal was to be as accurate as possible and document significant data in a bibliography, so I started by gathering all the information I could find, looking first at our national church archives and the local historical society’s records. Unfortunately there was very little to be found in either place, but bit by bit, details were unearthed.

It would have been smarter to first read up on how to write a history, but when I was finally ready to start writing, I had the notion that I wanted to begin with a brief section on the earliest roots of the Presbyterian Church in Canada, then go on to chronologically document the beginning of Presbyterian work in our area, because there was a distinctive history there. Both also provided the underpinnings for our current congregation. After the fact, I’m learning I did some things right — I had a plan before I began, and unknowingly chose a recognized format.

  • “The Time-line: Another visually effective method (again, less writing-intensive although every bit as research-intensive), facts are organized chronologically along a time-line. The number of sequential time-line entries per page will depend upon the number of corresponding photographs available to highlight key moments.”*

Writing a history isn’t quite like composing a memoir, but there are certain similarities. Unless one wants to end up with a sawdust-dry account of facts that will put readers to sleep, one needs to glean the interesting tidbits that bring personality to the account.

  • “History writing should not simply be a rehash of old stories told a hundred times before. This is where primary sources–original letters, diaries, and other documents–become your best asset. Look for interesting details that earlier writers haven’t emphasized… Odd facts such as these add zest to your narrative and are remembered by your readers long after most of the names and dates have faded from their minds.” **

There are some things I would do differently if I were starting again, and if the resulting document were to be published for public distribution. One would be to change the size of the book to a more typical 6″ x 9″ format. But there was no support or funding for a professionally published book. (In fact, it’s thought that most copies will be ordered as a PDF file on a CD.) So the most inexpensive format was the only way to go — laser copies with a plasticized cover and glued binding.

That project is complete. Now it’s time to get started on the next one.

Have you ever tackled a memoir, history or biography?

(Haney Presbyterian Church today)

(Haney Presbyterian Church today)

* People and Steeples:
Writing Church Histories

by Wendy Hobday Haugh

~

**Making Your Future Out of the Past

by Sean McLachlan

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What Kind of a Welcome?

Welcome

Many years ago we repainted our front door. Finding the right colour was challenging. I was on a ‘green kick’, as anyone who has been inside the house can attest, but green with the bluish-gray trim didn’t seem quite right. Plus, green is considered a cool colour, and I wanted something warm and welcoming. I didn’t think red would be an option with the salmon tinge of the bricks. I even considered black, which would have looked fine but definitely wouldn’t have been welcoming. The door remained its original sickly off-white during the months of my indecision.

In desperation I finally decided “it’s just paint”, and tried a red. I was surprised at how much I liked it, and I have never been tempted to change it to any other colour. Last June, while attending a garden tour at writer-friend, Katherine Wagner’s home, I discovered she also has a red door and her home is clad in brick almost identical to ours. Her home seems very welcoming to me, and seeing that front door validated my own colour choice.

How we welcome people into our homes says a lot about us and about the hospitality that we plan to extend to visitors. People don’t generally approach a home where they expect to encounter hostility. Of course, painting a front door red isn’t going to change what a visitor will find inside. That’s up to us.

Sunday will be the first day of Winter — the shortest, darkest day of the year — and the beginning of Christmas week. We come face to face with Advent IV, where the focus is on Love. I’ve been thinking about how the world is waiting. We say we’re waiting to celebrate the birth of Christ, but the nature of the world into which God sent His Son isn’t very loving or welcoming.

With 185 villagers kidnapped and 35 killed in northeastern Nigeria, 132 schoolchildren killed by Taliban insurgents in Pakistan, an economic crisis happening in Russia, eight children dead in Australia, the Sony cyber-hacking giving rise to discussions of cyber-war with North Korea — no, I’d say it isn’t a very loving world at all.

We are devastated by the terror, cruelty, pain and poverty of the world, and frustrated because our cries of protest aren’t heard by the perpetrators of hatred. While a few people are able to physically or financially make a significant difference to victims, others are consumed by helplessness.

Then I hear of the $3800 raised by kind-hearted people to pay for prosthetic legs for a dog who lost his back legs when they were frozen to the ground; and others who came forward to help replace the belongings of a family whose house was demolished in a mud slide.

Money is donated to relief agencies, food is given to food banks, people volunteer to cook and feed the hungry — seemingly small and insignificant gestures from a global perspective, but life-changing to individuals in need.

We may not be able to change the entire world, but we can make a difference. As we prepare to welcome the Christ back into our hearts and homes this week, I hope He will approve of our love and how we are demonstrating it.

~

Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say,
‘Master, what are you talking about?
When did we ever see you hungry and feed you,
thirsty and give you a drink?
And when did we ever see you sick
or in prison and come to you?’
Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth:
Whenever you did one of these things
to someone overlooked or ignored,
that was me—you did it to me.’

[Matthew 25:37-40, MSG]

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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.

Participant-2014-Facebook-Profile

 

Dealing With Our Limitations

Grumbling is a constitutional right, isn’t it? Everyone complains occasionally. It might be about the weather, the stack of month-end bills, or a mother-in-law’s upcoming visit. Some people don’t like their lot in life, or they don’t feel they get the breaks they deserve. Or they may justifiably resent having to deal with more serious problems, like illness, or incapacitation, or unemployment.

I can think of many reasons why people are discontent, but there are people who have a legitimate cause to complain… and don’t. In her weekend blog post Ann Voskamp included the following video of a KING-TV interview. It blew me away!

 

 

We can’t always manage to do what we wish? The message is: find something else that we can do and then get on with it.

From now on, whenever I bemoan my trivial limitations, the remarkable Paul Smith will come to mind.

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Is there envy or jealousy within the writing community?

On our recent oceanside holiday we had regular nightly visitors. Along with twilight came the geese, in several gaggles of varying numbers.

Geese Arriving

They didn’t come ashore, but found convenient logs on which they claimed a spot to settle for the night.

Geese Settling

Their attitude toward one another was fascinating. In flight, it’s known that the lead bird of the typical V-formation will bear the brunt of the wind resistance, with all the others gaining benefit of the upwash from the bird ahead. The front position is rotated periodically to share the flight fatigue among the others in the flock. It’s an aerodynamic thing.

But when it came to sharing a resting spot on that log, some of the more dominant members weren’t as cooperative.

This one, for instance. I don’t know what the criteria was for a comfortable nighttime perch — most of the others spaced themselves out —  but he challenged any bird that approached the log he had claimed. He wanted it all for himself. His attitude eventually was his undoing, when his antics started the log rolling. It became a birling competition… goose versus log. Guess who lost?

Lucy Goose

This is MY spot!

 

 

Goose Shove Off

Shove off, bud!

Ackkk!

Ackkk!

Oops!!! Can someone lend a hand... um, a wing, please?

Oops!!! Can someone lend a hand… um, a wing, please?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Greed, selfishness and envy are very unpleasant emotions, often more so for the person experiencing them than the one to whom they might be directed. In the writer’s world there are many opportunities for the green-eyed monster to raise its nasty head. Between blog awards, contest wins, new contracts, best seller list placements, sales numbers and book awards, someone is always mounting a pinnacle of success ahead of others who look on, regretting that it isn’t them.

And yet… and yet, I’ve found there is very little jealousy evident. Oh, I don’t mean there’s no wishing, but at the same time most writers I’ve encountered seem genuinely happy about the successes of their peers. Any announcement of special achievement is met with collective happy dancing and abundant congratulations. Maybe it’s because we’re all well aware of the steep climb everyone has endured on the journey.

There is an expansive community within the writers’ circle, one enriched by camaraderie and support. That goose could learn a thing or two from them.

Have you had any experience with envy or jealousy during your pursuit of publication? How did you deal with it?

~

Swimming Goose

Writing ‘ho-hum’ fiction

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Vancouver is the city of my birth. Its population today is much larger than it was all those years ago, but even then I considered it big. Still, my parents never hesitated to let me roam our neighbourhood to play with friends in the evening darkness, or as a young teenager to take a city bus into the downtown core by myself for weekly dance and baton lessons.

It wasn’t that crime didn’t exist. I recall hearing of a body being found in a wooded vacant lot next to my primary school — a lot in which most of us regularly played hide-and-seek games during recess and lunch hours. I was in Grade Three, and for the remainder of that school year there were more than the usual reminders not to talk to strangers. The P.A.C. had the lot cleared as a precaution, but the murder was seen as an exception… an isolated event.

Approaching Vcr 2

As I returned to the mainland from Vancouver Island via ferry earlier this week, the setting sun bathed the city in a rosy glow. But no amount of ‘viewing through rose coloured glasses’ can eliminate the statistics that prove how much it has changed over the years. It is now an area of about 2.3 million inhabitants — the third most populated metropolitan area in Canada. While it ranks as one of the top places worldwide for livability, there are also more homicides — to date in 2013 34 of them in the metro Vancouver area — as well as organized crime and drug-related gang activities.

It’s a beautiful city, but high-density living in the twenty-first century has its drawbacks. Many Vancouverites lock their doors even when they are at home, accompany children to and from all their activities, and never go for walks alone in secluded areas, especially at night. Although people don’t live in fear, nevertheless suspicion and caution are frequent bywords of our time. “You can’t be too careful.”

This week I was passing through Vancouver on my way home. I no longer live in the city, but when I consider how much things have changed in half a century, I understand why people are drawn to historical novels, seeing them in an almost nostalgic light. There has always been crime in the world, but we tend to believe earlier generations enjoyed a simpler, safer lifestyle.

Which brings me to my writing application. You knew there would be one, right? My genre isn’t historical fiction, although I occasionally enjoy reading it. Whatever I read, I respect authors who thoroughly research the eras in which their stories take place and whose characters and setting feel authentic.

Unfortunately there are some who are writing contemporary fiction, only because it’s what they know. They might believe no research is necessary, but in my opinion contemporary fiction requires a broad knowledge of present-day lifestyles. For instance, with over fifty percent of Vancouver’s residents having a first language other than English, it is one of the most ethnically and linguistically diverse cities in Canada.  Even when our personal lives might be limited in experience and exposure, our characters may need thorough researching to be realistic in today’s society.

If we aren’t careful, writing “what we know” could tell our readers we’re lazy writers!

Do you read or write contemporary fiction? What keeps some stories from coming across as ‘ho-hum’?

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