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.)

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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

Hemmed In

I wonder if there are days in your life when you feel hemmed in … pressured on all sides … maybe overwhelmed by decisions, demands or expectations.

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Prior to taking the above photo, I thought of that while I stared out over the crowded marina. A bit of claustrophobia kicked in, just thinking of being on the deck of one of these boats, of needing to ease out from the wharf and maneuver carefully down a narrow corridor to get beyond the breakwater without disturbing the vessels around me. I’m not a very patient person when that edge of panic starts to close in. I need my space! Now!

A few of my writer friends have mentioned the pressure of deadlines lately, of trying to fit their writing into impossible schedules around unavoidable commitments. I don’t have that kind of problem, but I understand the anxiety and the ‘I need to escape’ feeling it creates.

I had a moment like that yesterday, when faced with a task that unsettled me. Suddenly assorted words from Sunday’s service popped into my mind [placed there, no doubt, by God, although I don’t think I gave Him credit at the time]:

“Be still and know that I am God.”
“My soul finds rest in God.”
“Come to Me.”

In the briefest moment of a fragmented prayer He led me to a quiet place. Then I was able to carry on.

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In the car I tuned the radio to a favourite Christian music station, and what was the first thing I heard? This song, new to me until Sunday when it had moved me to tears:

COME TO ME

In the quiet, Lord, I come;
Been invited by Your Son.
In the stillness I can hear
Jesus calling me near.

Come to me all you weary and worn,
Come all you heavy hearted.
My beloved child,
Come away for awhile,
And you shall find rest for your soul.

Those refreshing gentle words
Feel like water for my thirst.
With a whisper in my ear
Jesus bids me draw near.

[Rory Noland]

God’s quite remarkable about things like that. Sometimes He meets needs before I even know I have them. Have you ever had that experience?

~

“My help and glory are in God
    —granite-strength and safe-harbor-God…”

Psalm 62:7 [Msg]

~  ~  ~

From the Archives: Beta Readers

One of my favourite (and best) beta readers was my dear Aunt Norma. Now that she’s gone I’ve been thinking back to all the reading she did for me, and remembering her insight and tact, her encouragement and wisdom. Beta reading isn’t easy, either for the writer or for the reader.

I’ve drawn from the Archives again, from January 2009, for today’s post.

~

One snowy Sunday afternoon as wind-driven snow whipped over the backyard peaks and valleys, fashioning them into anonymous mounds, I settled in by the fireplace. It was time to begin reviewing notes made by the long-suffering people who agreed to be beta readers of my current novel.

Beta reading is a necessary tool in the path to publication but I find it nerve-wracking. This is the point when a story first goes public — someone other than me gets to probe my creation, poke into its structure and pass judgment on its credibility and readability. I want and need honesty from the readers, but I cringe at what their opinions might reveal about my storytelling effort.

Few of my readers are impartial. Family members and friends have a built-in bias — they are predisposed to a positive response. More experienced critique partners can sometimes be the opposite, nitpicking to the extreme as they identify all the ways in which the story isn’t told as they think it should be. I’m not obligated to accept any of the criticisms or suggestions, but I value every one. Once the story is published (notice my positive attitude here!), I may never know what the majority of readers think of it, so getting feedback now is desirable.

But still, there is a small chill of uncertainty within me. I suspect it belongs to the icy heart of my I.C. (Inner Critic) as she circles close by, subtly trying to cool my flame of hope for the success of this story. Is it really the best it can be? Is there even a market for it?

As the evening begins to descend, the outdoor lights come on for one last pre-Epiphany sparkle and I put aside my pen and the comment sheets. I’m choosing to spend the rest of the evening curled up with a book… mine.

I wonder, can I be one of my own beta readers?

Evening descends ~ January 2009

Flying like a writer

I’m not a serious birdwatcher, but you’ve seen enough photos of birds posted here to know they fascinate me. During my recent Christmas visit with family on Vancouver Island, we took a few excursions to the beach with our cameras. The scenery was spectacular, but the following photos aren’t some of my better shots. I snatched them for a specific reason.

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It was intriguing to watch how the different species flew. When the eagles weren’t gliding in the wind currents or landing in a tree to watch for a meal, they were launching themselves directly into the ocean to grab it. Unless a school of herring attracted a raucous crowd, single gulls flapped and flew aimlessly in the breeze, eventually landing in the waves or on the rocky shore. The ducks rose together from one spot and skimmed above the water until they found another promising place to settle.

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I could often identify the species from a distance, just by the way they behaved. It made me wonder what my habits say about me to onlookers. I’m not sure I want to know!

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As a serious introvert, I tend to enjoy my solitude, so I’m not overly social. I can deal with groups of people when I must, but I’m happy to stay holed up for days at a time with my computer and a head full of fictional characters. When I hesitate over an invitation, it could look like stand-offishness (is that a word?), or unfriendliness to those who reasonably expect I would look forward to an entertaining occasion.

I don’t expect people to understand my reluctance, especially since I’m not very good at explaining in a way that wouldn’t leave them feeling rejected or worse, insulted. If I were an author under contract it might be easier to use work as a legitimate excuse. As an ‘occasionally published writer’, however, I’m sure the time I spend writing is viewed as a voluntary thing, and choosing it over a dinner invitation or concert raises eyebrows.

Attending writers’ conferences takes me out of my comfort zone as far as crowds go, but being immersed in a group made up entirely of authors, agents, editors, and publishers is invigorating. I have no fear of being misunderstood — they all ‘get’ what I do, why I do it, and how.

In other company, I expect I’m viewed as a bit of a strange bird, darting about in pursuit of a goal that doesn’t seem to produce visible results.

Maybe that’s why I sometimes cross my fingers behind my back (awkwardly… arthritis is so uncooperative), and deftly respond to an invitation by saying, “I’d love to join you… if only I didn’t have a prior commitment.”

I have a long-standing commitment to my writing, so that’s not exactly telling a lie, is it? Do you suppose it would be considered a sin?

How do you protect your precious writing time?

~

The freelance writer is a man who is paid
per piece or per word or perhaps.

[Robert Benchley]

~

How thin and insecure is
that little beach of white sand
we call consciousness.
I’ve always known that in my writing
it is the dark troubled sea
of which I know nothing,
save its presence,
that carried me.
I’ve always felt that creating
was a fearless and a timid,
a despairing and hopeful,
launching out into that unknown.

[Athol Fugard]

~  ~  ~

The Solstice and Seasonal Turnaround

Late dawn. Early sunset. Short day. Long night. For us in the Northern Hemisphere, the December solstice marks the longest night and shortest day of the year.” *

Solstice Sun

In last Friday‘s post I mentioned Sunday would mark several things — the fourth Sunday in Advent, the beginning of Christmas week, and the Winter Solstice. Someone on Facebook today said, “What? Wait! You mean this is only the first day of winter?”

Yes, it’s the first official day. I don’t mind winter, but it’s the one season here on the B.C. west coast I wish were a little bit shorter. Misty, grey days get tiresome. Still, today we can take heart in knowing that from now on, daylight hours will slowly begin to increase again.

I wish the moody seasons of writing were equally predictable.

Writing every day is a habit for me, but I admit the quality and quantity of my words are often seasonally affected. During November I concentrate on NaNoWriMo, but when December arrives I love to focus on Christmas. The days (and evenings) fill up with special activities and there is less energy leftover for creative writing. With the approach of the New Year I start thinking about my need for a renewed commitment to my W.I.P. (work in progress), whether that means adding new material or revising what I have.

Many people make New Year’s resolutions, but I’m not one of them. I don’t see the point of deliberately setting myself up for failure. Convincing myself that when the calendar page flips over I’ll magically be able to change my ways… well, I know from experience it doesn’t happen. It will still be winter in January. I’ll continue to put words on a page but it will probably be a good time to work on scenes that require darker emotions.

A new season is under way; the year is beginning to turn around. It’s the season for indulging our fictional fancies, maybe starting something altogether new…a different genre, a fresh theme or plot.

Winter is just right, too, for fleecy sweatshirts and cosy sweaters, shearling slippers, afghans and lamplight. Just right for settling in with mugs of sweet tea and hot chocolate. Time to hunker down and survive.

Spring is coming. I promise! :)

~

“For as long as Earth lasts,
        planting and harvest, cold and heat,
    Summer and winter, day and night
        will never stop.”

[Genesis 8:22 – Msg]

~  ~  ~

*EarthSky.org