Wildfires and Writing

 

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Red shadows shimmer from a red sun as smoke blankets our skies this week. It’s all because of the more than 180 wildfires currently burning throughout B.C. Everything is hot and tinder dry (including me!), thanks to an extended heat wave.

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Such unpleasant events always accelerate the climate change conversation. Unfortunately conversation alone won’t change anything. The David Suzuki Foundation website suggests many ways we can contribute to  the solution rather than be part of the problem.

“Though you might feel like your lifestyle is insignificant compared to things like oil extraction or vehicle emissions, the choices we make in our day-to-day life — how we get around, what we eat, how we live — play a major role in slowing climate change.”

David’s weekly ‘Queen of Green’ column offers all sorts of information about how changes in little everyday activities can make a difference.

As you might expect, my brain meandered in the direction of writing, and I began thinking about my fictional characters and their lifestyles. It’s never good to preach at our readers — most don’t appreciate being hit with blatant ‘thou shalt’ or ‘thou shalt not’ messages — but characters who display responsible preferences within a story can set subtle examples of good habits and stewardship.

I know one author who quite successfully writes novels to share her passions. Valerie Comer calls herself “a farmer, locavore, beekeeper…and the author of the Farm Fresh Romance series, farm lit from a Christian worldview.” She combines her storytelling abilities with her preference for locally grown food and her Christian faith, to produce wholesome fiction with an underlying message.

The inspirational genres are popular with Christian readers. What other authors and/or books do you know of that combine storytelling with a passion for something worthwhile?

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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.

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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

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! :)

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“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]

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*EarthSky.org

When the power goes out…

Let there be light; and there was light!

[Genesis 1:3]

Let There Be Light

Regular visitors here will have discovered the absence of Friday’s post. That was just one of the by-products of a windstorm that caused a thirty-hour power outage affecting our area.

Our daily habits require adequate light for reading, use of our computers, the Internet and television, garage doors that open and close with the push of a button, and abundant water that allows (among other things), flushing toilets and showering.

Because we live rurally, we’re on a well. Without power to operate its pump or to keep the pressure up in the water storage tank, we don’t have water, so we had to rely on a five-gallon jug from our emergency supplies. Fortunately we had a wood-burning fireplace for heat in the main living area, and coal oil lamps to offer a meagre bit of light in the evenings. We ran the generator periodically to keep food in the fridge and freezer cold, and we prepared meals (and coffee!) on a propane Coleman camp stove set up in the garage.

It’s easy to take the conveniences of daily life for granted, and to be annoyed when they’re suddenly snatched from us. We’re spoiled. When we have to resort to living like pioneers, we think we’ve been stripped of some of our rights.

Instead of grumbling, I wrapped myself in a sweater and sat in the breakfast nook using the light from the windows to handwrite Christmas notes. I felt a sort of kinship with characters in historical novels, returning to basics. In this third week of Advent we’re meant to focus on joy*, and, looking past the inconvenience of our power outage, I realized it was giving me the chance to slow down, to take extra time to consider the Coming that we await during this season of preparation.

Today’s entry in our Presbyterian Prayer Partnership brochure says, “During the consumer-driven days leading up to Christmas, pray for a spirit of gratitude and an awareness of ‘enough’.” The power outage was an appropriate opportunity to do exactly that! (Although I admit I was glad to discover power had been restored this morning.)

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*The four Sundays of Advent:
Advent I – Hope
Advent II – Peace
Advent III – Joy
Advent IV – Love

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Some days are more conducive to writing than others. (Or are they?)

Bitter wind rattles the windows and flings icy pellets at the glass. The rhododendron leaves are curled into themselves, huddled against the cold. It’s wild and wintry outside … a good day to stay home, turn up the thermostat and catch up on the writing we’ve been meaning to do all week.

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Of course, it’s also a good day to do a bit of Christmas baking. Or finish cleaning the bathroom. There’s too much to do. We’ll have more time to write in the New Year, after Christmas is over.

But perhaps New Year’s Resolutions will make fitness sessions and the gym more of a priority, (Of course I’m talking hypothetically here! You know me better than that!) so we’ll take a breather and get back to writing next month … or in the spring. Well, after the garden beds are dug and seeds planted. Oh, but there’s always summer to look forward to … all those lazy vacation days with endless opportunities. In the summer the excuse becomes the heat. It’s too muggy to stay inside and write. Better to take advantage of the sunshine and opt for gardening, or vacationing, or enjoying some family time at the beach. When the fall rains start there will be time enough to stay inside and write. We won’t talk about the changing colours and crisp autumn afternoons that will tug us outdoors for walks.

From what I’ve seen, successful authors don’t procrastinate. When there’s writing to be done, they write. But when being interviewed, it’s interesting to hear them describe what they consider ideal writing conditions.

*

Darkness has enveloped everything beyond the window. The family room is lit only by Christmas lights, the fireplace crackles and the room is cosy. Lyrics of a winter song come to mind: “Oh, the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful, and since we’ve no place to go”–we might just as well write, right? Except it’s too cosy, too comfortable. I’m content to stare into the flames and let my thoughts wander.

I think it’s time to grab a mug of black coffee and take my laptop into the office where the room is cooler and distractions are minimal. It’s time to get down to work and make the most of the next hour.

What are your ideal writing conditions? Is there one season or situation that’s more conducive to a productive writing session?

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Fall Snapshots: Wind Whispers

From the time of my childhood, wind and waves have always invigorated me. Put me on a shore somewhere and let me listen to the pounding surf and lift my face to the onshore wind and I come away totally refreshed.

At home the wind isn’t often strong enough to hear. Occasional breezes will flutter the branches in relative silence. Prior to the current cold snap, however, the weather reports included wind warnings, and we had several days of blustery, gusting wind that made our trees sing.

“At home,
I love reaching out into that absolute silence,
when you can hear the owl or the wind.”

Amanda Harlech
~
Most days I prefer to write in silence, but if I think a little background music will help, I have a small assortment of CDs from which I select. Many are Dan Gibson‘s Solitudes albums… gentle, relaxing music accompanied by sounds from nature — wind, waves, birds. If you need something energizing, they wouldn’t be a good choice, but when I need distracting from the bustle of everyday, they are perfect.
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I’m always amazed by writers who do their writing in crowded coffee shops. I’m told the background becomes white noise, but I would just get sidetracked by it and start people-watching.
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But the wind is something else. Its whisperings empty my consciousness, leaving my mind ready to be occupied by the lives of my characters. I love the wind — at least, I do until it uproots trees that tumble across hydro lines and leave my computer powerless! So far this fall we’ve been spared that inconvenience. Long may it last. I have writing to do.
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I know I’ve asked the question before, but what’s your preferred accompaniment when writing? Silence, special music, perhaps scented candles or potpourri, or…? 
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