Just another spring morning…

A bit of blue sky, a glimpse of sunshine…yesterday was the perfect day to paint or play, depending on your priorities. For my hubby, it was his morning to begin applying the white paint I had taken several weeks to choose. Our kitchen mini-reno is almost complete. With all the construction done, it’s now paint and fabric time.

He was carefully applying Benjamin Moore’s ‘Vanilla Milkshake’ to the breakfast nook wall when he discovered two adult bears on the lawn below the window. Both were black bears, Ursus americanus, although one was decidedly brown. (Black bears come in various shades of black, cinnamon, brown, even white. If you’re curious, there’s lots more info here.)

DSC05028

For these guys, it was time to romp through the garden, tromping on shrubs, overturning that pink pot of sedum, and breaking a branch or two. Then they settled in to graze on grass, just as a different visiting bear had done exactly one year ago to the day. (I shared that morning in photos here.)

DSC05018

We noted the yellow tag in the black bear’s ear, a sign that he had been relocated by conservation officers. It was likely this was the same bear who visited our back deck on a couple of earlier nighttime bird feeder raids. That one wore a yellow ear tag, too.

DSC05009

On closer inspection of my photos, it looked like there were actually two tags, each with different numbers. Not a good sign for this bear, who apparently is establishing his reputation as a troublemaker.

DSC05032 - Version 2We’ve duly reported the encounter to the conservation office, but living rurally means we expect to see wildlife here occasionally. Last night it was coyotes, a pair behind the house yipping and howling in competition with the chorus of tree frogs.

I’ll take wildlife any day rather than the smog and congestion of city living. Over the four-or-so decades of my hubby’s studies and pastoral service, we’ve lived in both big and small centres — Vancouver (BC), Toronto (ON), Coleville (SK), Creston (BC), Calgary (AB), Port Alberni (BC), Langley (BC), and Maple Ridge (BC) — almost always having our homes on typical residential streets.

In retrospect, we wish we’d discovered country living a lot sooner. It isn’t a lifestyle that suits everyone but the peacefulness and treed setting is a blissful sanctuary for us.

I realize my love of a quiet rural setting has rubbed off on my fictional characters who are all situated somewhere other than in a major city. They all own dogs, too. I guess it’s true that we write a bit of ourselves into our stories, but why not? In our world-building, we’re in control of every aspect of our characters’ lives, so why wouldn’t we let them live or work in places reminiscent of our personal experiences and preference?

Would you label yourself a city-dweller or a country-lover at heart? Where do you situate your characters? (Tell me I’m not the only one who imposes my choices on them! Come to think of it, I’ve even had a character encounter a bear on his property.) 

~  ~  ~

#wipMadness Day 26: Making Your Mark

One of my favourite sights and sounds at our remote cabin is of the loons. There is always one or two pair of Common Loons there, and soon after we arrive every summer and fall we are greeted by their unique call. My fascination with loons has grown since first encountering them when my parents took me there as a child over sixty years ago. As a result, I’ve also developed quite a collection of loon items — carvings, glassware, sculptures, and this delightful watercolour painting, commissioned by my hubby as a surprise gift for me. The artist is a member of our church, Elizabeth Hancock.

Loon Painting 2

I remember her saying how it had taken her some time to decide on how she wanted to depict the subject … that loons are so often shown swimming, with or without a baby, and she preferred to paint something more distinctive.

The result is unique and beautiful, and holds a place of honour on our living room wall.

Signature

Liz’s signature tells anyone who views this painting that she is its creator — she designed its story and chose how she would tell it within the context of its watercolour medium.

Writers do much the same as they pen their stories in text. Names on title pages and book covers announce to readers that the words tell a unique version of a particular story … one drawn from the author’s imagination and soul.

For both writer and artist, once released into the world, the creation and the creator’s mark become a part of history, forever inseparable. Wow! Maybe that’s why passion has to be such an integral part of the process.

As you create this week, I hope you’ll feel the passion, the inspiration and also the responsibility as you strive to make your special mark!

~

This is the last Thursday of #wipMadness, so this is my final contribution to our month of writing-reading-blogging madness. There are just five days left in the countdown to its end and to the day when we’ll all have to take stock of our month’s achievements. Make each one count, fellow Wipsters! And don’t forget to check in tomorrow with Tonette.

~

(If you’re in the Maple Ridge, BC area and would like to see more of Liz Hancock’s work, you might enjoy ‘The Art Studio Tour’ on Mother’s Day weekend. Check it out here!)

~  ~  ~

Fall Snapshots: Hunger

This isn’t a particularly impressive photograph. I have several better ones taken on a sun-filled day last spring. (You’ll find that post here and if you like bear stories there’s an earlier one here.) But this photo is taken at midnight, with only the porch light on, and without the benefit of a flash.

Bear Nov 22-2014

Other bears have wandered onto our deck in past years, but this is a first visit for this particular guy. Evidently he’s been a problem elsewhere, as he had a yellow tag in one ear, which I believe indicates he’s been relocated.

What was different about this bear was his persistence. No amount of shouting, banging or flashing of lights would scare him away. He couldn’t be distracted from his midnight banquet of suet and birdseed. In fact, we annoyed him enough with our noise that he came right up to the patio door to object! I quickly moved out of sight! Then he went back to finish devouring every bit of seed that he’d tipped out onto the deck.

I’ve been told a bear’s sense of smell is about nine times more sensitive than a bloodhound’s, and that he can catch a whiff of a potential meal from at least a kilometre away, so it was no surprise he had discovered I recently set out our winter birdfeeders. What surprised us was that he wasn’t in hibernation yet. Needless to say, now the birds will have to do without any domestic goodies from us until winter truly arrives.  I have no desire to encourage any more visits from this or any other bear.

I must admit I do admire his determination to meet his daily calorie requirement, and his willingness to lick up the tiniest of seeds to do so, as he builds fat to sustain himself through a winter’s sleepytime famine.

It gives my conscience a bit of a twinge to realize that perhaps I don’t value my survival as a writer enough to pursue every available opportunity. As I enjoy the writing of my novels, I don’t go out of my way to make myself known or find smaller publishing markets for my non-fiction. Self-preservation suggests I should learn a lesson from this very determined black bear!

Do you tap into smaller markets as a source of transitional income during your pursuit of a bigger publishing goal?

~  ~  ~

Fall Snapshots: Looking for the good stuff

They always seem to arrive before I expect them. When the Northern Flicker made his first autumn appearance here I didn’t have my camera handy. I made a dash for it, but I needn’t have hurried. He hopped onto the railing and waited impatiently.

Flicker2014

He peered up at where he’d last seen the suet and bird feeders seven months ago. How does one explain to a bird that it’s too early in the season to hang his food out… that the bears are still roaming around looking for tasty treats?

His presence was a great photo opp for me, but he soon had me feeling guilty as he moved in closer to scrutinize the usual corner where the suet hook sat empty, just under the eaves.

Flicker2014b

His buddy, a male Varied Thrush, arrived on the deck at the same time and stomped around, also peeved at his missing repast. He’s a ground feeder like the Flicker, but during past winters they’d grown accustomed to an occasional domestic supplement. Now they were here looking for a handout of the good stuff once again.

Thrush

I finally took pity on both of them and threw a few handfuls of seed on the deck while hubby hung a container of suet. If the bear arrives to chow down, too, I’m going to be frustrated, but there was only so long I could handle the guilt trip these two were dumping on me.

As I watched them enjoying the goodies, I was reminded that I will soon have to do some persistent searching of my own. As I bash out the words of a first draft during this NaNoWriMo writing marathon, I recognize that the underlying story is present, but it’s minus a lot of the good stuff… the rich descriptions, insights into my characters’ motivation, and sensory details, to name some. There is an abundance of weak verbs and supporting adverbs to cull, too, along with a lot of my typical mental meandering.

Once November 30th becomes history it will be time for me to start revising. I’ll have to dig in and search out nuggets to salvage among the drivel. In the meantime, I’m dumping words on the page, a few hundred at a time, and squelching the internal critic that tries to convince me my daily average isn’t half what it should be and I’m pursuing an impossible goal.

Total words to November 13th = 7,786

Are you writing? Are you counting words and making measurable progress, or does that matter to you? Are you focused on finishing a project and gleaning the good stuff later?

~  ~  ~

Spider Season

They dangle, harmless but horrific. Those ugly bulbous orb-weaving spiders are everywhere! I know, I know…it’s fall. They hang out in the fall. I understand their need to capture extra calories. I just don’t want to encounter them in their restaurants when I’m en route to my car or stepping onto my deck.

Different spiders make different kinds of webs — spiral orbs, tangle, funnel, tubular and sheet webs — but it’s just this sticky, stretching-across-open-space, hit-me-in-the-face kind that send me off the deep end.

 

Rained on Web

No, there isn’t a spider in this web. Yesterday I and my trusty can of ‘Raid’ sent him over the rainbow garden bridge. I admit to gritting my teeth and holding my breath as I pointed the spray in his direction. But there were no qualms at all. Yes, I know he was a “good” spider, but he made the mistake of crossing the boundary between his territory and mine. The rest of his family live on, somewhere in the garden, in their out-of-the-way nooks and crannies, without risk of annihilation. 

Fall Garden

If you have a masochistic need to be grossed out by a B-I-G spider, go check out this Facebook post from my grandson. Personally, I’m content to display the delicate beauty of the rain-etched web without its occupant.

There are a lot of things I like about autumn, but the sudden influx of spiders is not one of them. ::shudder::

~  ~  ~

 

 

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?

~  ~  ~

 

Summer’s Winding Down

Robins are supposed to be harbingers of springtime … that time when everything is becoming vibrant and new. This one is tattered, a little tired-looking and worn. Maybe that’s to be expected as we go into the last weekend of the summer.

Autumn Robin

I read on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website that Robins can produce three broods each year. If that’s the case, I can understand why this one might be feeling a little frazzled and frayed. Parenting can be demanding! Then again, it’s said that although “the entire [robin] population turns over on average every six years,” the occasional one can live up to fourteen years, so perhaps this one is just showing his age.

All winter long we wait for summertime, and when it finally arrives we exult in relaxed schedules, vacations, and the opportunity to catch up on everything we didn’t have time for in the preceding months. We garden and travel, make time for afternoons on the beach and backyard barbecues. Then, all too soon, we see it …

Autumn Glimpse

… the unwelcome hint that it’s all coming to an end.

We’re already back into September routines and any vacation time we might have had is little more than a distant memory. I should feel refreshed after several weeks of cottage time and family visits, but in reality I’m a little breathless. The weeks zipped by like a roadrunner on caffeine. I enjoyed my activities, but I’m taking stock and discovering that a lot of what I hoped to accomplish during June, July and August didn’t happen. What became of all that extra time I expected to have?

Perhaps having a summer birthday and acknowledging the passing of yet another year in my life makes me more aware of time’s elusive nature. Like the Robin, I’m getting a little worn around the edges. It takes me longer to get things done — although that may be less to do with aging and more to do with stopping too often to appreciate the blaze of changing colours or breathe in late summer’s distinctive scent.

Yesterday was subdued … a mist drifted through the trees most of the day and mingled with a cool breeze. The alders have begun letting their leaves loose to flutter down and clutter the freshly mown lawn, and down at the marsh there’s a hint of gold. We’re approaching the last weekend of summer and I’m feeling a little melancholic about it.

~

“The whole earth is at rest and is quiet;
They break forth into shouts of joy.

[Isaiah 14:7]

~  ~  ~

 SS-BUTTON

Staying Focused

Living rurally provides me with opportunities to enjoy wildlife of several varieties, literally on my doorstep. You’ve seen photos and read stories here of deer in our garden, bear on the back lawn, raccoons on the deck, and a great assortment of birds and critters at our feeders.

Deer 3

This nice looking buck appeared in the back yard early in July. It was the first buck we’ve seen here … at least, the first one bearing a set of antlers. He had a doe in tow who was casually munching on my rhododendrons. She wasn’t concerned that I stood in the window taking her photo; her buddy was keeping a wary eye on me. When I started moving to a different window for a better shot, he told her it was time to leave, and they immediately disappeared into the woods.

Deer 2

In August while we were driving in a town on Vancouver Island, we encountered this doe on the lawn of a church. We pulled over and I rolled down the car window to take her photo. She apparently decided I was relatively harmless, and she returned to nibbling the grass. Still, she kept a cautious eye on me while slowly working her way to the back of the church property where I lost sight of her in the trees.

Deer 1

This doe was either very smart or very stupid. Last week our daughter’s Rough Collie was on the back porch of their rural home in Cranbrook, barking furiously at the brazen intruder. Perhaps the deer recognized that the dog was on a chain, because she showed no concern, just continued to stand and stare.

Deer 4

After several moments, a noise in the bush caught her attention. I’m not sure how she even heard it over all the barking.

Deer 5

Her ears perked as she evaluated the disturbance.

Deer 6

Deciding it was a possible threat, she turned to face the woods. Then her tailed flagged, and before I could take a final shot, she wheeled and bounded off in the opposite direction. Only seconds behind her was the neighbour’s tubby Basset Hound, running as fast as her stubby legs would go … easily outrun by the swift deer.

The deer have a lesson to teach me about focus. All too often, both as a writer and as a follower of Christ, I get hung up on trivialities and miss out on the important things. I need to pay more attention, evaluate situations and respond appropriately. I believe it was the Roman philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca who said, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”

I need to be better prepared and learn to focus on what matters so I’m aware of opportunities when they occur. How about you?

~  ~  ~

Summer Snapshot: Butterflies

“Butterflies are self propelled flowers.”

R.H. Heinlein

~

Butterflies are fascinating in their ability to be transformed via metamorphosis. I also admire their gorgeous colours and their fluttering flight, but seldom spend much time trying to figure out their names or habitats. Three years ago an attractive yellow and black butterfly — a Tiger Swallowtail — captured my attention in our garden, and I ended up photographing him (with great difficulty) and using the experience for a writing analogy.

During this summer’s travels I encountered two other flitting beauties that were impossible to ignore, one at our younger daughter’s rural home in the Kootenays, and the other at our cabin in BC’s Cariboo country. I think I’ve determined their names, but feel free to correct me. I present them for today’s summer snapshot(s).

Butterfly

Zerene Fritillary (Speyeria zerene)

 

Butterfly 2

California Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis californica)

~

“I tell of hearts and souls and dances…
Butterflies and second chances;
Desperate ones and dreamers bound,
Seeking life from barren ground,
Who suffer on in earthly fate
The bitter pain of agony hate,
Might but they stop and here forgive
Would break the bonds to breathe and live
And find that God in goodness brings
A chance for change, the hope of wings
To rest in Him, and self to die
And so become a butterfly.” 

Karen Kingsbury (Oceans Apart)

~  ~  ~

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