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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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?)

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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)

 

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?

~  ~  ~

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.)

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

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It’s called a theme

Red and green are traditional Christmas colours, and they’re my favourite. I’m not sure why I bother to experiment with others, because eventually I always come back to some variation of red and green. For a few years we had two trees. One always had a random collection of family heirloom ornaments hung alongside homemade ones and whatever lights we weren’t using on the other tree.

photo

The other tree had a ‘theme’. For a few years one of our daughters had a collection of musical ornaments, with a garland of notes on a wired staff to create a musical-themed tree. There have been our all white years, when we’ve decorated from our collection of snowflakes, snowballs, and white frosted pinecones.

This year we’re back to red and green again… mostly red, with a little gold and a few frosted snowflakes displayed against the evergreen Fraser (or is it a Douglas?) Fir branches. Yes, the tree is up, the earliest it’s probably ever been, but so far that’s the extent of my Christmas preparations.

My hubby dutifully brought all eight of our Christmas-marked bins up from the basement and I picked through them, choosing what we’d use for this year’s theme. I suspect I gave it more thought than I do when I’m writing and trying to settle on a theme for my stories.

Theme isn’t easy to define… at least, not for me. It’s one of those story crafting experiences that is more  intuitive than planned. In his book, Story EngineeringLarry Brooks says:

“You intuitively know what [a good book or movie] was about, and usually on two levels: it was about the plot…and, in a different experiential context, it was about what the story means… the theme…. Theme is what our story means. How it relates to reality and life in general. What is says about life and the infinite roster of issues, facets, challenges and experiences it presents.”

That sounds reasonable, but ask me what my theme IS, and I’m back to square one! Ha!

How would you describe ‘theme’ in fiction? Is the definition as elusive for you as it is for me?

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It Begins Again

For weeks now I’ve muttered about the advertisements on television — you know, the ones that start promoting Christmas shopping before Halloween arrives, and the ones that display brightly decorated homes before our friends in the USA get to celebrate their Thanksgiving. But suddenly Christmas is less than a month away!

Nativity

This is the weekend we’ll unpack our nativity scene and direct our thoughts to the new church year that’s just beginning. (Advent is the first season, so this Sunday it will all begin again — Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost.)

It’s also the weekend when our family’s Christmas traditions begin to emerge. Besides our Nativity, a miniature ceramic village will be unpacked. It’s a nod to my childlike nostalgia… a fascination with tiny figures in an old-fashioned snowy ‘Currier & Ives’ kind of setting. An evergreen tree will be next, followed during the week by an assortment of decorations accumulated from many different sources.

A friend posted on Facebook this evening that it was snowing at her home on Vancouver Island, and I was instantly envious. I know envy is a sin, but what can I say? Nothing quite beats a bit of drifting snow when it comes to putting me in a let’s-start-getting-ready-for-Christmas mood. A half hour ago I happened to turn on the back deck light (checking for the bear, of course!) and whoa!!! there’s snow here, too — an inch, and it’s coming down steadily!

So I’m all set… ready to begin again this weekend. My NaNoWriMo efforts have run down. (I accumulated 14,000 words… a far cry from the goal of 50,000 but still more than I would have had without the month-long focus.) (UPDATE: Looks like I’m finishing up the month with 19,707 words.) I’ll continue my daily writing, but there will be other priorities during December.

After all, it’s beginning again… “the most wonderful time of the year!”

I’d love it if you would share how your Christmas preparations begin. :)

~

The Word was first,
the Word present to God,
    God present to the Word.
The Word was God,
    in readiness for God from day one.

Everything was created through him;
    nothing—not one thing!—
    came into being without him.
What came into existence was Life,
    and the Life was Light to live by.
The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness;
    the darkness couldn’t put it out.

[John 1:1-5, MSG]

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