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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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.)

Moon_2

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.

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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]

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 * 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]

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From the Archives: New Perspectives

While visiting one of my favourite blogs one Thursday back in November 2011 — Susan Atole’s Just… a Moment – I was intrigued by the unusual perspective in her featured photos. I learned she had been challenged by someone to lay on her back for taking photo shots, and I decided to try it, too.

This unusual perspective offered design and reflections, glimmers of colours and shapes not previously noticed. The ordinary became extraordinary.

There’s something to be said for lifting our eyes beyond the obvious. If we always look at things from the same perspective, we’re going to keep seeing the same things in the same way. It’s true in life, and it’s true in writing.

I’ve been doing some editing for a friend, and am appalled at how often I’ve found an error in sections already line edited several times. “How could I possibly have missed that?” Every time I read through a chapter on the computer my brain insisted on reading what it expected to find, not necessarily what my eyes were seeing. It wasn’t until I printed the manuscript and read it in the new format that more errors popped out at me. For the final proofing I printed it again, but in a different font, and found still more.

A new perspective provides fresh inspiration when we’re bogged down writing a scene, too. Where do we go when our only idea keeps leading us to a proverbial brick wall? Sometimes we need to take the story on the road … write in a different environment, use different tools, maybe give the scene to a different character.

A different perspective tricks the brain into shifting its thinking. And that new viewpoint may be all that’s needed to stimulate the mind and send it off in a fresh direction.

Besides laying on your back, how might you achieve a new perspective for an existing project? Has a new perspective ever helped you out of a dilemma? 

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(A click on the photo will enlarge it so you can see the source of my camera’s focus.)

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The day this was originally posted (in 2011) I was also talking about Dealing with Transitions over at The Pastor’s Wife Speaks Blog. Please consider clicking on over there if you’d like to read what I said on that topic. [The Pastor’s Wife Speaks blog was discontinued at the end of November 2011, so it was my final post there.]

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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.

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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

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**Making Your Future Out of the Past

by Sean McLachlan

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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