Living the stories (and a winner!)

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“I can’t see the forest for the trees.”  I suppose in this case you’d say you can barely see the lake for all the trees. Until last summer, when the men had to cut down a few of them, the view from our summer cabin was only the portion you see to the right of this photo.

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{Click photo to enlarge)

It’s nice to be able to glimpse a little more of our lake now. We could remove more trees, of course (and the leaning birch may soon remove itself, although it’s been like that for at least a decade), but we aren’t anxious to leave the cabin too exposed.

BlowdownAtCabinOne year when my parents were still alive, they reported that a small tornado had gone through, uprooting many trees in its path. My mom took this photo from across the creek, showing one leaning on our [then] new cabin. Through the years other trees have fallen on and/or near it, but it has managed to remain unscathed. On each visit, as we climb the hill from our hand-hewn bridge, I hold my breath a bit, wondering what we’ll find — wondering what changes the wilderness has brought to it during our absence, if there will be any damage, or if the cabin is even still standing. Touch wood (and there’s a lot of it we could touch), it has survived the passing seasons.

Our cabin is primitive, but it’s a beloved family getaway. I tell people it’s like camping, but with a roof. The building’s gone through several transitions over the years, but it’s still small and rustic, without any city conveniences, and we still need a 4 x 4 to get there.

So, what’s the appeal? Yes, we think the view is pretty spectacular, but there are lots of wilderness lakes in British Columbia. This particular one, however, is the focal point for four generations of family memories (and a fifth generation is poised to begin making more). There’s something about ‘frontiering’ experiences — hauling water by the bucket from the creek, spending evenings playing card games in the weak glow of kerosene and propane lamps, trekking to the outhouse, and cutting the daily requirement of firewood — that adds a meaningful chapter to our family’s story.

I thought of this yesterday, when DD Shari Green shared her reaction to the death of Johnathan Crombie of Anne of Green Gables fame. In her post, “Gilbert Blythe and the power of stories“, she said,

“Judging by my social media feeds … Gilbert Blythe–and by extension, Jonathan Crombie–is absolutely adored by a great many people. And this has me thinking… How is it that fictional characters can come to be so significant in our lives? Why are their fictional sorrows and joys felt in our own hearts? How do their fictional dramas become entwined with our own real-life ones, causing girls to long for red hair and an expansive vocabulary and a boy just like Gil?”

Stories such as Lucy Maude Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables (1908) and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie (1935), have caused us to fall in love with characters who have endured through generations of readers. The account of their lives fills us with nostalgia. The power of stories is quite remarkable, but it’s most effective when it draws on emotions and relatable memories.

I’ve never given it much thought, but that rough little cabin is the setting for a portion of our family’s life story. Some of it is on paper, but most is held in our collective memory. Whether written down or not, each passing year and every new generation adds another chapter.

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Do you have places or events that play a significant role in your family’s story?

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As promised in Friday’s post, to help celebrate my 1,000th post, I’m giving away a $20 gift certificate for either Amazon or Starbuck’s. The name drawn at midnight was … ta-da …

**  JENN HUBBARD  **

Congratulations, Jenn, and thanks for helping me celebrate. I’ll be in touch by e-mail to find out which certificate you’d prefer.

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The Harmony of Words

If you look back, you’ll notice the titles of my recent posts seem to have a common theme: music, rhythm, and now harmony. I’ve been relating those themes to our writing.

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Much of this past weekend has been spent with family. Four generations of one branch came together to celebrate Easter at our son’s home. My hubby and I were the oldest; this smiling wee miss was the youngest. In fact, at just eighteen months, she is currently the youngest member of our entire clan.

When I reflect on the weekend, after the cross and resurrection, I think of family. It’s hard not to remember the food, too — turkey and ham with all the trimmings that accompany a sumptuous meal, mugs of coffee and multiple desserts. The next day’s leftovers were unforgettable, too — a help-yourself lunch with heaped plates taken out on the deck to consume in the warm sunshine. And at random moments there were always chocolate morsels to unwrap and pop into one’s mouth.

After the church services, with their prayers, praise and singing, there was a dishwasher to be loaded, emptied, loaded and emptied again, and pots to wash. There were repeated attempts to convince the dog to stay out of the kitchen, bubble blowing sessions on the front porch, and storybooks read by conscripted aunts and uncles, and, inevitably, the usual spills to wipe up before someone walked through them.

It was typical family stuff, but it was memorable because of the harmony. Good-natured banter, frequent hugs and laughter. Our faith and a common appreciation of the Easter events that drew us together. It was a weekend warmed by love and harmony.

Harmony is hard to define. In music we think of a pleasing blend of sounds or the absence of discord. There is a comfortable sense of balance when the parts meld into the whole. In real life it’s all that, and more, but what about in our writing? How is harmony achieved by words? I believe it’s one of those illusive things, like voice, that we can’t easily describe but must experience. We know it’s been achieved when a story leaves us satisfied.

Is harmony something you strive for in your writing? Harmony can be expected in the romance and inspirational genres, but do you think it needs to be present in others? In mysteries? In science fiction?

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From the Archives: The Rhythm of Words

This has already been a full week, and now we’re heading into Easter weekend. I hope you’ll forgive me for choosing another post from the archives.

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Breezes dimple across the water and start wild grasses dipping and dancing. There’s a special rhythm nature brings to the seasons.

What do you think of when someone talks about rhythm? The repetitive thudding bass from the convertible that pulls up beside you at a traffic light? Maybe the toe-tapping that accompanies a rousing piece of music by a favourite band?

What about the rhythm of words?

Rhythm in Writing

I came across a fascinating ‘toy’ recently — the Rhythmwriter. Try it out and then come back so we can carry on our conversation.

Go ahead,

click on the link.

I’ll wait.

Isn’t it fun?

No matter the notes you choose, the resulting pulse is like a dancing heartbeat… a vital signs monitor gone berserk. One bar of assorted notes repeats to create a pleasing rhythm. At least, it’s pleasing until the repetition works its way into your head like an earworm and begins to drive you mad.

We need a certain amount of variety, in the rhythm of both music and writing.

“Just as musical notes blend together to create an auditory tapestry, so should your words.  Mix it up, shuffle the deck, alter the rhythm of your words.  Punctuate a paragraph with some staccato sentences.  Layer your language with elaborate harmonies.  Refrain from playing the same refrain over and over.  Use this musical analogy to think about your audience while you write and don’t forget to vary the rhythm of your words.” [Sari Mathes]

In writing, rhythm is achieved by varying the length of sentences and the style of their structure. We want the end result to sound like us — to reflect our literary voice — but at the same time we want the listening experience to be pleasant.

“The aims here are:

  1. to avoid overusing any one sentence structure in a way that becomes a distraction to the reader,
  2. to move gracefully back and forth between the clarity of simple sentences and the richness of complex sentences, and
  3. to evoke the rhythms of your own vocal style, with the same rising and falling of pitch, the same ebb and flow of phrasing between breaths.” [Michael Fleming]

Fleming suggests the best way to establish a natural rhythm is by reading your work aloud. I wonder how many writers do this. Do you? Do you read your manuscripts aloud while in the sanctuary of a closed room, play the words back to yourself via text-to-speech software, or perhaps share them with others at public readings or critique gatherings?

Are you conscious of developing rhythm in your writing? Do you think it’s more important in poetry than in prose?

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#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.

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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!

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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.

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(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!)

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Tackling the Impossible

The ‘back road’ we travel for the twenty minute trip to and from our son’s home takes us along a winding rural route through forest lands, past two lakes and over an hydroelectric dam. We’ve watched with mild interest as BC Hydro has logged and created a right-of-way that cuts across the landscape for a new 500 kilovolt transmission line being built over mountains and through the wilderness between Merritt and a substation in Coquitlam, BC.

Late last week we drove over the dam while keeping an eye on one of the helicopters that is helping in the stringing of the transmission wires along the new towers. It was an impressive sight with one helicopter hovering so low above us, and linesmen working so high! (That’s one person on a platform by the top wires. They don’t always stay on those platforms. At times we’ve seen people scrambling around on the metal braces of the towers.)

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Global TV News did a brief update on the project recently, and it includes a video showing one of the other helicopters that we’ve seen, that one a massive construction helicopter maneuvering the top section of a tower into place. All four of its corners had to meet with something like one-half inch precision! It’s mind boggling.

I wonder if, in the initial stages, designers and construction crews are ever overwhelmed by the impossible magnitude of such a project. Or do you think they have a mental overview of the entire thing, and an understanding of how to break the undertaking into manageable pieces?

Do you think maybe that’s the approach authors are meant to take when beginning a new novel? I don’t know if it would work for me. I like a seat-of-the-pants method but that’s only because I know I can do extensive revisions later. There’s no doing over of 100 metre high transmission towers and a 500 kilovolt power line. I’m afraid, if I had to get it right the first time, I’d never make it through to the end of the first draft. How about you?

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Monday Distractions

Yes, it’s Monday again, and yes, I’m late with today’s blog post, but I was distracted by three things this morning, and it’s all Jan Drexler‘s fault. (Of course, my short attention span might have had something to do with it, too.)

First, was her Facebook post sharing an opportunity to query a particular publishing house. It caught my attention and I had to go investigate.

Then I came across her meatloaf recipe on Yankee-Belle Cafe’s website. Meatloaf is a favourite around here, but hers looked and sounded like something special so I had to take time to copy out the recipe. At the end she also posted a link to this beautiful song with graphics that took me right back into my morning devotions.

So here I am, an hour later, still without a blog post, and it’s time to get on to other things. Sorry! Maybe you’ll check out the links, get distracted yourself, and forget my shortcomings.

I’ll leave you with some shenanigans by two of my other Monday morning distractions. (Did someone say, “Squirrel”?)

This is the day that the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.

[Psalm 118:24]

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#wipMadness Day 12: Revising and Renovating

How is your second week of March Madness progressing, fellow Wipsters? I know some of us are working on new manuscripts this month, while others are revising, reworking or rewriting completed drafts. I’m one who likes the revision process, although I know not everyone does. I like finding ways to make the storytelling more effective even if it involves a lot more effort than writing the first draft.

Some improvements require a rearrangement of scenes, others may be better with some scenes totally eliminated. It’s always difficult making that kind of decision. We work hard for those words and cutting them out can be painful. At this point the unbiased opinion of a professional editor is invaluable.

I liken the process to the impending upheaval in my household — a kitchen renovation. Our house is now twenty-four years old and, while it’s been well maintained, it hasn’t had any updating. A total makeover is out of the question, so my hubby and I had to decide what changes would be the most beneficial to its enjoyment and value. The kitchen is an obvious place to start.

Kitchen-BeforeReno

The view “before”. (Stay tuned for “after”.)

 

The oak cupboards are classic, all three major appliances are quite new and the floor was replaced not that many years ago. They will stay.

QuartzSamplesOn the other hand, the sink and range hood are rusting and need replacing, the island will be rebuilt to one level, counters and backsplash will be replaced, as will cupboard door knobs and hinges. The light fixture will get an update, too. Once all the contractors depart, the walls that I mentioned last month will finally get their coat of fresh white paint (although, admittedly, I still haven’t found just the right shade of white yet!).

Like revising a story, an honest evaluation usually tells us when something needs fixing, but the help of someone more knowledgeable can be invaluable in identifying how the changes should best be implemented. Tackling them piecemeal can result in chaos. In our case, we went to a kitchen consultant, shared our ideas, and received some great advice. Now it’s time to make a start.

My kitchen is going to get very messy before the new improved version emerges. (That’s true with a revision, too.) But a good working plan is in place and I’m confident I’ll like the end result.

What’s your usual process for manuscript revisions? Do you follow a plan or go through and fix things as you encounter them?

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Are you happy with the progress you’re making towards your March goals? What, you haven’t set any goals yet??? It’s not too late. Head on over to co-ordinator Denise Jaden’s introductory post (here) and add yours in the comment section. While you’re there, check out all the great prizes being offered this month, too. Then tomorrow, be sure to stop by Tonette’s blog for a Friday dose of inspiration and encouragement.

Happy writing (or revising), Wipsters!

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