Oh, no! It’s almost March Madness time again!

Didn’t we just have Christmas? How can we possibly be on the eve of March? I could swear the calendar is lying to me, but there are people around me mentioning March Madness in hushed voices.

IMGP7750_2It’s the writing version (not football), and it’s a collaborative effort where we all — writers, readers, illustrators, and bloggers — set our own goals for the month of March, and encourage each other towards reaching them. It’s all about commitment, accountability, encouragement and achievement.

As the coordinator, Denise Jaden has introduced it on her blog. I’m saving you clicking time by reprinting her message below, but if you’d like to join us you’ll need to click on over to her space on Sunday and add your name and goals in the comment section there so she has you registered.

Think about joining us. It’ll be a blast! At least, it will be once I get myself psyched up for the commitment. AND THERE’S JUST ONE MORE DAY TO DO IT! ACK!! ;)

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From Denise Jaden’s Blog

MARCH MADNESS Writing, Reading, and Blogging Challenge! #WIPMadness

It’s almost March and time for an Almost-Nano Challenge! If you have a writing project you’re ready to start, or a work in progress you’re ready to finish, come and join the fun. Accountability is our main aim and the more support we have, the easier it will be to sail on through the month of March, bouncing along on each others successes!

And, like last year, we’re opening up March Madness to readers who want to challenge themselves to read more, bloggers who want to challenge themselves to blog more, and illustrators who want to challenge themselves to illustrate more! Basically, anything to do with books!

And did I mention there will be PRIZES? Prizes will not be awarded based on how much you write, read, draw, or blog, but simply on how involved you are in the Big Accountability Plan. There will be check-in points most days throughout the month of March. Each time you check in and record your progress, your name will be entered into a draw for some great prizes, donated by our fabulous blog hosts, including some high demand advance copy books, audiobooks, and a writer’s survival kit! And not only that, but the more you encourage others along the way (in the comments), the more times your name will go into the hat!

Spread the word, and check out http://denisejaden.blogspot.com on Sunday, March 1st, to put your goals officially in writing and find out the locations of the check-in points. If you’re ready to get serious, don’t do it alone…Get serious with us!

Now is the time to be setting your Ambitious Goals for the month of March! (Trust me, you will be able to accomplish much more than you normally would with the added camaraderie and support, so don’t be afraid to set the bar a little higher.) If you haven’t already, start meeting up with us on Twitter under the hashtag #WIPMadness .

Please spread the word about this Challenge. There will be lots to win throughout the month and the more support we have, the better all of our goals will go this month!

So check back in at my blog March 1st. If you’re such a proud participant that you want to let everyone know, grab the March Madness badge from below, and put it somewhere prominent.
#Wipmadness Participant!

 

Everyone is welcome and the more the merrier! Let’s march into March like the mad group of writers we are!!!

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Okay, that’s the skinny on March Madness. Now start thinking about your goals, and on Sunday head on over to Denise’s place to share them and sign up!!

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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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Putting the ‘friend’ into cyber friendships

On her blog a few years ago, author Jody Hedlund questioned if our modern cyber world is distorting the meaning of the word ‘friend’. She asked, “How would you define a true friend and can you find that kind of friendship in the cyber world?” I’ve often thought about that question but never really come up with a definitive answer.

“What constitutes a friend in the truest sense of the word? We all value different qualities in our friends. but certainly we can all agree that a friendship must involve a genuine relationship. My pocket Webster defines friend as: close companion. More specifically as writers, we need genuine friends who can encourage and challenge us in our writing journey and we can do the same for them. Do Facebook friends fit that definition? Are they close companions or are they another “list” of people to help us in our quest for publication? For that matter, do any cyber friends live up to that definition?” [Jody Hedlund]

::shifting gears here::

On Friday, June 6, 2008 Joylene Butler published her first blog post. At least, it was the first one that I know about. She had sold five copies of her first novel and was moving to the next step: blogging to promote it and become more visible.

I didn’t know her then, nor had I found her blog when I began my own three weeks later with an initial post on June 28, 2008. My fiction wasn’t published yet so I had nothing to promote, but I was following the trend to be prepared by developing an online presence in the writing community.

There were no comments on my first post, just as there weren’t any on Joylene’s. We were newcomers in cyberspace.

CG&JBI don’t recall how I found her blog. Something in the mysterious realm of cyberspace drew us together. There was a post that November about eagles ‘fishing’ among the ducks on her lake that caught my attention and prompted me to respond with a comment about the goose who nested atop a beaver house in our marsh. Later in November she left a comment on my blog, and as our exchanges continued we discovered we had a lot in common.

When her second novel was being released I interviewed her on my blog. At some point she read and critiqued a story for me. Mostly, though, we’ve just played the role of encourager for each other. She has her own long-standing circle of writer friends and I’m involved in a writing group of my own.

We interact online regularly but we’ve met only once. She lives about 900 kilometres from me, but we managed to arrange a rendezvous when she came south for one of her book signings and I was visiting with family in a nearby city. When she answered the door that day I felt I was being greeted by an old friend.

::returning to the original question::

Friend? One who can encourage and challenge? Hmmm.

JB2Joylene and her husband went to Mexico on November 1st and are renting a casa for the winter at Los Arroyos Verdes in beautiful Bucerias. It’s a place that obviously agrees with her. But two weeks ago she posted about how she had fully intended to set up a strict writing schedule and finish a WIP while there, but so far hasn’t managed to write much at all. You can read the post here, but she concludes, “It’s disheartening to realize I’ve turned into one of those well-meaning persons who can’t get anything done past getting her nose burned.”

Dozens of people have left encouraging comments for her that range from, “I don’t blame you for being distracted. I’m sure you’ll settle back into writing soon,” to “Enjoy yourself and don’t worry too much about the productivity side of things,” and “Keep the faith. You will get there.”

It’s comforting to receive this kind of response, but I’m starting to wonder if any of us were being true friends in offering those consoling virtual pats on the shoulder. Maybe we should have been saying more challenging things like, “It looks gorgeous there. Take a day or two or three every week to soak it all up, but be sure to honour your desire to use a portion of the time for finishing that manuscript (or starting another if that’s the direction you’re led). If you don’t, after six months away you’re going to be cross with yourself when you get home.”

What do you expect from your cyber relationships? How would you want a friend to react when you were avoiding the very thing you normally loved to do — the writing that you promised yourself (and all of us!**) you were going to do during your several months of free time?

If I actually said that to Joylene, would I be a true friend, or just a nag?

Joylene writes suspense thrillers … has two published, with two more in the works, and has a story in a recently published collaborative steampunk anthology.

After reading this she’ll probably write me into her next story and kill me off!

~

 

** I will gain momentum soon and begin a routine of writing and blogging and whatever else I promised myself I’d do while here. The right schedule will arise in short order. In fairness, my internet connection has been terrible and I’ve had to stifle my impatience. Which also means I’ve had no excuse for not writing. That will change. I pledge to finish my current WIP, Shattered and to smooth out any clinks in my Vietnam political thriller, Kiss of the Assassin.” [Joylene Butler, Blog post: November 17, 2014]

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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.

DSC04206

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

There are collections, and then there are Collections

Pottery Mug

Mug brought back from Israel by my hubby in 1980

I’m not a hoarder, but I do like to collect things. Certain things. Like pottery. I had to sort through an outrageous number of pottery mugs recently, deciding which ones could be culled (to make room for more, of course).

In addition to mugs, I have pottery serving bowls, plates, casseroles, sauce dishes, jugs, vases and more. Not a huge number of items (except for the mugs), but enough to fill a few shelves and decorate the space atop our kitchen cabinets.

There are specific features that draw me to a piece. In mugs it’s the feel of the cup as I cradle it in my hands. Filled with coffee, it needs to feel right in my grip. ‘Right’ is a relative thing, I know, and now that I have arthritis in my hands, one criterion is that the handle be large enough to accommodate at least three of my fingers.

I also collect rocks.

Rock Collection

The criteria for them are similar to what I use to choose my mugs — stones need to hold meaning for me and feel ‘right’ in my hand. I have agates from the shore of Haida Gwaii, a stone from a roadside in Mexico, a piece of volcanic lava from northern BC, and  several more picked up as mementos of other places of significance. Many stones in my collection are ordinary-looking ones collected during walks along ocean, lake and river shorelines.

Rocky Beach

That’s about the extent of my collections. Well, it is if you don’t count all the Loons that appear around here, or all the snowflakes among our Christmas ornaments… but that’s different. No, really. It is. Everyone has a collection of special Christmas ornaments, don’t they?

One kind of collection has never appealled much to me, and that’s a collection of short stories. I’m not a big fan of reading short stories to start with, because once I get hooked by a plot and its characters, I want a long term relationship — hundreds of pages, please. I admit to having written a few shorts, but it was more as an exercise than as a chosen genre.

I believe writing good short stories is more difficult than writing good novels, simply because the writer must accomplish all the same things as in a novel, but with many less words. Nobel prize winner Alice Munro is said to have perfected the art of writing short stories. She always intended to write novels, but never found large enough chunks of time to do so. When she attempted them, they always ended up fragmenting into something shorter. I admit to not reading many of them. I intend to remedy that, not because I want to read short stories but because I think I ought to read hers. I’m curious about her writing. There are a number of her stories published online and I may start with them.

Last Christmas I read A Log Cabin Christmas because among its stories there was one written by Jane Kirkpatrick and I’m particularly fond of her writing. Others of my cyberfriends have joined up to produce two collections of Christmas novellas this year —  Hope for the Holidays Historical Collection  and Hope for the Holidays Contemporary Collectionand I’ll be reading those, too. Hey, don’t be calling me inconsistent. Like snowflake ornaments, Christmas collections are different!

Do you have a preference when it comes to the length of your fiction? What do you see as the pros and cons of collections?

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Choices, choices — so much good reading ahead!

There’s always excitement surrounding the release of a friend’s new book. I’m not sure how one contains all the excitement when suddenly several friends have books hitting the shelves all at pretty much the same time, but that’s what’s happening this month.

In my daughter’s writing group, not one but THREE of the members have books published this month:

Alibi Book CoverKidlit author KRISTIN BUTCHER had a YA novel, ALIBI, published on October 1st by Orca Books.

  • Fifteen-year-old Christine is visiting her eccentric great-aunt in historic Witcombe, where a pickpocket has been victimizing tourists. Aunt Maude owns an antique store and also runs the town’s ghost walk, which gives Christine the opportunity to meet local characters and visitors, including a mysterious young man who seems to know far too much about the crimes. When the pickpocket targets Aunt Maude’s store, Christine is determined to find out who is behind the thefts. Her search takes her through the nooks and crannies of the quaint town full of stories, and she unearths more than one surprise.

Cry From the DeepDIANA STEVAN‘s debut romantic mystery, A CRY FROM THE DEEP, was released October 15th.

  • An underwater photographer about to cover the hunt for one of the lost ships of the Spanish Armada buys a Claddagh ring and begins to have nightmares and visions more compelling than the hunt itself.

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SHARI GREEN‘s debut YA novel, FOLLOWING CHELSEA, was released on October 17th by Evernight Teen.

  • Following Chelsea CoverWalking in the footsteps of a dead girl isn’t easy.After her social life flatlines, seventeen-year-old Anna Richards wants nothing more than to lie low at her new school. But it seems Anna looks an awful lot like Chelsea, the sweet and popular girl who recently died, and Anna finds herself stepping into the void created by Chelsea’s absence.Anna is determined to make the awkward situation work in her favor, because Chelsea didn’t just leave a spot open with the in-crowd; she also left a gorgeous—and now available—boyfriend. But it turns out that following Chelsea might be a lot more complicated than Anna expected.

Foreign Exchange CoverThen, there’s DENISE JADEN‘s newest YA release, FOREIGN EXCHANGE,  just out, too, (along with her non-fiction book for writers, FAST FICTION).

  • Jamie Monroe has always played it safe. That is, until her live-for-the-moment best friend, Tristan, jets off to Italy on a student exchange program. Left alone with her part-time mother and her disabled brother, Jamie discovers that she is quite capable of taking her own risks, starting with her best friend’s hotter-than-hot older brother, Sawyer.Sawyer and Tristan have been neighbors for years, but as Jamie grows closer to the family she thought she knew, she discovers some pretty big secrets—not only from her, but from each other. As she sinks deeper into their web of pretense, she suspects that her best friend may not be on a safe exchange program at all. Jamie sets off to Europe on a class trip with plans to meet up with Tristan, but when Tristan stops all communication, suddenly no one seems trustworthy, least of all the one person she was starting to trust—Sawyer.

Corpse Platinum Hair CoverAnd, if that weren’t enough, CATHY ACE‘s fourth book in her Cait Morgan mystery series, THE CORPSE WITH THE PLATINUM HAIR, was released October 14th by TouchWood Editions.

  • Welsh Canadian foodie and criminologist Cait Morgan takes off on a short break to the fabulous Tsar! Casino and Hotel in Las Vegas with her significant other, retired cop Bud Anderson. But before they can start celebrating Bud’s birthday in style at the casino owners’ exclusive private dining room, the death of Miss Shirley — a woman with a colorful background and the acknowledged Queen of the Strip — results in a security lockdown. Cait, Bud, a corpse, and ten possible murderers are trapped in the luxurious restaurant for twelve deadly hours. The bodies pile up, the tension mounts, the list of suspects dwindles — and Cait knows she has to work out who within the group is an audacious killer because there’s no telling who might be next to die.

UnknownRACHEL ELIZABETH COLE‘s newest kidlit, THE RABBIT ATE MY HOMEWORK, is available in paperback now, in addition to the Kindle edition, published by Tangled Oak Press.

  • Eleven-year-old Drew Montgomery has not, does not, and will not ever want a stupid old rabbit. All they do is sit in their cages, eat carrots, and poop. Then his annoying little sister blackmails him into hiding a bunny in his closet. She knows what really happened to his “stolen” bike and she’s threatening to tell. Now Drew’s in a real jam. If his “No pets!” parents find the rabbit or, worse, his sister blabs the truth, he’ll be grounded till Grade Seven for sure.

    And if that’s not enough trouble, two girls at school drag him into a prank war that goes from bad to worse–and it’s all the rabbit’s fault. Plus, the weirdest girl in his class wants to be his science partner. If she tells him she wants to be his girlfriend, he just knows he’s gonna die.
    Drew must find a way to outwit the mean girls, wiggle out of the blackmail deal, and get rid of the rabbit before it destroys his bedroom and his life.

perf5.0625x7.8125.inddAnother great new children’s story is from DARLENE FOSTERAMANDA IN ALBERTA: THE WRITING ON THE STONE.

  • Amanda is delighted to show Leah around Alberta during her visit from England. They take in the Calgary Stampede, go on a cattle drive, visit Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, spend time with the dinosaurs at the Royal Tyrrell Museum and explore the crazy Hoodoos.
    When Amanda finds a stone with a unique mark on it, she doesn’t think it’s important until everyone seems to want it – including a very ornery cowboy. Is this stone worth ruining Leah’s holiday and placing them both in danger? Spend time with Amanda as she explores her own country while attempting to decipher the mysterious writing on the stone and keep it from those determined to take it from her.

There are even more! If you’re looking for stories to start getting into the mood for Christmas (you didn’t hear me suggest that, did you?), the HOPE FOR THE HOLIDAYS Contemporary Collection is out with inspirational novellas from Mary Connealy, Ruth Logan Herne, Audra Harders, Missy Tippens, Sandra Leesmith and Tina Radcliffe, with the HOPE FOR THE HOLIDAYS Historical Collection available for pre-order. The small town holiday romance, MIDNIGHT SPRINGS, Book 4 in the Springs series by Elena Aitken, is also available for pre-order!

I’ve probably forgotten to mention somebody’s book baby, so feel free to mention other new releases in the comments. But what an abundance of choices… something for everyone, and it totally boggles my mind. I don’t know where to start. Oh yes, I do! My daughter, Shari’s book, FOLLOWING CHELSEA, was the first one I reached for. You’d expect a mom to make that obvious choice, wouldn’t you?

 

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