The Intrusion of Real Life

Do you ever try to visualize what it would be like to live someone else’s life? Real life for some is a dream world for others.

There were days when I wondered if my life might have been different if I’d made different choices. The grass was greener, much greener where I envisioned I could be, and yet now, decades later, hindsight proves me wrong. Their colours might have seemed more appealing at the time, but the weeds and wildflowers grew just as abundantly in the grass on both sides of that fence. It was only my perspective that changed the view. I was exactly where God intended me to be.

Everyone’s life is filled with a lot of ordinariness, interrupted by occasional mountaintop and valley experiences.

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While I know perpetual tranquility would be boring, during times of upheaval and crisis I’m pretty sure most people wish life could be more serene.

I have family members who are currently wishing for less upheaval in their lives. What seemed like a simple plumbing-related flood upstairs in their home on December 9th resulted in damage also being done to several areas downstairs. The insurance and restoration companies were quick to tear out walls, ceiling and floors, to get drying underway. The repairs, however, are taking several weeks — which, when you are having to live somewhere else until the work is completed, is frustrating enough. When full weeks go by  and nobody comes to do any work, or when a carpenter arrives by himself, and puts in an unproductive day, working slowly while admitting he wants to get paid for as many hours as possible, it becomes downright maddening.

Almost eight full weeks have gone by, and it’s obvious there are more yet to come. Cold, hard “real” life continues to intrude on their daily existence as family members live out of suitcases and add extra commuting time to work and school schedules. It’s stressful for them, trying to carry on with all their normal activities under these abnormal circumstances. And yet they do it.

The thing is, they aren’t the only people who have to cope with the intrusion of the unexpected. I often read other author blogs and Facebook posts and note how their writers mention the impact of unexpected events, but they still manage to meet their writing, editing and publishing deadlines.

It’s a reality that we do what we have to. We compromise on the unimportant in order to give priority to the important. It’s a strange reality that no matter how challenged we may be by life, we always manage to make time for the things that are important to us. At least, it seems that way to me.

While the insurance company handles the paperwork at an unemotional distance, I hope my family members make it through this upheaval without any nervous breakdowns.

Have you experienced any inconvenient intrusions of “real life” and had to function around them? How did it work out for you?

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Reading for writers

I hear it all the time. If you want to be a writer, you have to be a reader. It’s logical, but apparently not considered necessary by some aspiring authors. I’m not sure how a person can know how to write or what is worthwhile to be written if they don’t read extensively. But what should we read, and what’s considered extensive?

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I included the above photo in a 2011 post, displaying how-to books from my bookshelves on the topic of writing. Did reading them make me a better writer? A successful writer? I don’t think so. I learned what other people said I needed to know and do. Trying to apply what I learned — trying repeatedly — has been a step in the right direction, but it’s hard work, and I still have a long way to go.

More than craft books about writing, what’s important to read is well written narrative by successful authors … in any genre, but especially in the one we are trying to write. We need to be able to recognize good writing before we can hope to produce it.

Reading isn’t an option for writers, it’s a requirement; and it isn’t an either/or thing. If you read at the expense of actually writing, you’ll defeat yourself before you start. You don’t have time to do both, you say. Make time. Yes, I know it’s hard, but nobody promised being a writer would be easy.

An article on Hugh C. Howey’s blog earlier this week talked about the dream of becoming a professional writer. In “So You Want to be a Writer“, he suggested the goal is attainable — that a lifestyle of “sitting in your underwear, hearing voices, talking to people who are not there, mumbling to yourself, Googling how to dispose of bodies and the firing rate of an uzi submachine gun” can be achieved, provided we’re willing to do certain things.

There are ten points Howey offers as priorities we need to consider if we want to be successful at writing, and perhaps make a living at it. I wish I could reproduce the whole article here — it’s that good — but, of course, I can’t. Here’s an excerpt:

“…here’s the #1 secret to success and a career of working in your underwear: You have to work harder than anyone else. Period.

“Look around. What are other aspiring writers doing? That’s your ground floor. Your minimum. That’s where you begin. Double that. I promise you, this is the easiest path to success. What follows is specifics. But this is the general rule: Work harder than anyone else. If you don’t have this as your benchmark, you are going to have to rely on too much luck. And this blog post isn’t about the luck, it’s about how to minimize your required dosage.

“Let me tell you about my luck. I was lucky in that I started writing when a whole lot of people were working a whole let less. The amount of effort required to make it as a writer today is in some ways greater, even as the tools of access have lowered the barriers to entry. Yes, barriers are down. And yes, the castle courtyard is now more crowded. So you’ve got to do more than your neighbor. [Below], I’ve ranked the priorities I believe you should have and how to approach them. Anyone who follows this list has a great chance of making a living as a writer. I don’t say this as someone who saw it work for me; I say this as someone who has studied the hell out of this industry and profession, who has taken a very large sample of those trying to make it and those who are making it, and finding out what the latter group has in common and what separates them from the former.”

The rest of the article contains the other nine priorities, and I highly recommend you click over — here — to read the rest. I’m going back to read it again myself. I think it should be compulsory reading for all aspiring authors.

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What’s your philosophy about writers and reading? What have you read lately that is helping to make you a better writer?

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It’s Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Birthday!

One of my favourite authors is Lucy Maud Montgomery, the creator of the ‘Anne of Green Gables‘ series. I’ve enjoyed her stories because of her wonderful settings and delightful characters. I mean, what’s not to like about Anne Shirley?

I’m glad both of my daughters read her books, too, and followed her escapades during a long-running television series. Megan Follows brought Anne to the screen with the very personality I had always attributed to Montgomery’s creation.

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L.M. Montgomery (1897)

Beyond the magic of story, however, L.M. Montgomery’s writing has something more to offer aspiring writers. There’s much to learn from her. She began writing when she was nine, keeping a journal and writing poetry, but it was many years before her writing was published.

“During her years in Cavendish, Montgomery continued to write and send off numerous poems, stories, and serials to Canadian, British, and American magazines. Despite many  rejections, she eventually commanded a comfortable income from her writing. In 1899, she earned $96.88 – certainly not much by today’s standards but a nice sum at the turn of the century. Her earnings from her writing increased to $500 in 1903.

“In 1905, she wrote her first and most famous novel, Anne of Green Gables. She sent the manuscript to several publishers, but, after receiving rejections from all of them, she put it away in a hat box. In 1907, she found the manuscript again, re-read it, and decided to try again to have it published. Anne of Green Gables was accepted by the Page Company of Boston, Massachusetts and published in 1908. An immediate best-seller, the book marked the beginning of Montgomery’s successful career as a novelist.” *

Despite the success of her Anne stories, she was often anxious about how her writing was perceived and disappointed that her poetry never received much acclaim. “Montgomery herself considered her poetry to be more significant than the novels she sometimes characterized as ‘potboilers’.” ** And yet she never stopped writing. She was still journalling in 1942, the year she died.

She once said, “I cannot remember the time when I was not writing, or when I did not mean to be an author.” I’d say Lucy Maud Montgomery proved the value of persistence, of refusing to let rejection or fear deter her from pursuing her goal.

The Green Gables farmhouse featured in her series is a heritage building in Cavendish on Prince Edward Island, and I loved the opportunity to see it during a cross-Canada trip our family made in 1980. (Another highlight was taking in a live performance of Anne of Green Gables in Charlottetown.)

But there’s another connection our family has with Montgomery’s history, although it’s rather tenuous. In 1911 she married the Reverend Ewan Macdonald, and they moved to Leaskdale, Ontario, where Macdonald ministered in the Presbyterian church until 1926. Half of L.M. Montgomery’s twenty-two novels were written during her years living in the church manse in Leaskdale.

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The Presbyterian manse in its original state ****

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The Presbyterian manse (circa 2000) ***

The history of the Leaskdale Manse dates to 1886. It is now both an Ontario and a National Historical Site. I remember being in it at one time, but can’t recall if it was during our cross-Canada trip, or during the time my brother- and sister-in-law lived in it. Murray spent a year as minister in Leaskdale Presbyterian Church in 1972-73 while on furlough from his missionary work in Taiwan. All I remember for sure is seeing a small pump organ in the manse and being awed that it had belonged to LMM.

An encouraging lesson from Lucy Maud Montgomery, and lots of good memories. :)

Happy 141st Birthday, LMM!

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* (Her Life: L.M. Montgomery Institute)

** (Lucy Maud Montgomery: The Canadian Encyclopedia)

 *** (Photos: Canada’s Historic Places / Parks Canada)

 **** (The Toronto Star)

LMM Photo: (Wikimedia Commons)

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Conference Reflections, Past and Present

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(Mealtime in the Sheraton Guildford Ballroom)

The Surrey International Writers’ Conference was, as it always is for me, an incredible weekend. So many wonderful people to meet, informative workshops to attend, and inspirational opportunities to absorb. So many books available to buy (I would have liked one of each but settled on four).

Each time I return home and begin reflecting, I say many of the same things here. Perhaps now would be a good time to look back at a few previous years’ blog excerpts…

2008 — Follow the link to see lots of photos and a not-very-poetic list of  Conference afterthoughts, among which you’ll find:

Tired butts
Feverish note taking
Nerve-wracking interviews
Moments of enlightenment
Incredible presenters
Sumptuous food
Purple tights
Exhilaration
Shock Theater script
Daunting dinner table companions
Glimpses of genius
“Glorious Mud”

2010 — “Even if you leave late nights to the partiers, the pace at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference keeps your brain in perpetual motion. Every year I come home emotionally recharged but physically and mentally exhausted. It takes a couple days before my brain kicks into gear again, and I can begin to digest all the nourishment it’s been fed.”

2012 — From morning’s first light to the latest hours of the night, conference coordinator Kathy Chung, her sidekick kc dyer, and their fellow Board and Committee members were everywhere, sometimes white with exhaustion, but still smiling and making sure everyone was having a good conference experience. I don’t know how they did it all, but I know why. Because they believe in the goal that has been the conference mandate for all twenty years: “To inspire, educate and motivate aspiring and experienced writers alike.”

2013 — A reminder from Jim Hines’ keynote speech:
“There are people out there
who need the stories only YOU can write…
Your voice matters.”

2015 — This was my seventh year (I didn’t begin blogging until after the second) and a highlight was discovering DD Shari Green’s short story, SANDBAGGING, won an Honourable Mention in the writing contest, judged by well-known authors Jack Whyte and Diana Gabaldon. (For anyone interested, her story and the other winning stories are available to read here.)

Back in 2010 Shari won top spot in the Writing for YA category of the contest, so this additional award and recognition of her writing ability was very sweet. Of course there was a tiny bit of celebration. Very sedate. Mine was with a decorous glass of Chardonnay; I think Shari’s was a more exotic-sounding Lavender Gimlet!)

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Now it’s time to harness the renewed enthusiasm and put all the inspiration to work. I have a manuscript I want to read through one last time before sending it out into the world, a critique group to prepare for later this week, and then I’ll start thinking about what I want to work on during November’s upcoming NaNoWriMo writing frenzy.

To use a double negative, there’s never nothing to do when you’re a writer. :)

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Everything Writing

This week my life is all about writing. Oh, I write pretty much every day, but there’s a special focus on it right now.

On Tuesday I joined my daughter, Shari Green, for an evening hosted by the Golden Ears Writers in Maple Ridge. She and her fellow authors Denise Jaden and Dawn Ius Dalton took part in a panel-style workshop on ‘Ideas and Imaginings: Finding and developing story ideas and exploring the world of re-tellings and re-imaginings.’ Such great insights and so many good ideas emerged!

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(Denise Jaden, Dawn Ius Dalton and Shari Green)

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Now Shari and I are at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference, a long weekend that is always the highlight of our writing year. For our very introverted souls, it’s both exhilarating and daunting to be a part of the hundreds-large crowd of literary peeps — big name authors and writers of all levels of experience, editors, agents, publishers and screenwriters — and be immersed in everything writing for three (very long) days.

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With several dozen workshops and presenters, keynote speeches, book signings and banquets plus all the hobnobbing in between, it provides a huge dose of information and inspiration, boosts our creativity and rejuvenates our writerly souls. It’s also exhausting!

It will be good preparation for November and the annual NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) marathon  — our zany effort to produce 50,000 words in thirty days.

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With it following a week after the conference, we’re always more than ready to creep into our solitary spaces and start prepping for a month of concentrated writing. Then, with the arrival of November, more times than not, we manage to hammer out a rough draft of a complete novel.

So I guarantee you won’t see much of me around here for the next few weeks — there won’t be a lot of musing and mental meandering time — but I’ll pop in with periodic updates. Let me know what you’re up to, too, and I’ll offer encouragement where I can. Any new projects? Are you finishing old ones, revising, mulling, or deep in tearing-your-hair-out frustrations? Let me know. We can console each other. :)

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Wildfires and Writing

 

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Red shadows shimmer from a red sun as smoke blankets our skies this week. It’s all because of the more than 180 wildfires currently burning throughout B.C. Everything is hot and tinder dry (including me!), thanks to an extended heat wave.

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Such unpleasant events always accelerate the climate change conversation. Unfortunately conversation alone won’t change anything. The David Suzuki Foundation website suggests many ways we can contribute to  the solution rather than be part of the problem.

“Though you might feel like your lifestyle is insignificant compared to things like oil extraction or vehicle emissions, the choices we make in our day-to-day life — how we get around, what we eat, how we live — play a major role in slowing climate change.”

David’s weekly ‘Queen of Green’ column offers all sorts of information about how changes in little everyday activities can make a difference.

As you might expect, my brain meandered in the direction of writing, and I began thinking about my fictional characters and their lifestyles. It’s never good to preach at our readers — most don’t appreciate being hit with blatant ‘thou shalt’ or ‘thou shalt not’ messages — but characters who display responsible preferences within a story can set subtle examples of good habits and stewardship.

I know one author who quite successfully writes novels to share her passions. Valerie Comer calls herself “a farmer, locavore, beekeeper…and the author of the Farm Fresh Romance series, farm lit from a Christian worldview.” She combines her storytelling abilities with her preference for locally grown food and her Christian faith, to produce wholesome fiction with an underlying message.

The inspirational genres are popular with Christian readers. What other authors and/or books do you know of that combine storytelling with a passion for something worthwhile?

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A new take on Alice and her Wonderland

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Today is the book birthday for FALLING FOR ALICE, the short story anthology co-authored by DD Shari GreenDenise Jaden, Dawn Dalton, Kitty Keswick, and Cady Vance. All the authors have information on their websites, including Shari. She has links to all the places where FALLING FOR ALICE can be purchased in paperback or as an ebook. You’ll also find details there about her ‘Peace & Music Giveaway‘, available until April 30th.

It’s “a new Alice and a new Wonderland”, all in celebration of the 150th anniversary of Lewis Carroll’s 1865 publication, ALICE IN WONDERLAND.

Here’s the trailer, too, for a brief but tantalizing taste of what the book is all about:

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Tidbits:

  • Did you know that Lewis Carroll is the pseudonym of English author Charles Lutwidge Dodgson?
  • You’ve never read the original ALICE IN WONDERLAND? Really??? Click here for the Gutenberg free online version.

Now go buy a copy of FALLING FOR ALICE and get into celebration mode! I did. :)

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