Runaway!

We saw a good number of hills and highways while travelling over six mountain passes on our Christmas trip. Lots of curvy and sometimes steep roads, most of them slick with either packed snow or ice. I was thankful our truck was equipped with good snow tires … but I know it takes more than good tires to navigate a challenging road.

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Periodically we encountered heavily loaded transport trucks heading up or down the mountains, their hazard lights flashing a reminder that they were moving at a very slow speed. Professional drivers understand the risk of steep grades, particularly going downhill. They know that if they accelerate over a specific speed, they could end up with an uncontrollable, runaway truck.

Highway construction over mountain passes provides for that possibility by building in ‘runaway’ lanes — easily accessed escape routes. They are practical, necessary safeguards to get a runaway vehicle under control.

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They led me to think about how authors cope with runaway stories, and with characters that seem to take over and speed away in unintended directions.

Does this ever happen to you? Perhaps if you’re an extensive outliner or a dedicated plotter, you manage to keep those renegade characters under control, but I’m not always successful. Secondary plot lines balloon into independent stories; unimportant characters keep reappearing in too much detail; scenes pop up without any purpose. Words ramble on, covering a page but saying little.

Ernest Hemingway said, “Since I had started to break down all my writing and get rid of all facility and try to make instead of describe, writing had been wonderful to do. But it was very difficult, and I did not know how I would ever write anything as long as a novel. It often took me a full morning of work to write a paragraph.”

In principle, I want to give creativity free rein and worry about tidying up  the messiness during revision. In fact, too much freedom often turns my story into a runaway vehicle — one that crashes and burns and cannot be salvaged. In a Hemingway-kind of revelation I’ve learned I have to maintain some kind of control during the journey. At some point I must pare down my wordiness to the basics of good structure and make every sentence carry the story forward at a controlled pace. During revisions I can elaborate and decorate as might be needed, but during the initial writing I have to stay focused on reaching my destination. There won’t be a suitable runaway lane to rescue me if I let my writing speed out of control in a pointless direction.

How do you control your storytelling and keep it on track? 

~  ~  ~

‘Tis Christmastime

The winter solstice happened this week. The shortest day of the year is now behind us.

We spent several hours on the road Monday, transitioning from the damp and balmy west coast into the brisk and snowy east Kootenays. There is no doubt we’ll be having a white Christmas.

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As the sun slowly appeared over the mountain beside our daughter’s home, we marvelled once again at the exceptional beauty of God’s creation.

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Outside the family room window there is a patio bordered by trees, and every day dozens of birds arrive, flitting from the branches to feast on what they obviously consider a gourmet granola meal that is always provided for them. On our first morning here I counted nine different species in less than an hour!

(Pine Grosbeak)

(Pine Grosbeak)

(Common Redpolls)

(Common Redpolls)

(Red-breasted Nuthatch & Common Redpoll)

(Red-breasted Nuthatch & Common Redpoll)

(Downy Woodpecker)

(Downy Woodpecker)

(Black-capped Chickadee)

(Black-capped Chickadee)

(Mountain Chickadee)

(Mountain Chickadee)

(Steller's Jay)

(Steller’s Jay)

(Pileated Woodpecker)

(Pileated Woodpecker)

(Grey Jay)

(Grey Jay)

God provides for all of his creatures … these birds, and us. It’s Christmastime — in fact, today is “Christmas Eve Day” — and we’re full of praise and thankfulness for Him who was born this night to provide for us and our salvation.

~

The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.

[Luke 1:35]

~

(I’ll be taking a break from blogging next week. I wish each of you a joy-filled Christmas, and a New Year filled with good health and many blessings.)

~  ~  ~

I have miles to go…

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(Consider clicking on photos for a larger view.)

In round numbers, we drove about 500 miles on a weekend in mid-July, then 600 more on a round trip to our Cariboo cabin in early August, and another 1000 to the Kootenays and back in the past couple weeks. I am always awestruck by the seemingly endless miles of wilderness in our province, and how long it takes to get anywhere.

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Although he was speaking of a winter landscape, Robert Frost said it well:

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,   
But I have promises to keep,   
And miles to go before I sleep, 
And miles to go before I sleep.
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It takes time and effort to travel any major distance, whether it’s a journey by car or by pen. Wherever we’re going, we must stay the course or we’ll never reach our destination.
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A novel of 90,000 words may take one writer only a few weeks, and another, several years. The speed doesn’t matter as much as the consistency of effort. (There’s a lesson for all of us in the story of the tortoise and the hare.)
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As mentioned in my previous post, I abandoned the journey on a short story this month, not so much because I wasn’t enjoying the writing, but more because the effort lacked purpose. Not to say I won’t ever finish the story. One day I might, but I’ll need a better reason than to meet the deadline for a contest of dubious value to me.
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I want to feel passion for a story — a yearning to record and share its characters and their message. I want to immerse myself in the creation of words that will transport me into and through their world. A novel-in-progress is beckoning me to put aside less challenging distractions and get back to work.
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A journey awaits.
~
I’m curious. What motivates you to write?
Miles-3
~  ~  ~

Discoveries and Ideas

We like to meander along unfamiliar roads and pathways. While we were travelling on the Sunshine Coast a week ago, we followed this country road until it finally ended at a private residence overlooking Jervis Inlet. Along the way there wasn’t much to see thanks to all the overhanging trees, but while we retraced the trip in the opposite direction we looked closer, and there were plenty of discoveries.

Roadway

Maple Road on the Lower Sunshine Coast

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Tall spikes of Foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea)

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A Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) on the lookout for lunch

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A patch of Oriental Poppies (Papaver orientale)

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An American Robin (Turdus migratorius) enjoying the dappled sunshine

We wouldn’t have noticed any of these delights if we hadn’t been looking for something. It’s not that we were specifically looking for any of them, but simply keeping our eyes open, watching with expectation.

One of the most common questions a writer is asked is where do our ideas come from. The best answer I can come up with is “everywhere in general and nowhere in particular.” Everything has potential as story material. Whenever my hubby sees something interesting or unusual, his first response is usually, “How can I turn that into a children’s story?” Mine is, “Surely I must be able to get a writing application out of that!”

The trick is not to just move through our daily existence, but to experience each moment of it with expectation. So much is there, just waiting to be discovered!

Did you discover anything new or especially interesting last week?

~

“But blessed are your eyes because they see,
and your ears because they hear.”

[Matthew 13:16]

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A weekend like none other

Despite the more than 350 photos I took this past weekend, it was impossible to capture everything — the emotions of the occasion, the beauty of its location and the significance of being included. In the interest of privacy, I won’t give you all the details, but here are a few photos. (Consider clicking on each to enlarge.)

There was a destination wedding...

There was a destination wedding…

...with this fabulous view as a backdrop.

…with this fabulous view as a backdrop.

A gathering of friends...

A gathering of friends…

...at the West Coast Wilderness Lodge on BC's Sunshine Coast.

…at the West Coast Wilderness Lodge on BC’s Sunshine Coast.

Wedding-gate

Elegance in a rustic, very private setting...

Elegance in a rustic, very private setting…

...on a bluff overlooking Sechelt Inlet.

…on a bluff overlooking Sechelt Inlet.

The special couple -- beautiful inside and out.

The special couple — beautiful inside and out.

A glorious ending...

A glorious day…

...to an absolutely perfect day!

…with a perfect ending!

These are only ten of my 350 photos, but you get the idea. It was a very special occasion in a beautiful wilderness setting. My hubby participated in the ceremony with our current minister, and we stayed in one of the resort’s forest cabins Friday through Sunday.

Now that we’re home, I must admit this morning’s two pieces of buttered toast were a bit of a let down compared to yesterday’s breakfast of french toast topped with apples and pecans simmered in a maple sauce. 🙂

So many good memories to cherish, big and little! One the special joys was sharing in the marriage of two young people of deep faith who have known each other for eight-and-a-half years while growing up in our congregation. Their wedding unites two of our church families that we’ve known for over twenty years.

In this traditional month of weddings this was a precious weekend indeed!

Wedding-Robin

~

Be completely humble and gentle;
be patient, bearing with one another in love.

[Ephesians 4:2]

And now these three remain:
faith, hope and love.
But the greatest of these is love.

[1 Corinthians 13:13]

And over all these virtues put on love,
which binds them all together in perfect unity.

[Colossians 3:14]

~  ~  ~

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]

~  ~  ~

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?

~  ~  ~

Writing in a fog?

Vivid blue skies accompanied us during the entire 800 kilometre drive on Saturday… at least, they did after the fog lifted. Until then, there wasn’t much of anything to see.

Morning Fog

As the early morning mist thinned, beautiful Moyie Lake was revealled.

Moyie Lake (East Kootenays), BC

Moyie Lake (East Kootenays), BC

After that, the rest of the trip was a joy… just one cloudless vista after another.

Kootenay Pass (Selkirk Mountains), BC

Christina Lake, BC

That resembles some of my writing days. I blunder along, searching for the direction a story should take, but it’s like being in a fog. Everything feels unfamiliar, although it shouldn’t. After all, the route, the basic storyline, is my own. Still, the way ahead is obscure and I can’t see where to go until a fresh breeze of inspiration finally opens up a glimmer of an idea. Once I can expand on it, my writing picks up speed.

That’s where I am right now. There’s a non-fiction article I want to write, but the idea remains murky. Unfortunately, I’m running out of time (it’s for a contest), but I’ll persevere… I’ll keep concocting one sentence at a time, waiting for the breakthrough to happen.

If only the fog would dissipate! Do you think it would help if I set up a couple fans in my office? 🙂

~  ~  ~

 

 

 

Summer Snapshot: 4×4 Adventure

“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures that we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.”

[Jawaharlal Nehru]

~

 

I’d like to say we went mountain climbing, and in a sense we did. In a four-wheel drive pickup truck we drove somewhere we’d never been before — over the Gray Creek Pass in southeastern BC. The road is open for two months of the year… July and August. It’s only 56 km up to the summit and 16 km down the other side, but the journey took us five hours. The views were worth it!

Sign 1

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View 3

We climbed to 7000 ft., almost to the tree line, on a mostly rocky, pot-holed, one lane road. We saw two other trucks and three motorcycles during the five hours.

View 2

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View 6

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View 7

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View 8

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Sign 3

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At our destination, we spent an hour on the beach at Gray Creek where it empties into Kootenay Lake, and then returned home via the highway. We were gone for over eleven hours… a day-long adventure during which we could constantly exclaim,  “Bless the Lord, O my soul! O Lord my God, you are very great! You are clothed with splendor and majesty, covering yourself with light as with a garment, stretching out the heavens like a tent. He lays the beams of his chambers on the waters; he makes the clouds his chariot; he rides on the wings of the wind; he makes his messengers winds, his ministers a flaming fire. He set the earth on its foundations, so that it should never be moved.”

[from Psalm 104]

Kootenay Lake

Kootenay Lake, BC (A click on any photo will enlarge it)

~

Life is an opportunity, benefit from it.
Life is beauty, admire it.
Life is bliss, taste it.
Life is a dream, realize it.
Life is a challenge, meet it.
Life is a duty, complete it.
Life is a game, play it.
Life is a promise, fulfill it.
Life is sorrow, overcome it.
Life is a song, sing it.
Life is a struggle, accept it.
Life is a tragedy, confront it.
Life is an adventure, dare it.
Life is luck, make it.
Life is too precious, do not destroy it.
Life is life, fight for it.

[Mother Teresa]

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