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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Will it be survival of the fittest or of the most diligent seeker?

Nobody’s very happy about it. When a bear and her cub found their way into our back yard last week, I knew it was past time to put away the bird feeders for the summer. But you should see the looks I’ve been getting…

1-Junco

 

Jay

 

Flicker

 

Grosbeak

 

Thrush

Sorry guys, but this lunch counter is closed for the season. There’s lots of nibblies out there, but you’re going to have to find them for yourselves.

 

Squirrel
Ah, c’mon now, it’s not that bad. After all, the one who’s responsible for the sudden closure managed to find an acceptable alternative.

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If there’s to be any kind of writing application in this, I’d say it has something to do with accepting that there’s no free lunch along the road to publication. We simply have to knuckle down and put in the work ourselves.

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Then God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you; and to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to every thing that moves on the earth which has life, I have given every green plant for food”; and it was so.

Genesis 1:29-30

 

He has given food and provision to those who reverently and worshipfully fear Him; He will remember His covenant forever and imprint it [on His mind].

Psalm 111: 5

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Hanging in there on a Monday

It’s Monday again… and I imagine many of you went into it already counting down to Friday. I happen to like Mondays, but I’m probably an oddity. (Stop nodding your head and laughing!)  Living through the week while being focused on something else is a little like what our resident squirrel does.

Squirrel 1

He took all winter to figure out how to work his way over the squirrel-proof bird feeder and reach the one beyond it that contains his favourite black oil and striped sunflower seeds.

Squirrel 2The problem is, he’s so enamoured by his discovery of the food, he sometimes forgets where he is.

Squirrel 3Squirrel 4He throws caution to the wind (along with a lot of millet) and neglects the important aspect of hanging on, occasionally slipping right off.

The fall to our deck is about seven feet, but if he misses that — and he often does — he falls fifteen feet to the gravel path.

Lack of focus may not be his problem so much as ineffective multitasking.

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“Didn’t your momma tell you it isn’t polite to laugh at others?”

So, about this yearning for Friday business…. maybe wishing the days away isn’t as wise as putting all you’ve got into the present, even when you’re planning ahead for the weekend.

I’m sure there must be a writing analogy in this, but I don’t know what it is. I’ll leave it to your imagination. Meanwhile, I’ll go back to burying myself in my March Madness and Speedbo writing. 🙂

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Procrastinating on Snow Days

BlogBlankWe had a friend, Nel, who maintained February always had at least nine sunny days.  She wasn’t a meteorologist but relied on her memory to substantiate the claim. When we started paying attention, it seemed as if she was right. February might be too soon to plant or mow, but nice days often had us outside, cleaning winter debris from garden beds and planning spring projects, like power washing decks and cleaning gutters.

Not this year. This February tossed winter fury at us by way of sub-zero temperatures, bitter windchills and — this past weekend — more snow. For easterners this wouldn’t be unusual, but we BC west coasters are offended! Enough is enough!

Snowy Squirrel

It was still snowing when I went to bed last night, but I think… I hope… this week’s rising temperatures will soon be melting our six inches of heavy snow into puddles and mud. It’s not that I like mud, of course, but it’s an inevitable forerunner of springtime, and now that the Olympics are over, I have my sight set on spring.

There are plenty of indoor projects that could use my attention, but if I can’t do what I want to do, then I might not choose to do anything. Yes, I’m reading books and organizing a manuscript, and for a writer those are valid, even necessary, occupations. But this ornery weather is putting a pucker in my seasonal intentions. It’s allowing me to procrastinate when I shouldn’t. I think I need to start a list.

I’m being flippant. If I procrastinate, the worst thing that might happen is a few tasks will be put off for another time. Is that a bad thing? Probably not, although it sets a bad precedent. Then again, I’m retired and schedules are a thing of the past, so who’s going to care? I do have a routine of sorts — things I do each morning — but beyond that the day is my own.

Hmm… not entirely true. If I were in charge of my day’s activities, I’d be gardening in the snow today, and that’s not going to happen. Ah, well… patience! The snow will eventually melt. I’ve never met a summer that was chilling under six inches of snow.

Do you procrastinate? Does it matter?

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People Watching and Developing Fictional Characters

I spend more time than I should just staring out windows. It’s not that there’s a lot to see here, but you never know what you’ll miss if you don’t happen to be looking at the right moment.

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You can observe a lot by just watching.

[Yogi Berra]

Watching 2

You may get real tired watching me,
but I’m not going to quit.

[Harrison Ford]

Watching 1

Discipline is just doing things
the right way
whether anyone’s watching or not.

[Michael J. Fox]

While I’m watching I try to put into practice what my father once told me when we were out hunting: “Look for what doesn’t belong.” Of course, that had us checking out a lot of stumps on hunting trips, but it’s true — a movement, a shadow or shape that wasn’t there before is often what alerts me to the presence of a visitor in the garden.

I like to people-watch, too. In a stadium or on a bus, train or plane there are wonderful opportunities to study the people around me. (I try not to stare, especially in church!) Some of the characters in my novels bear the traits of people I may have seen during one of those times. A few well chosen quirks or tags can make a character memorable.

My characters are totally fictional, not modelled on anyone specific. Seeing them in my head and developing them into believable people within a story may end up with them being a composite of people I’ve seen or known, but it’s important to me that they behave true to their personalities. I can’t combine a random assortment of personality traits and expect the resulting character to be credible. People may act in peculiar ways, but there’s usually a good reason. The writer’s challenge is to find that reason.

One resource I’ve found valuable for ascribing appropriate traits to my characters is the WRITERS GUIDE TO CHARACTER TRAITS: Profiles of Human Behaviors and Personality Types by Linda N. Edelstein, PhD.
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So, I’m curious. How do you develop your characters? How do you select the key personality traits that govern their actions and reactions? Oh, and are you a people watcher? Do you have a method for camouflaging your observations… or do you just go ahead and stare? 😉

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All God’s Creatures…

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DSC09765Do you remember that squirrel? The one who said he knew when to quit? Well, he didn’t.

Hubby and I went for a wander down to our marsh one frosty morning recently. The air was fresh and still, the woods silent. There used to be beavers here but the beaver house seems to have been empty for the past couple years and it’s slowly sinking into oblivion.

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We took in the quiet, took a few photos, and returned to the house just in time to see that cheeky rodent swinging the bird feeder back and forth. Apparently he decided if he couldn’t reach the seeds in it, he would spill them out on the ground. When we approached, he reluctantly retreated… into the house.

He’s spent so much time making himself at home around here that he and his little friend have discovered a way inside. Afterwards we could hear him scampering through the soffits. I realize I’ve repeatedly said I don’t mind feeding the squirrels along with the birds — after all, they’re God’s little creatures, too — but I draw the line at letting them take up residence in my house.

So that’s it! The two of them have fallen victim to their greed and are now in a Squirrel Relocation Program – they’ve been trapped and taken away to be released on the other side of the lake. Goodbye, Sayonara, Squirrel One and Squirrel Two, and I’m quite sure there’s one more that will soon be joining you.

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No writing application to give you on this one, just a gleeful grin of triumph.

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Have you ever had your generosity come back to bite you (figuratively speaking)?

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The Squirrel Saga Continues (aka Knowing when to quit)

There are times in this life as a writer when I want to toss the manuscript into the trash and stomp away. But I don’t. Not literally, anyway. I’ve been well warned about those moments, so I dutifully ‘save’, ‘close’, ‘quit’, and then stomp away. You know those times, don’t you? Please tell me you do — those write-for-an-hour-and-delete, write-for-another-hour-and-delete-again days when you’ve tried every approach you can think of and nothing works.

Our squirrel was back this morning… the one I mentioned last Friday. My hubby had put up another bird feeder so the bigger birds could more easily access the seed. We figured it would satisfy the squirrel, too. Not so.

Hey, this is new… but the other feeder still looks more intriguing.
If it’s that hard to get at, it must be really good.

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There has to be a way to reach it!

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Whoops!!! I just about hit the ground again!

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Hang on a minute. I’m getting an idea.

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I’ll call in a favour and get her to try. Surely she won’t slide off it like I always do… oops!

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Well, that’s it then. I know when it’s time to call it quits.
Maybe I’ll go look for a pine cone peace offering instead.

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Sheesh! What knuckleheads! All that work and then they discarded this good stuff.

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So no, I’m not going to toss out those hard-won words. But I might need to think them over for a bit… maybe ask a critique partner for advice. Or just give it some time and work on something else. What do you think?

What do you do when nothing seems to be working… when the right words won’t come and the wrong words drive you to exasperation?

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Squirrel! Squirrel!

I sometimes wonder at a squirrel’s mentality. Does he think at all, or simply react to survival needs? The Douglas squirrel is a regular around here… one or two of them come by periodically to investigate the state of our birdfeeder.

BirdfeederLast spring the bears demolished the feeder that had attracted a good variety of birds as well as fed our squirrels, so this winter my hubby replaced it. The one he chose is touted to be squirrel-proof, and for the most part, it is, but it’s almost bird-proof, too. It lacks the surrounding cage that would provide a toe-hold and has much smaller perches, large enough only for chickadees and juncos. They reach into the tiny openings to extract their morsels and there is virtually no spillage for those who normally would forage for leftovers on the ground below.

Was our squirrel deterred? Of course not. He leapt from the railing, only to find nothing to grasp and thus fell back to the deck. He climbed the side of the house and jumped across to the rounded and slippery plastic top. When he reached over the side, he slid off and landed several feet below, on the ground.

squirrel 1

He came via the roof next time. He disappeared briefly into the gutter and reappeared right over the birdfeeder. He leaned precariously out towards it, but it was still out of reach. So he readjusted his position and instead, clinging to the plastic edge of the gutter with his feet, grabbed a chunk of the nearby suet and clambered back into the gutter to enjoy his snack.

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There’s a writing application here.

Determination coupled with persistence pays off. You may not always get what you originally hoped for, but if you keep trying, success in a different form may be within reach. Give up and you’ll get nothing.

My ‘One Word’ for 2013 is DETERMINATION. I will be reminded of it every time the squirrel comes to visit!

Have you chosen a special word for this year? What will it take to motivate you when you need renewed effort to reach your goals? 

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You might enjoy this YouTube video. It’s one in a series of four which provide a fascinating study of a very determined (or perhaps just very motivated) squirrel.

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And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap,
if we do not give up.

Galatians 6:9
 
For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction,
that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures
we might have hope.
Romans 15:4

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Lineup at the Non-existent Birdfeeder and Breakfast Bar

The first seconds after I waken from a deep sleep are always fuzzy, so Friday morning when the birdfeeder that hung a few inches outside my bedroom window began to rattle and zing, I muttered into my pillow about energetic Jays and their pre-dawn appetites. Not that I said anything quite that polite. It was more like, “Those blasted Jays!”

When the rattling became a bang and a clunk, however, I got up to peer through the blinds at the offender. Offenders. There were three of them. Definitely bigger than Jays.

“Barely” visible in the predawn light.

Our place is surrounded by woods, and bears amble through our yard at least once every summer. We don’t have fruit trees or garden produce of much interest, so they’ve never lingered or caused us a problem. Well… only once was I startled to look out my office window straight into the face of a bear who was searching for a wooden birdfeeder we’d taken down earlier that day. It was empty and had been tucked behind some flower pots on the deck, right underneath the window. At the sight of each other we both fled in opposite directions, me away from what seemed like the cellophane-thin pane of glass between us, and him off the deck.

Banished to make do with the gleanings.

We know they like bird seed — they consider it gourmet granola — so at the first bear sighting each spring we always put the feeders away until the next winter. This time the bears found the feeder first. When they couldn’t flip the seeds out of it fast enough, they yanked it and the hanger with its screws right out of the wall, dumped it out and then climbed down off the deck to lick up the spillage.

I’ve never heard bears snarl before, but apparently the hungriest, or the alpha male (or female) wasn’t inclined to share, so a brief argument ensued. One loser scrambled away into the bush, and the second snuffled random seeds from around the perimeter while the third scarfed up the main meal — what would have been almost four litres of seed since the feeder had been filled just the evening before.

Chowing down underneath our bedroom window.

There was no opportunity to wean the birds from their heretofore bottomless breakfast bar, so over the weekend there has been a steady procession of them. They peck at the few remainders scattered on the railing and in the gravel below, or sit on the railing and peer with confusion at where the feeder use to be.

Hey! Where’s the birdfeeder gone?

I’ve found some dregs down here in the dirt.

Where? What’s it doing down there?

You’ve got to be kidding! There isn’t enough here to keep me going until dawn.

Pretty slim pickings! And you thought I was to blame for this?

The hummingbirds are the only winners. They have zipped past the mournful lineups to slurp nectar in greedy disregard for the other birds who will eventually find their way around the neighbourhood in search of a better-stocked seedy buffet.

What’s everyone complaining about? Mine’s still here. Yum!!

There is no writing application to this tale. It’s a bit of birdie chitchat intended only to describe why I went through my weekend doing very little writing but a lot of bird watching. I’ve been keeping an eye out for returning bears, too.

Then there was Sunday. It ended with the stunning and totally unexpected arrival of a 1930 Ford Model A in our garage. But that’s a story for another post.

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So how was YOUR weekend? Did you do anything special — maybe get to sleep in? If you did, I don’t want to hear about it! 😉

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Is more and bigger necessarily better?

You know that sensation of being stared at? That if-I-don’t-look-maybe-it’s-not-there prickly feeling? On Friday, as I sat writing near the window in our family room, I was hit was that feeling. Slowly I looked up.

“What the heck is that?” A little critter stood erect on the deck, peering in at me. Now “little” is a relative term. “Little” is the chickadees that flit in for a midday meal at our birdfeeder, compared to the Steller’s Jays who swoop down with a screech to snatch at the sunflower seeds . “Little” is the six inch Douglas squirrels that frequent our bird feeder, compared to… well, compared to this cat-sized critter that continued to stare at me.

We’ve lived here sixteen years, and the intruder turned out to be the first black Eastern Gray Squirrel to drop in for a visit. As soon as he moved, his bushy tail came into sight and his species became obvious, but never had I seen a squirrel anywhere near this size — literally the size of a cat!

Most times if you asked me I’d say the  squirrels around here are cute. I don’t mind that they occasionally bully the birds at the feeder, or chitter anxiously at me if I step out onto the deck during their mealtime. But this… this behemoth… wasn’t cute at all. In fact, I did a bit of research and discovered he is considered an invasive species, and shouldn’t be in our area at all.

Eight Eastern Grey Squirrels were originally imported from New York in 1914 and introduced into Stanley Park, a 1,000 acre park  bordering the city of Vancouver’s downtown core. The assumption was they would remain hemmed into the area because of ocean on three sides of the park and the city on the fourth side. Heh! They shouldn’t have underestimated a rodent’s determination and ingenuity.

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The writing analogy I gleaned from this is that if a novel is good at 90,000 words it is not necessarily better at 150,000 or more words. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that beginning novelists either struggle to write a story of more than 50,000 words, or  can’t staunch the flow before 225,000. The first draft of my first novel was one of the lengthy ones, and my dear friend and mentor repeatedly urged me to pare it down.

At the time, I thought it was more important to write a good story and let the word count land where it might, but later, as I reluctantly cut away many bits of verbosity I began to realize that I had allowed my muse to run off at the mouth, thoroughly out of literary control! Proven authors might get away with it, but no agent I approached was likely to risk trying to sell anything over 90,000 words written by a debut author.

So, no, I’d say more words and bigger squirrels are not a good thing, at least not in my neck of the woods.

How long are the stories you’ve been writing? If you’re published, do you find successive books get longer, or is there a set word count for your genre or publisher?

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