Finding inspiration

Quilt-1

One of my newest treasures is this hand stitched Double Irish Chain scrap quilt made by my aunt. She was 86 at the time. It took her two years, and I believe was the last one she made. I apologize for the cliché, but it truly is a work of art.

She had a sewing machine, but it was too heavy to lift from the cupboard shelf, so she decided she would sew the quilt entirely by hand, just as her mother and her grandmother had, and as she had done before. She said if she’d realized at the beginning, however, just how much work this one was going to be, she might not have undertaken it.

Quilt-2

I wonder if that isn’t true for many novelists, too. Few realize how much work will go into producing 90,000 ‘just right’ words, until ‘The End’ is staring back at us from the page. If we knew how much effort and time it was going to take, and the possibility that it would never be of publishable quality anyway, would we even begin?

While some might not, I believe the dedicated ones would, simply because they have a creative spirit and the desire to try. The drive to produce something special, something of significance, has to be followed by the determination to make a start. Then, word by word, stitch by stitch, we keep going. We know our earliest creative attempts aren’t going to be perfect, but only by learning and experience will we improve, and we have to begin somewhere.

Like playing a concerto, hand stitching an intricate pattern, or painting a masterpiece, writing an outstanding story takes more than desire. It takes ability, dedication, perseverance, and very hard work.

I’m not there yet as a writer, but the exquisite beauty created by my Aunt Norma inspires me to continue on my journey.

What inspires you in your creative pursuits?

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“For everything that was written in the past
was written to teach us,
so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures
and the encouragement they provide
we might have hope.”

[Romans 15:4]

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 (Photos by Norma McGuire)

 

Hiding from… what?

Ten days ago we celebrated my aunt’s 91st birthday with a small party… cake, presents, flowers and, of course, photos. There are other better ones, but I rather like this photo… a ‘peek-a-boo’ shot of her hiding behind her flowers, taken as a joke by her son.

20140508 - Mom behind Birthday Roses

(Photo credit: Ra McGuire)

Just a week before the birthday celebration there was a photo-taking situation of a different kind in my backyard — I posted about it along with a sampling of the photos here. But there were additional, less impressive photos that I wasn’t planning to display.

Bear Tree

 

Bear Bush

In each case, the subject was hiding, one willingly, the other unwittingly. The shots made for… um, interesting, but not terribly useful records of the event. None of them gives a very clear picture of the subject.

What they do, however, is get me thinking. (I know, that can be a dangerous thing!) People also hide more often than is acknowledged. Not too long ago I attended a social gathering where I spent a good portion of the time hiding behind my camera. I’m not great in social situations… often at a loss for words to engage in meaningful conversations. I’m better at putting them on paper.

I think authors hide among their pages, peeking out via their characters. We’re asked if we put ourselves or our friends (or maybe our enemies) into our stories, and the answer is almost always ‘no’. But glimpses…? Ah, yes, I think some of our characters say things we wouldn’t dare say but might like to, wear the clothes we wish we looked good in, live in homes we can only dream of in settings that appeal to us.  Would we admit to it? Maybe not. We like to hide.

Do you agree? If you’re a writer, do you model any of your characters after yourself or people you know?

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Judging books by their covers…

Do you judge books by their covers? We’re admonished not to, but I have to admit that’s the first thing that attracts my attention when I’m browsing for a new book to buy.

Certain covers instantly catch my attention in either a negative or positive way and I’ll either reach for it, or turn to something else. My hubby says this is true for him, too. Taste is dictated by personal ideals and I know what appeals to me doesn’t necessarily appeal to someone else, but I don’t really understand why. That’s probably the reason I could never make a career out of designing book covers.

Oh, but wait! I DID design one! Now if I could only figure out why I chose certain of its elements perhaps I might better understand why some covers appeal to me and others don’t.

Johnny_Front_CoverThe book, THE ADVENTURES OF JOHNNY AND MR. FREDERICK, was the dream of my aunt, Norma McGuire who had collected the fanciful stories told by her late husband to their three boys, and decided it would be nice to make them available for others to read. I assisted with the editing and a year-long process of querying various Canadian agents and publishers, but then decided the uncertainty of obtaining traditional publication wasn’t worth the indefinite wait. With a son-in-law in the printing business, there was another option — self-publishing.

In this case, it became not-self-self-publishing because it was done by the family as a surprise Christmas gift — and what a surprise it was! — so I couldn’t consult with Norma about any of the decisions she normally would have made herself.

Formatting the interior pages was a straightforward task, but the cover…? All the book’s illustrations were paintings or sketches done by my aunt and there were any number of the story’s whimsical characters who could have been featured… but which to choose?  Copies of the book wouldn’t be on real shelves in bookstores for children to select, but would be available for ordering online or directly from Norma, so it seemed wise to also make the cover appealing to the adults who would buy the book for their children and grandchildren.

Since the stories were about a young boy and an old fisherman and mostly took place on a fishing boat, the fishing theme was a good place to start… except Norma hadn’t created any fishing illustrations that would fit the vertical cover format. That’s when I asked for assistance from my daughter, photographer and fellow writer Shari Green, who lives in an oceanside town. With camera in hand she visited a local marina and shot several photos, one of which instantly caught my attention and became the chosen background.

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Photography by Shari Green

There was an island in the background, and an island also plays a prominent part in the stories. There were colourful elements that could be repeated to make the text child-friendly. Voila! A cover was born. Do I know why it appealled? No, but I trusted my eye and instinct.

Another fellow writer and graphic artist makes a business out of creating covers. One of her e-book covers just won first place in a cover design contest. Maybe I should ask Rachel Elizabeth Cole of Littera Designs for her opinion on what makes a good one.  I think that may be a subject for another post. 🙂

What elements of a book’s cover appeal most to you?

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“I sing in the shadow of your wings.”

My eye caught the movement as she flew close to the windows in a wild arc around our L-shaped upper deck. The first few times I was sure she would collide with the glass, but so far she hasn’t.

I believe it’s a female House Finch and she may be searching for the birdfeeder that came down a few weeks ago, when it suddenly became a bearfeeder. Or she may be curious about the birdy reflection that always greets her. Although finches tend to be quite gregarious, she always comes alone.

Sometimes she lands on the roof first and later hops down, but often as not her perilous swoops take her directly to one of two hanging flower baskets just outside our family room windows.

Today she stayed for several minutes, and when I went for my camera, she watched intently. I felt guilty because I suspect she was hoping for a handout.

Sorry, little gal, there’s nothing here. But God has provided lots of goodies for you out there in the garden and woods.

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Ms. Finch made me think of the bird songs and nature sounds that accompany the music on CD my Aunt Norma has been listening to in her hospital bed for the past five days. And that reminded me of how God provides for us. What he gives is not always what we might prefer, but it meets our needs.

This evening my aunt finally underwent surgery. She was prepared to accept whatever God had in mind for her, although she’s always anticipated living to be one hundred. Apparently God felt she should have that chance, and he brought her safely through the surgery. I am so thankful for his grace and mercy.

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“Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings.”

Psalm 63:7

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“Beside them the birds of the heavens dwell; they sing among the branches.”

Psalm 104:12

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The Long Road to Publication

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For the past few months my aunt, Norma McGuire (aka Nonie Vogue), has been working on a special and very personal project – a chapter book for children. It contains bedtime stories that were told by her now deceased husband to their children and grandchildren. Each chapter recounts an adventure of an old fishing boat captain and his young friend.

The manuscript for JOHNNY AND MR. FREDERICKS* has been read and re-read, revised, edited and proofread multiple times. Accompanying illustrations have been sketched. A website has been created. All that remains is to find a publishing home for it.

Despite all the telling, writing, editing, revising and illustrating, that ‘all’ is probably going to be the longest and most difficult part of the journey. Those of us who are still looking for agent representation or a publishing contract of our own know all too well how distant that view can sometimes look, especially when the rejections roll in and the waiting seems endless.

Pursuing a dream takes more than just work. It takes hope, courage and determination as well as patience and persistence. Throughout her eighty-eight years Norma has shown all those qualities, although she’s not one to sit around and wait for things to happen.

I’ve mentioned some of her accomplishments before. She’s a photographer, she paints and she quilts. Throughout her marriage she worked alongside her husband who was a commercial artist. Years after anyone else would have retired, she created a line of hasti-notes from her own paintings. In the past four-or-so years she has been knitting for a homeless mission: so far, exactly 155 toques and 126 pair of mitts, as well as 72 tiny toques for newborns in hospital, with who knows how many more to come. During the past two years she has also filled seven leather-bound journals with wise quotations and stories from her life to create ‘treasure books’ for her family, every page accompanied by a sketch or watercolour painting – to date, 572 of them!

Somehow I don’t think she’ll have any trouble seeing this book publication project through to completion, regardless of how long it takes. She’s a ‘glass-half-full’ kind of person and already has the goal in sight.

* JOHNNY AND MR. FREDERICKS
Stories as told by Harry C. McGuire
Edited & Illustrated by Norma G. McGuire

http://johnnysadventures.wordpress.com

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