Saturday, 27 December 2014

And now for something completely different…

Texas has a whorehouse in it. Well, maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t. I truly have no idea. I’m sure there must be a chicken ranch or two, but I’m guessing they’re filled with poultry rather than scantily clad women being harassed by a religious zealot. Although, I’m not a hundred percent certain, which may be motivation enough to head stateside.

Why mess with Texas? That is where dear husband (DH) and I hooked up…well…sort of. We will celebrate thirty years together in March thanks to meeting in August of 1984 for a first reading of that risqué musical play and the crazy fun-filled performance that followed. In a city too large for my outport soul, I connected with like-minded people that fateful year. More importantly, I found my soul mate. Yep, soul mate. The fodder of romantic novels happens in real life, for there are no other words to succinctly explain our connection to one another.

Here we are three decades later, lucky enough to retire incredibly early and have choices. What to do? Canadians are snowbirds. It’s a long-standing tradition. For those of you not of this continent, snowbirds fly south, away from mounting snowbanks to the sandy shores of the southern states.

Don't we look like the perfect match?
The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, 1984
We have continued to quote from The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. It will have no meaning to anyone except us, but “...and your cottage on Padre Island” is our favourite line—for over a quarter of a century! (We won’t mention that we recently watched ourselves in a beta version—if you don’t understand that, perhaps you got lost in your blog hopping and will now recognize that you have drifted into the ancient past—and found out that the actual line is “...and your fishing lodge on Padre Island.” It seems we even synchronize our mistakes.)

Faced with our first winter of freedom, we thought of our beginnings and decided to bring it full circle. Texas. We’ve only been to the imaginary stage version of the state, so this is an exciting adventure. As for the existence of a real life Chicken Ranch? Stay tuned. We’ll let you know what we find out.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

My Christmas Wish

The moon is ethereal, glowing upon the white pillows that blanket my backyard. I stand in the window, comforted by the warmth of my home and the joy of my small family. I am wrapped in the arms of the man I love. I am content.

A precipitant gust, a swirl of snow and the yard becomes a dreamscape. The past whispers on the wind. It will not be forgotten. We lived. Their voices haunt me as they have since I was young. Remembered tales from childhood? Romantic melancholy? A past life? It is within me, around me. There are things in this life that defy explanation.

The Ouendat lived. They longed. They loved.

In Raven’s Path, Brandan "Raven" Murray yearns for accord between nations without the stain of blood upon the ground. Isn’t that what we still wish for in the world today? In the spirit of the season, I ask that you join me in remembering the Ouendat of Huronia and their descendants. The land beyond my frosted panes belonged to them, yet they welcomed strangers and shared their bounty. Let us continue that tradition.
 The Huron Carol 
Ehstehn yayau deh tsaun we yisus ahattonnia
O na wateh wado:kwi nonnwa 'ndasqua entai
ehnau sherskwa trivota nonnwa 'ndi yaun rashata
Iesus Ahattonnia, Ahattonnia, Iesus Ahattonnia.

Ayoki onki hm-ashe eran yayeh raunnaun
yauntaun kanntatya hm-deh 'ndyaun sehnsatoa ronnyaun
Waria hnawakweh tond Yosehf sataunn haronnyaun
Iesus Ahattonnia, Ahattonnia, Iesus Ahattonnia.

Chretiens, prenez courage,
Jesus Sauveur est ne!
Du malin les ouvrages
A jamais sont ruines.
Quand il chante merveille,
A ces troublants appas
Ne pretez plus l'oreille:
Jesus est ne, Iesus Ahattonnia.

Oyez cette nouvelle,
Dont un ange est porteur!
Oyez! ames fideles,
Et dilatez vos coeurs.
La Vierge dans l'etable
Entoure de ses bras
L'Enfant-Dieu adorable.
Jesus est ne, Iesus Ahattonnia.

Let Christian men take heart today
The devil's rule is done;
Let no man heed the devil more,
For Jesus Christ is come
But hear ye all what angels sing:
How Mary Maid bore Jesus King.
Iesus Ahattonnia, Jesus is born, Iesus Ahattonnia.

Three chieftains saw before Noel
A star as bright as day,
"So fair a sign," the chieftains said,
"Shall lead us where it may."
For Jesu told the chieftains three:
"The star will bring you here to me."
Iesus Ahattonnia, Jesus is born, Iesus Ahattonnia.

The Huron Carol was written by Jesuit missionary Jean de Brébeuf in the 17th century. Originally written entirely in the language of the Ouendat, Heather Dale** does a nice job of including French and English. It is considered Canada’s first Christmas carol.

**Please consider purchasing this music from Heather Dale if you loved it, as she is an independent artist.


Saturday, 13 December 2014

…everything is illuminated in the light of the past. It is always along the side of us, on the inside, looking out. –Jonathan Safran Foer

Last month we visited the Ouendat/Jesuit mission of Sainte-Marie among the Hurons, a carefully crafted recreation of a community that existed in the 1600s. They hold an annual First Light weekend, lighting over 5000 candles to illuminate this wonderful village. Celebrating First Nations’ and French cultures, it is an evening filled with music and food. From the evocative drumming in the smoke-filled longhouses, to the toe-tapping French-Canadian folksongs in the granary, and the mystical strings of the harp whispering in the church, it invites you to step into another time.  Chilled to the bone, but warmed to the heart, we enjoyed the haunting images of days gone by.

Longhouse photo:
Much of my inspiration for Raven’s Path comes from this nearby site. I visited as a small child and continue to go yearly. The moment I cross the threshold of the palisade, history wraps around me and drapes with the comfort of a blanket. Its call is inexplicable.  Each time I enter a longhouse—plants hanging from rafters, animal pelts tossed casually on the side platforms, wood smoke acrid and familiar—I pause. Center hearths glow, flickering eerily over the bark walls, contentedly snapping out warmth. I listen with my heart, take heed of my soul and I can hear it. The echoes of the past. Out of the ashes of the fires that burn, rise the people caught in the crossfire of nations.


Saturday, 6 December 2014

I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library. --Jorge Luis Borges

The Kobo is a great addition to my technology collection. I mean, how can you not appreciate being able to take a large diverse library with you when you travel? Next Issue provides the same convenience, the sheer quantity of magazines at the press of a button somewhat thrilling.

Yet, I still love the feel of the real McCoy. There is nothing like opening a new book, the paper crisp beneath my fingers, the sense of anticipation as I turn each page. I can't imagine a world without hardcopy versions of my favourites lining my bookshelves. Sometimes I am passing by and have to stop to touch the spines, just connecting with them bringing me pleasure. (I must confess, I fondle books at retail stores too, relishing opening them up for an illicit peek, but let's just keep that between you and me.)

I am all for progress and change and certainly support the eBook trade. But, let's not forget our old friend, the book book. Pick one up once in a while, feel the comfort of its weight, and appreciate how it brings you, not just to a new place but back to a time when simple pleasures were, well, simple.

(Thank you friends on CompuServe for sharing this video: The Power of a Bookbook.)

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Child, you have to learn to see things in the right proportions. Learn to see great things great and small things small. ― Corrie ten Boom

Technology can be an amazing tool or the source of absolute misery. Over the last few days, I have cried a pox on computers. Gmail has refused to maintain integrity of formatting. Word shifted the settings on a manuscript, but insists that it sits at one-inch margins despite the fact that the ruler clearly shows it at twice that width. Add to the list, an Internet connection that keeps playing hide and seek. Yesterday, frustrated and ready to toss my laptop out into the cold winter night, I took a break and watched the news.

Bombs, gunfire kill 81 at crowded mosque in Nigeria. Wrongly convicted man released after twelve years. Over five thousand dead from Ebola. Calm comes to troubled Ferguson while protests ignite around the country.

I took a very long, very deep breath. I live in a country where I can practice, or not, my religion without fear, where medical care is a right of every citizen regardless of income, and where, should I not agree with my government’s policies, I can stand freely and shout my concerns and back that up with a vote. I never want for food on my table nor a roof overhead. My home is filled with laughter and love and too many hugs to count. 

So, technology is messing with me a bit. Let it. I’m off to take a walk with my two dogs, hand in hand with my husband and, I’d put my money on it, there’ll be some hugging going on when we get home.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

In everyone's life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit. Albert Schweitzer

Eight years ago, my inner fire was a small flicker—not entirely extinguished, but it was not lighting the way as it once did. My job was slowly eroding my soul. I didn’t know if I could hang in there; I worried that I had taken a wrong turn on my career path. The proverbial window opened, and I was promoted and transferred to a new location.

A fresh start is an amazing thing. I was thrilled to be there and discovered that, in embracing others, I was embraced. I spent the next six years in a wonderful nurturing environment. We grew together, working through each day, and any problems, with genuine affection and lots of laughter. Fanned on a daily basis, my flame began to glow. A lightened heart is capable of so much more than a heavy one. The joy of my working days spilled into my home life and I began to write regularly.

It was with mixed emotions that I voluntarily bid farewell to that part of my life. I have no regrets. I treasure spending time with my small family and am loving the hours each day that I am now able to devote to writing. Things could not be sweeter. Still, I said goodbye to some amazing people. Well, those folks visited last night. We shared a little wine, plenty of stories, and so much laughter.

It seems  goodbyes do not have to be forever. Thank you, my friends. Once again, my flame burns a little brighter.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

If You Build It, They Will Come

I mentioned two weeks ago that I ditched Nano in favour of life. It was a good decision. Not just in terms of keeping all happy on the home front, but because of the myriad of things I have needed to do for my writing. All of which are important, although they certainly get in the way of writing. I am just shy of 4,000 words on the sequel for Raven’s Path—a shabby output for the month of November.

Research tends to swallow me whole, but I rest comfortably in its gullet, lying back on its cozy curved lining, my feet dangling courageously over the duodenum,  contentedly grabbing at all of the tidbits floating by. While less writing occurs at this stage, I digest all of these little bits and bites, knowing that I will eventually crawl up the esophagus (Ah, you thought I might sneak out the other way. No, can’t have that. Easier, perhaps, but I might get separated from the good stuff!), pat my friend, Research, on the cheek and wander off to chunder the hodgepodge into a story.

But, I digress, as a writer is wont to do. Platform. That has been this month’s distraction. I began this blog in July with an eye to developing an online presence. It has been a slow learning process as I resented the time away from writing to format it beyond its original simplicity. Based on a plethora of advice on the various author/writing websites I haunt, I have begun to expand its interface. You now see some sites I visit regularly, a Pinterest widget, some followers, and there is actually something at the end of the Google+ link.

I have not added a question to each blog entry, meant to obligate folks to respond and prove they have dropped by because, well, I’m Canadian and am just too polite to make anyone feel they are beholden to remark upon anything I write. I have, however, changed permissions on the “reply” in the hopes that it is now easier for people who would like to drop me a line.

I explored Pinterest for the first time this week and paid homage to Raven’s Path. My betas may find that interesting. The rest of the world? We’ll see. Working through Pinterest is definitely an entertaining diversion. I’m navigating my way through Google+, attempting to link those authors I have met (and thoroughly enjoyed talking with and learning from) on my writer’s forum. It is a work in progress so, if you drop by, keep that in mind. I have also joined several more writing websites. Another rabbit hole is all I can say about that. J

When I move to the next stage of this exciting journey, I will jump whatever media hoops are necessary to get my book in people’s hands. For now, it is enough. I do need to get back to the nitty-gritty of writing a book. In the meantime, I wonder, since I’ve built it…will they come? (See that, I snuck a question in like a good little blogger. Okay, it can be considered rhetorical, but if you have an inkling of a desire to answer, or say anything at all, feel free, as I am incredibly curious as to just who you are. J)

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Down the Rabbit Hole

I was going to title this “I’ve Fallen and I Can’t Get Up!” but the reference to Alice in Wonderland is more appropriate to the surprise and wonder I feel when I plunge into research. It’s a freefall and, tumbling joyfully, I snatch at details that are enlightening, deeply moving and delightfully entertaining, tucking them away for use in my novel or for that lull in a dinner party that just needs to be filled with something.

Let’s look at plot potential. I tripped across John Pattin, a mapmaker, trader, and all-around curious explorer from the 18th century. He managed to get arrested in 1750 for encroaching on French territory. Held in no less than 6 strongholds of New France before being sent to France, he was not only freed but managed to secure restitution for losses as well. Pattin promptly returned to the colonies and drew up plans, for the British, of all of the French forts where he had stayed. Now that’s a character I can work with—adventurous, savvy and, depending on the lens, incredibly loyal or wonderfully manipulative and deceitful.

Then, there’s Elizabeth Couc. Too early for Crossroads, but I'm sure I can work her story in somewhere. Cadillac describes her as a woman “kept by more than a hundred men.” Now, how could I resist finding out more about her after a declaration like that? Reality show scripts read dry in comparison to this real life, multi-husband woman from the 17th century.

As for the dinner party conversation, it would be all about the beaver. Yup, that crazy little furry river critter that was so sought after in the 18th century. The economy in the Ohio Valley, in 1750, was wrapped up in the beaver. So much so that the beaver pelt was considered currency.
The skin of the buck or male beaver was worth four livres, twice as much as the skin of the doe
beaver. It is the buck that came to be recognized as the money unit, and is used to this day as slang for a dollar. It would be interesting to find out if the word "dough" for money comes from the homonym "doe," worth half a buck. (from The Windsor Border Region)

I don’t know about elsewhere in the world, but bringing up beaver at dinner in Canada just might cause a few forks to clatter and chip the good china. How wonderful that I can smile graciously with feigned oblivion, and explain how we owe our current currency slang to that charming woodland creature. J


Saturday, 1 November 2014

Anachronism: something or someone that is not in its correct historical or chronological time

My characters are fiction, and how their lives unfold is completely a figment of my imagination. However, they live in a world that was, peppered with people who were, and are influenced by events the actually occurred. I research endlessly and thoroughly, keen to be historically accurate. I also strive to keep those real people as true to their actions and personalities as I can, based on what written accounts of their lives and actions exist.

That is the easy part of writing historical fiction. The harder part is spotting anachronistic language in my writing. Take for example, angst. Visually, it’s an odd word, looks rather old. Yet, it didn’t come into common language until the mid-19th century—one hundred years too late for Raven’s Path. Now, when you spot it, it’s an easy fix. Anxiety hit the streets in the 16th century. That works. Although, tread cautiously if you are writing in an earlier period than mine; anxious and its varied incarnations as adjective, adverb or noun, did not join anxiety until the 17th century.

I’ve gotten quite used to writing a word, getting a nettlesome feeling about it and heading off to the etymology dictionary to confirm its origin. It happened the other day while writing the sequel to Raven’s Path (tentatively titled Crossroads). Ana tripped, smacking down on her knee and I wrote “Ow!” It looked modern, so off I trekked to check. As an expression of surprise, 14th century, as one of pain, not until 1919! Hers was definitely a pain reaction, so that would not do. Ouch? 1837. Where to now?

What does one say when experiencing sudden pain? More precisely, what does one say in 1750? I could write grunted, groaned, screamed, yelled—you get the idea—but I found those too passive for the moment. I actually Googled “expressions for pain” and came across an oddly interesting article, The Language of Pain.

This language of pain has no consonants, but consists only of vowels: ow! aiee! oy! oh! These are the sounds the sufferer makes, each punctuated by grunts, hiccoughs, sobs, moans, gasps. It is a self-absorbed language that might have been the first ever uttered by prehistoric man. Perhaps it was learned from animals. These howled vowels have the eloquence of the wild, the uncivilized, the atavistic. Comprehension is instantaneous, despite the absence of what we call words. It is a mode of expression beyond normal language. Nor could it be made more passionate or revelatory by the most gifted writer. Not even by Shakespeare.

Another anachronistic crisis averted. Get rid of the consonants. Now, if only that simple rule applied to other anachronisms.J

Saturday, 25 October 2014


November 1-30 is National Novel Writing Month, often referred to as NaNo. Writers around the world sign up, inspired by the challenge and friendly sense of competition, to write 50,000 words within thirty days. Two years ago I played along on a writer’s forum, in what we called Mini-NaNo, with a goal of 25, 000 words. I managed approximately 30,000. I was working full time, so I was pleased with that accomplishment. 

This year I officially signed up, fully intending to run the gauntlet, but have since bailed. I thought it would be just the kick-start I need for the sequel to Raven’s Path. My husband thought otherwise. Apparently, I become a little obsessive under deadlines and he’d rather that I be willing to leave the computer once in a while and enter the real world. And, spend some time with him. After almost 30 years together, how can I not be charmed by a man who wants me to be present in his life?

So, no official Nano for me. I wish all fellow writers a great month of November and the best of luck if you are participating in Nano. I will strive to write as much as I can in the coming month and will post my count here. But, if the number does not go up exponentially, know that I am sipping a glass of wine, watching winter burgeon beyond the window, snuggled warm and safe in the arms of the most endearing man I've ever known.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

In Praise of Praise
I took a course last week at RWA (Romance Writers of America).  The course, facilitated by Tessa Dare, was Writing Historical Romance for the Modern Reader.  Tessa led us through an exploration on the influence of pop culture, etiquette, customs, gender roles and sex, historical vs modern language and incorporating historical events, people and places. 

All of it was fabulous stuff, providing fodder for thought.  Tessa’s insight and experience sparked much conversation and other members contributed thought-provoking responses that added to the level of learning.  The section on language and dialogue had me hunting through Raven’s Path with an eye to ensuring I had not overwhelmed the reader with colloquial dialogue.  I was very satisfied and stimulated by my new learnings. 

Then, it got better.

The final assignment was to write a summary that “reflects your niche in the historical romance subgenre.”  I did and this was the response.

Rose, thank you so much for being part of the course! Just from this message alone, I know I love your voice. So many beautiful turns of phrase: "history the soft shimmer of backdrop." - lovely! I wish you the best of luck with both of your projects.


The course was great but the praise—wow—now that’s motivating, especially coming from an author I respect and enjoy.  As a beginning writer, I sit in my own little world, isolated, full of hope and self-doubt.  When grey thoughts crowd in, I will pull out this simple paragraph and remind myself that someone has seen a glimmer of talent.  And that glimmer can begin to twinkle, burn brighter and glow blazingly somewhere in the universe that is my future.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Genre. Such a little word, such a big decision.

What genre classification is Raven’s Path? 

Set in the Ohio Valley in 1750, it revolves around real events and real people.  Ana and Brandan, however, are entirely fictional.  Their relationship is a primary focus and there is a satisfying ending.  It’s just that it’s not tied up neatly in a ribbon.  Threads are left drifting in the wind.  It is intended as the first in a trilogy.

Diana Gabaldon, who resists the classification of romance for her Outlander series despite the relationship development between Jamie and Claire, points out that “Real romances don’t have sequels, because once the couple are firmly together, the story’s over.”  Of course Diana’s books, I think, actually defy classification and should be given a genre all their own.

Surfing for further clarification merely added to the confusion.  One site said that if you take the romance out, the story should stand alone if it’s truly historical fiction.  Well, dang, the leftovers in Raven’s Path would be a sad, dry little tale.  It is the characters who breathe life into the historical events.  Others say it is historical fiction, quite simply, if you have used real events and people.  But, can’t you have those in a wonderful little happily-ever-after romance too?

Over at Janice Hardy’s Fiction University I found this breakdown:

The love story is the primary focus of the book, and there is a happily ever after. Getting two people together is what the book is all about.

Historical Romance
Romance novels set in any time period prior to 1945, and taking place in any location.

Takes place during a real period of history and deals with real events and details, even though the story is fictional.

Clear as mud, right?  I do believe I have written a Historical, Historical Romance. J

All I know for sure is that last week’s separation anxiety has been resolved.  I do not wish to say goodbye to Ana and Brandan at this time.  And, so, my journey with them will continue.  Book two, here I come.

Oh, and if anyone has any sage advice on what to label Raven’s Path, it would be much appreciated. J

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Letting Go

I marathoned this week.  I know, not a real verb, but it works better than using it as a noun because I didn’t run a marathon, I sat one, in front of my computer.  I had planned on winding up revision on Raven’s Path by mid-October.  I finished on the 2nd.  Euphoria swept through the house.  I shouted, my husband cheered and the dogs romped with joy at the noise—and at the fact that I was finally getting up off the couch.

Thanks to beta readers from Germany to California, Raven’s Path is stronger and leaner.  I culled over 4,000 words, leaving it now at 118,000 words.  I have tightened my characters, analyzed dialogue, added beats, taken out beats, looked for too much tell and replaced with show, searched my “ly’s” and my “felts”.   Check, check and more check.  I’m done.

So, what’s next?  Seek representation?  Look at publishing houses directly?  Self-publish?  It’s not that I haven’t done my research on all of the above, I just haven’t quite made a decision.  I tossed and turned all night.  In the morning, I decided to put it back on the proverbial shelf.  I’ll go through it one more time, in a month or so.  Will I find anything earth-shattering to work on?  I doubt it. 
Maybe I’m afraid of the next step.  After all, this one is my first born.  Maybe, I’m just not ready to let it go.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Judicious: having, exercising, or characterized by good or discriminating judgment; wise, sensible, or well-advised

Well, having touted the strength of a book, I now need to add a qualifier.  Use it judiciously.  Self-Editing for Fiction Writers actually promotes judiciousness.  Quite simply it supports:

Judicious omission is preferable to correct superfluity.” Walter Kidde

It dedicates a chapter to dialogue mechanics.  Simple yet brilliant stuff.  Don’t write, “she asked” if the dialogue is clearly a question.  Don’t say “he repeated” when it is evident that the man has already said the words.  Don’t say that they yelled it, ensure the dialogue makes it clear that they have done so.  Do not say they laughed, sighed, barked, snapped, whined, simpered, or a myriad of other qualifiers; make sure your dialogue is strong enough, quick enough, deep enough, clever enough to convey those things.  It should need no help. 

Working through Raven’s Path, I have kept this in mind.  I have worked to eliminate the superfluous qualifiers.  But it gets hard.  Sometimes, I can’t write dialogue that conveys a whisper, a sigh, gruffness or a moan and yet it is essential to set the tone or to a mood shift.   I can’t convey that a man has a loud booming voice regardless of what he says unless I tell reader that he boomed, he barked, he shouted. Unless, of course I use multiple exclamation points, which would become quickly tiresome to a reader.  Avidly following the advice, I have stripped the last fifty pages, leaving some important dialogue scenes flopping futilely, fish upon the shore.

What to do when the self-help books aren’t helping you anymore?  Go to the experts—the well-respected, well-loved and well-selling novelists.  I took out Diana Gabaldon’s latest, Written in My Own Heart’s Blood.  Have I mentioned I adore her writing?  A random flip brought me:

(Pages 404/405)

“What shall we do, Papa?” Germain whispered.

“No,” he said, firmly but with some regret (My goodness is that an adverb and telling?)

“Come,” he said more gently, (Yes, yes!  Another adverb!)

“They, who?” he’d said sharply (Again!  Be still my creative writing teacher’s heart!)

“With whom?” he asked, curious.

I am on the floor at this point, kicking my feet in gleein that last one, the question mark clearly says it’s a question, and we should be shown he’s curious, not told he is.  Besides, does not a question in and of itself imply curiosity?  Yet, Diana does it explicitly.  And, you know what.  I like it.  It works for me.  Never once have I stumbled in her writing trying to figure out what is going on.  Oh, she also smoothly intersperses lots of beats, but she has no problem making sure that we know something was asked, repeated, whispered or said softly or quietly.  It is expedient and keeps the dialogue flowing.

The word judicious rolled through my mind again.  I stand by my assertion that Self-Editing for Fiction Writers is a great book to have in hand at the revision stage.  I agree that I need to weed out too many qualifiers and adverbs.  But, they do have their place.  And other experts have proven that.

 So, in light of this latest revelation, in homage to the writers who illuminate the way, here is my preferred judicious quote:

“Originality is nothing but judicious imitation. The most original writers borrowed one from another. The instruction we find in books is like fire. We fetch it from our neighbor's, kindle it at home, communicate it to others, and it becomes the property of all.”  Voltaire

Sunday, 21 September 2014

If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Frederick Douglass

I am enjoying revisiting Raven’s Path.  It seems I still like the story and I am thrilled to be back in the company of Brandan and Ana, not to mention some of the secondary characters who have hosted them at Fort Oswego.

Still, at times, it is difficult not to feel defeated during this third revision.  It’s not the hours involved in the rewrites or the other hours spent on reading editing books to help develop a critical lens.  It is in recognizing how inept I was in the beginning, and how I still have so much to learn.   It is not that I thought I was born a perfect writer, it’s just that I thought I was better than that! 

And, yet, I continue.  And will continue.  As I have done throughout my life—as a performer or in my many-faceted career moves.  I will persevere. 
After a particularly discouraging day of writing, I was surfing the net while my husband watched Ellen.  Jason Segel was a guest on the show.   He was speaking about his varied talents, singing, dancing and writing, but I swear he was talking directly to me.
“It’s not that I’m gifted at all these things.  It’s that I’m not afraid to be bad at them until I’m good at them.”
It’s my new mantra.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Throw Out Everything You’ve Learned At School

I have been working my way through another revision of my first novel, Raven’s Path.  It has sat on the shelf for over a year, so I am able to view it through a clearer lens now.  I have learned so much in the last few years and I cringe at many of my obvious amateurish passages.  I still like everything about the story but it needs a sweep for clutter.

In between writing, revising, researching, this blog, and life in general, I have been working my way through self-help books for writers.  My most recent, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, is a straight-forward how to manual that crystalizes the differences between the writer wannabe and the writer on her way to becoming, well, a writer.

Bottom line, throw out everything you learned in your creative writing classes throughout your years in both elementary and high school.  Get rid of those adverbs so proudly promoted by teachers.  Oh, you can throw them in during the creation stage, but hunt them down during revision and editing.  Say what you mean with concise, strong verbs.  As the authors state “...when you self-edit, you can root out these verb-adverb combinations like the weeds they are.”  They provide a simple example (and simple works very well for me J) “Angrily she set the cup…” vs “She slammed the cup…”

That’s a small glimpse of what I need to watch out for as I wander through my 400 plus pages.  I will share more of the simple yet oh-so-obvious pitfalls of the inexperienced writer in the weeks to come.  After a week of enjoying some R & R with my husband and friends, it is time to return to my garden of writing.  I’ll be busy.  It has a lot of weeds.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Plotter or Panster?

This question comes up frequently on writers’ forums and most explore the pros and cons of both approaches.  For those of you not familiar with the terms, basically plotters are those who map out their stories in advance, pansters begin with a kernel of an idea and fly by the seat of their pants, letting the story go where it may.

I’m not sure I fall neatly into either category and I suspect many writers feel the same.  In last week’s post, I shared how the arcs of two stories “showed up”.   I get a general sense of where the story is going far in advance.  This usually consists of a single page of point form notes and random thoughts, although one of the plots last week basically fell on the page in the form of a full synopsis.

So, I do begin with the end in mind.  That makes me a plotter.  But, when I sit in front of the computer, the journey from point A to Z is not mapped.  I let my fingers, my mind, my heart dictate the direction.  When I began working on my first novel, Raven’s Path, my characters arrived at Fort Oswego.  In my plotter’s mind, their visit was to be a few pages long.  Well, weeks and many chapters later, they remained at Oswego.  So much happened there that exposed deepening layers of my characters.  I would have lost out on those revelations had I forced myself to adhere to my timeline.   So, in that, I am a panster.

I’m not sure I could ever truly be a full panster—I am a bit of a control freak and would find that a little too intimidating.  Nor could I ever be strictly a plotter.  I like surprises.  It is exciting to veer from the plotter’s path and discover what is around the next corner or hidden beneath the imagination’s foliage. 

Perhaps we can coin a new phrase for those of us who cannot commit to one approach or the other.  A plotster?  Planster?  Who’s with me here? J

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Free Your Mind

I don’t sleep well.  I haven’t since my mid-twenties—half my lifetime ago.  If I could unscrew my head and put it on the side table, I have no doubt I would sleep like the dead.  Or a discreet off switch.  That would work too.  Unfortunately, unable to access either of these methods, my brain continues to turn, the little gerbil on the wheel running full tilt when I least want it.

I actually like this state when I am in creation mode.  I used to keep sticky notes and a pencil at my bedside, in my car, on my desk.   Thanks to my ever-supportive husband, I now have a digital recorder which is much easier to access when groping around in the dark.  No less disruptive to my husband’s sleep but certainly more efficient.

I have struggled with the synopsis and query for Love Denied.  Writing the novel pales in comparison to these two tasks.  My already busy brain becomes jumbled and the resulting incoherency is quite painful…and discouraging.  If you’re familiar with the fast forward sound of a cassette tape, you’ll have a sense of what happens in there.

Through many walks around the lake, daily Zumba and the help of online friends, I finally managed to sweep the brain litter aside enough to get a semblance of both the query and synopsis completed. 

I rewarded myself with a day off.  No writing, no researching, no online hunt and pecking.  Nothing except lying in the sun.  Diet coke in reach, Diana Krall’s soothing voice lulling me into a stupor, I stretched out to let the sun work its magic, warming my body and emptying my mind.

And BOOM!  The entire plot arc for the next novel revealed itself.  Did I grab my recorder?  No I ran into the house and typed up a storm.  An hour later, I felt amazing.  And, there was still time left to go back to that R & R I so looked forward to.

Fifteen minutes into my next session, BAM!  The subsequent novel teased me.  My husband just shook his head as I headed back into the office.

It seems I should have just taken in some sun while struggling through the query and synopsis.  Who knew that En Vogue had it right?  Free your mind and the rest will follow.

Oh, I do believe I have seriously dated myself in this entry. J 

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Ro Bought Me A Pen

I have never owned a pen beyond the standard mass produced lying side-by-side in a box ball point BIC type.  Not that there is anything wrong with those.  They have a purpose and they serve it well.  This one is different.  It is a MONT BLANC.  It lies nesting cozily, wrapped in satin, waiting.

We gathered as friends, celebrating a momentous change in my life.  I was leaving the sphere of our friendship, venturing away from the safety net of a career that connected the four of us.  I thought I might get a bottle of wine to toast the occasion.  My incredibly generous friends did not disappoint—gifts of wine and picking up the tab.  

There are people in this world that draw others to them.  Ro is one of them.  She is gregarious, generous and funny.  But it is Ro’s depth, hidden behind the light-hearted façade that is the true magnet.  She recognizes my dream and honours it.

Ro bought me a pen.  To sign my first book.  Thank you Ro, for believing.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

The Scourge of the Synopsis

I write this from the depths of hell.  I have been banging against the sides of this particular pit for days.  I am battered and bruised but determined I will climb out, a glorious light shining on the finished parchment clutched tightly in my grasp.  Dear Lord, is that an adverb I used?  Let me strike that before the hounds of writers’ville wrest it from my psyche! 

Only a fellow sentence parser, one striving to make their writing the best they can based on the myriad of wise advice, will find that last sentence remotely amusing.  That line actually belongs in a musing on purgatory—the revision stage—where you look at the same words over and over, hoping that some day you get it right and will be released.  That’s the stage directly before you slide into hell. 
Synopsis.  Simple right?  It is your story.  You know it inside out.  Just sum it up.  But there are hidden traps.  How much is enough?  How much is too much?  What is the perfect balance between plot and characterization?  And, oy, the compendium of advice!  Who to follow?

I checked out some of my favourites. 

Janet Reid, gives thorough concrete advice on a regular basis.  She states:  A synopsis is like a recitation of facts in a lawsuit. It doesn't have much verve or style. The purpose of a synopsis is NOT to entice someone to read on (which IS the purpose of a query). 

Okay.  She’s a successful agent.  I need to take her seriously despite the fact that I know she is an anomaly, an agent who dislikes a synopsis.  At least I can deal with this approach.  Dry but doable.

Diana Gabaldon—if you did not pick it up from my previous post is one of my heroes in the writing world—suggests:  If approaching an unknown agent who doesn't know you from a hole in the ground, then you probably want to keep it fairly short and punchy--because the point isn't to explicate the whole plot or demonstrate your skill at world-building; it's to demonstrate a) that you can write, b) that you have a decent premise and characters, and c) that you probably know what a story looks like, at least ("knowing what a story looks like" implies that you understand the use of conflict (change/growth/whatever) and theme, btw).  So you'd go for the 1-2-3 pages type, because really, it's just bait to make them ask for more.

Okay, I can marry these two.  Similar except that Diana says to pump it up a notch.  Got it.  Then I read Diana’s synopsis for A Breath of Snow on Ashes.  The earth that was slowly solidifying beneath my feet crumbled.  I can’t write like that!  Back into the pit for me.

 Jo Bourne, who weaves a great tale and generously shares her pearls of wisdoms on a regular basis, shone a flashlight over the edge.  A synopsis is you sitting down and telling the story to a friend.  She breaks down components and gives a simple list of do’s and don’t’s.  It’s not a how-to manual but an amicable guide. 

I’m still in the pit, groping at the sides.  But the light shines from above and I am moving toward it.  I will emerge one day, synopsis bloodied by torn fingernails in one hand and Jo’s advice clutched tightly in the other.  And, yes, I think I’ll keep that adverb there this time.

Friday, 25 July 2014

If You Want To Write, Read!

I am not sure if these words originated from Diana Gabaldon but they are certainly ones she tells to all those aspiring to write.  Diana shares much sage advice, willingly, graciously and extensively.  I take every tidbit seriously but no piece of advice has rung truer nor more consistently for me than that simple statement.

I have always loved to read but had never thought of it as a training ground for writing.   It made sense.  I began to read more broadly, more voraciously than ever.  A broader exposure to genre helped me discover my preferred groove, my vocabulary became more extensive, and I noted the vast variety of plotting techniques.  But it is my latest reading that reminds me that it is in the concord of the multifaceted parts of language that a story moves from simple to complex, from shelf-worthy to noteworthy.

Diana’s latest novel, Written In My Own Heart’s Blood, is a study in the music of syntax, at times sweet harmony, at others, deliberate raw dissonance.  She weaves a wonderful tale but it is the composition of her language that hums as you sweep through the saga.  Her use of rhythmic dialect, her colourful strings of metaphor, the strident use of powerful verbs, and the resolute beat of pacing, leading to perfect crescendos…poetic, lyrical, emotional—powerful writing orchestrated to draw you into her aria, to allow its melody to flow over you and through you, still singing softly in the corners of your mind and your heart long after you have closed the pages of the book.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

In This Sacred Circle, Receive Our Love

We attended our nephew’s wedding this week.  The ceremony took place in the Abbey Ruins of the Mackenzie King Estate in Gatineau Park, Quebec.  We looked forward to the event as well as to seeing family.  As is my wont, I was particularly keen on spending some time on the estate, prior to the wedding, pursuing its history.  William Lyon Mackenzie King, Canada’s 10th Prime Minister, purchased the land in 1903 and lived there on and off, in various incarnations of housing and locations, until his death in 1950. 

Well, modern technology clashed heartily with my pursuit of the past.  Our GPS did not work in the expansive park.  The gate, eight kilometers from the site, was closed to vehicles and we had to try and find another route.  Cyclists abound in the park and apparently, as a courtesy to them, different sections of the road are shut down each weekend.  Terrific for the cyclists, not so great for us. 

We meandered for a while, sure we would see signs showing an alternate route.  As time sped on with no indication of the ruins, we asked a cyclist for directions.  Apparently we had wandered quite far.  We crept our way through hordes of cyclists, finally finding an entrance near the Abbey Ruins.  Historical exploration had fallen by the wayside an hour ago and we were now officially late for the wedding.

We scooted along the pathways, tensions high.  Late for a wedding!  Who does that except in novels?  As we crossed an expanse of green space, sounds of the violin drifted toward us and the ruins came into view.  Quick kisses and hugs to family members (we were not the only ones lost so the wedding had not yet begun) and we were seated, still stressed but thankful we had not disrupted the ceremony.
In this sacred circle, receive our love. 

The reverend spoke of circles, circles of family and friends, circles of life, circles of love.  He talked of love not being about the big things but the small, daily moments.  He spoke beautifully and poetically, inviting me to hear the words, to see the moment, to be present.  My husband reached across and squeezed my hand.  A warm stillness melted the brittle tension.  And, I saw.  I truly saw.  A beautiful bride, her hopes and dreams radiating in her smile.  A groom, his eyes glistening with the emotion he was so valiantly fighting to hold in check.  A circle of family and friends that wished nothing but the best for the future of this young couple.  All of us, secure in the abbey’s rugged walls, held gently in the palm of history.

Why do I write historical romance?  Because of moments like this.  My stories may be fiction but love is real.  When wrapped in history, there is nothing sweeter.
Thank you Erin and Sébastien for sharing your day.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Everything I Need to Know, I Learned From My Dogs

I learn much from my dogs on a daily basis.  Their unconditional acceptance, their endless patience, their ability to rise from a dead sleep to an ecstatic state of anticipation in seconds…these are things I aspire to. 

I’ve plunged into Love Denied, my historical novel set in Regency times, and have found myself culling, reworking phrasing and adjusting pacing, not to mention sweeping out a surplus of pronouns.  I’m surprised at that.  I thought I was at the polishing stage.

Yesterday I took a break from the computer and sat out back watching my husband groom our little Lhasa Apso girls.  We’ve been busy of late and he had not done it for a couple of weeks.  They shed very little and a regular brushing usually takes care of the few strands nicely.  As he dragged the comb through their coats, I was surprised that the teeth matted quickly with the blonde hair. It seems there’s a lot more there if you leave it for a time.

Like my novel.  I finished Love Denied at the end of December.  I left it for two weeks and then started revisions.  I finished those in April.  Then life demanded some attention and I took a break from writing.  Coming back at the book last week, I thought I would do a quick run through for any editing oversights yet I am lingering, pondering, seeing things that I did not notice the last time. 

I had been told by some very experienced writers to let it sit for a time.  Impatient, bursting with ideas for another novel, I wanted to feel that Love Denied was truly complete before moving forward on a new project.  A stubborn linear approach but a lifelong habit of first this, then that dominates my approach to all things in life.  It is now clear that, like the girls’ coats, the longer you leave your work on the proverbial shelf, the more you are able to pull from it and the better it looks.

Seems I should listen to experienced writers…and continue to learn from my dogs.


Sunday, 6 July 2014

"A ship in harbor is safe — but that is not what ships are for." John A. Shedd

That is my tagline on a writers' forum.  I deliberated at some length about the choice.  The forum is riddled with famous and not-so-famous authors, each of them uniquely talented, witty and creative.  I did not want to look like the shabby cousin come to town.  I wanted to fit in, look the part.  The tagline seemed an incredibly important step toward that end.

I began with one of my favourite.  "I took the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference."  After all, Robert Frost's poem, The Road Not Taken, had been a favourite of mine since childhood.  But had I really taken the less travelled road?  Sometimes.  But, my longest journey has been along a well-trodden road, one of ambition and hard work, a clear path toward stability and respectability.  It felt fraudulent. 

As a long time performer I looked to the theatre for a better quote.  Why not something grand from Shakespeare?  It would offer a glimpse into one of the facets of my personality.  Besides, I have always loved how his words felt in my mouth, rolled over my tongue.  I thought to play on my name with Romeo and Juliet.  "What's in a name?  That which we call a rose, by any other word would smell as sweet."  Too cute and cliché.  One of the first pieces of Shakespeare I learned was for an audition for theatre school.  It was a monologue from The Taming of the Shrew. "A woman moved is like a fountain troubled, Muddy, ill-seeming, thick, bereft of beauty."   Yikes!  I wasn't convinced it would make the good impression I sought.

How about modern theatre?  My husband and I met in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas...the stage musical folks, the stage musical!  Surely there was something from that tremendously joyous time in my life that I could use?  I remember Jewel's line:  Honey, we see everything in this profession, but one thing I ain't never seen - man or woman - is a grown-up. Ha!  That could be considered clever.  Or would it be insulting?  Scratch that.   I had a one way ticket to go where, Anything was possible for me. Sounds optimistic, right?  But Mona's Bus from Amarillo remains, for me, one of the most heartbreaking musical moments on stage.  She gets off the bus and doesn't chase her dreams.  Ever.  No, no, no.  I couldn't use that.  Something funny then.  Ed Earl:  Boys, I got myself a pretty good bullshit detector, and I can tell when somebody's peeing on my boots and telling me it's a rainstorm. Too much.  I'm still not sure my sense of humour translates well into writing.

As the fates seem to do, they conspired to assist me in my search.  Across my computer, from a colleague, came the quote by John A. Shedd.  I rolled my shoulders and smiled.  That was it.  That said it all.  I was so worried about joining the forum and discovering my want of skill through the eyes of others.  I was so concerned that I might look the fool when I submitted a post, that I might be somehow lacking, somehow unworthy of doing more than lurking in the background that I was using the absence of a tagline to delay my venture into that grand new world.  And it is grand.  It has been seven or eight years in that little corner of writer's paradise and each and every day I am nurtured, challenged and, incredibly, acceptedflaws and all.

As I say goodbye to the career that I found down the road taken, I raise my sails and catch the wind.  In beginning this blog I feel nervous, vulnerable, and exhilarated.  I am also one hundred percent certain that it is time for me to fully leave the harbour.  I may get tossed about, nicked and tarnished, but I am ready to face the open waters and my new adventures.