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.