A Writer’s Life Under the Microscope

Bow River in Banff Alberta - Bruce Witzel photo

The passage of time is an interesting phenomenon – it can meander along, a slow-flowing river, wide and lazy with hours stretching into what seems like days. On the other hand, it can zip past, nothing but the blur of a high-speed bullet train to take one’s breath away.

Since making a full recovery from our so-called holiday – picture air quotes as I type those last three words – time has been that bullet train thing. While knitting on a cute holiday gift idea, I’ve been thinking about what is needed to get busy writing. Mostly because I wasn’t writing and then suddenly, I was.

Fran at the Falls - Bruce Witzel photo

It comes down to this. There is the need for a still point of quiet at the centre of the writer’s being – once reached it will grow and expand to become the place where the voices of the characters can be heard. The writer retreats deep inside and dwells at that centre, emerging only when it is time to take down the words and actions of the characters like some ancient scribe.

When I’m warming up to writing (by writing) I often pose interview questions for myself. Perhaps it’s my delusions of grandeur but I something think of sitting in one of  George’s red chairs on the Stroumboulopoulos show as I answer them. I find it a helpful exercise in clarifying my thoughts and who doesn’t enjoy an imaginary chat with George.

Here are a few questions and answers related to the writing of the fourth book in the Crater Lake Series – No Compass to Right. (Hey fans, did you catch that title reveal? Hope it gets you thinking!)

If there has been a stumbling block with getting started on the fourth book of the Crater Lake Series, how would you describe that block?

First understand this – a writer can only write about writer’s block when it has ended. To even contemplate the act of not writing while in the state of not writing is cruel and unusual punishment.

I thought the series would end at four books. I’ve now committed to at least five books and most probably, six. Expanding the series gives me a chance to play with the storylines for secondary characters like Brigit, Fiona and Nick. More books expand the Crater Lake brand and lengthen the funnel that readers who are hooked on the series move through. That’s all good. At the same time, the rethinking of the story arcs for the main characters has taken a bit of doing.

I’ve also had a struggle with where this next book should begin. Another issue that can only be spoken of once solved! I managed to find my entry point and I know I’m on my way because it feels right.

Are you feeling you have enough material to expand the series to six books?

Definitely … more than enough! The ideas don’t stop. The planning stage has felt like being a weaver in front of an empty loom with coloured yarn piled all around my feet. All I needed to do was pick up the right balls, one by one, draw out the threads and start to create the pattern.

And I know I’ll mess it up. It is only in wildly grabbing at those threads and trying one after the other that the pattern emerges.

Once I really get going, the writing analogy that works for me is a free-form, patchwork quilt. I create a square and another and another. At some point, I begin to lay them out to see how they fit together. As I go, I realize – ah yes – more of this here and less of that there. A small joining square is required. Maybe the whole work would benefit from a border? I decide on a special colour of thread to do joining seams. The book comes together through the act of creating it.  

Is there a danger that beloved character’s will be lost as additional characters are incorporated?

I’m confident this will not happen in the Crater Lake books. These novels have always been about multiple characters, from many points-of-view, taking a realistic look at how people and relationships change over time. New people come and go and sometimes stay. Far from edging out the tried and true, new characters bring the life and vitality of their own stories to compliment, worry, tease and complete the lives of the beloved characters. They are the fuel that makes the beloved characters interesting and real. There is room for many interwoven stories at Crater Lake.

Well, there you have it – I’ve reached for that still point, I can hear the characters’ voices and the pattern of this quilt is coming together. And guess what – just in time for a Christmas break from the work. That’s a writer’s life – our world draws on us as we draw on our world. And down the stream the whole thing winds.

reds rocks ina stream near sedona

Eight Years Old Today

Emma's Birthday

My granddaughter. Emma, turns eight today. How the time flies. There are days when I can’t remember where I put my coffee but I remember the day she was born like it was yesterday.

November 21st, 2008 – I got the call from my daughter, Kristen, at about two in the morning. Screaming down the phone lines, at least two weeks early, she told me she was thinking of going to the hospital. “The baby is coming, Mom.” 

I was living in Victoria at the time, at the university, teaching. I had a class to teach later that afternoon. I flew out of bed and into action. Emails went out to a substitute instructor and I was in a cab on the way to the bus depot before 5:00 am with many calls back and forth in the those ensuing three hours.

I learned that they had sent Kristen home on that first trip to the hospital. I remember holding the phone away from my ear as her outraged voice rose. She was livid.

I was finished the two-hour ferry trip and back onboard my bus headed for the downtown Vancouver Bus Depot when I got another call. With gasping and groaning amidst the words, Kristen said, “We are on the way back to the hospital. Where are you?” That call ended before I could answer because she had to barf out the window of the car.

I arrived at the depot and managed to find a cab driver who was willing to drive me out to The Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster. He took one look at my face when the words – My daughter’s having a baby. I have to get to the Royal Columbine” – poured out of my mouth and he smiled. Get in, he told me. I was in the labouring room soon after Kristen got processed and sent there herself.

Okay, flashback to my own labouring experiences. With my first, labour was a three-day ordeal that ended in an operating room with me having a caesarean delivery. Not the most pleasant of memories to draw upon. My next delivery was a scheduled caesarean. Through Kristen’s entire pregnancy, I worried about a long, difficult labour ending with any number of complications.

I am happy to report that Emma’s birth was nothing like anything I imagined. My daughter is a rock star! I arrived in the room at 10:00 am – Emma was born by 2:00 pm. The last hour and a half was such intense work that the time flew by.

But there was those few terrifying moments, right at the end, that seemed an eternity. Emma’s head had crowned, I was watching her being born. The doctor suddenly asked me to move aside. A flurry of orders poured out of her mouth. The room filled with people. Newborn Emma was in the doctor’s arms and moving quickly to a table nearby surrounded by other masked doctors and nurses. The cord had been around Emma’s neck and she wasn’t breathing. I stood very still and saw this brand-new life surrounded by busy, capable hands. I saw Kristen sit up on the delivery table and I heard the anguish in her voice as she said, “Mom, Mom … what’s wrong? Tell me what’s wrong.”

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That moment stretched out forever and then Emma cried and she was in Kristen’s arms. The world tilted back to a proper axis and all was so wonderfully, wonderfully well.

The next few hours were incredibly joyous. Emma moved from the arms of her exhausted but overwhelmingly relieved parents to those of her ridiculously proud grandparents. I remember thinking that I had never in my life been present for such an amazing event. I was so completely overwhelmed with the thought that my baby was now a mother.

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I am so grateful that when that phone call came at 2:00 in the morning on November, 21st, 2008, I acted decisively. I got to see my granddaughter’s birth. And I am so thankful for the relationship I have with my adult daughter – a relationship that made being by her side as she gave birth to our beautiful Emma so right and perfect. Though, in the picture below, Emma looks less than thrilled with the entire process.

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And today, that tiny baby is eight-years-old. Little did we know that being grandparents would turn our lives and our priorities so totally upside down. I regret nothing! Every moment spent with this special little girl who is Emma has been worth it.

00471HSAS146 Emma Keeley008

Report Card Time

 

Brit - Guenette photo

I’ve been thinking a lot about report cards and the whole assessment dimension of sending our kids and grandkids off to school. I came across these great quotes.

Friendship … it’s not something you learn in school. But if you haven’t learned the meaning of friendship, you haven’t learning anything. (Muhammad Ali)

Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one learned in school. (Albert Einstein)

What makes a child gifted and talented may not always be good grades in school, but a different way of looking at the world and learning. (Chuck Grassley)

00773HSAS458 Britney Keeley005

Our beautiful granddaughter, Britney – just look at that Mona Lisa smile! – got her first kindergarten report card yesterday. Five-years-old and already in the assessment mill of school. Heavy sigh! All her kindergarten academics are strong but on the scale of C = consistent, O = occasionally and S = seldom, she is C for talking out in circle time and rushing through her fine motor skill work so she can get busy with the next activity.

As someone who has never taken educational assessment all that seriously, I was tempted to laugh. I remember my son’s surprised face when one year he came home from school and told me, in dramatic teen fashion, how his dad was going to kill him because of a failing grade in math. I shrugged and said, “Hardly. Your dad and I know how smart you are. It’s just a grade.”

To know Britney, is to know she is a force to contend with. Even as a baby, she was a hard child to move and I mean that literally as well as figuratively. She has a low centre of gravity. She would make a great protester. When the police drag her to the paddy wagon, she won’t make it easy. It’s who she is. She has all those second child characteristics – one of which is the constant feeling that she is missing out on something and must hurry along. No wonder she rushes through fine motor skill activities!

Brit doing math - Guenette photo

But I didn’t laugh. A child’s first kindergarten report card is a big deal – to the parents and the child. I listened to my daughter’s concern and the disappointment in her voice tugged at my heart. We all want our kids to be top of the class with all their C’s, O’s and S’s in the right spots.

The best thing a parent can do is put things in perspective and this continues between grown children and their parents. I listened, then said, “Reminds me of someone else’s report cards.” My daughter paused and then laughed. Yes, I meant her. We looked at her kindergarten report card a few years ago and one comment stood out. “Less chatter and more paying attention would certainly help her progress.”

Brit and Kristen

This parenting thing – never easy, for sure.

Disappearing in Plain Sight–FREE–Nov. 11-13

My books - Guenette photo

Last chance in 2016 to start the Crater Lake Series of books for FREE Smile 

Join the thousands of readers who have downloaded Disappearing in Plain Sight and then go on to read the entire series. Both The Light Never Lies (Book Two) and Chasing Down the Night (Book Three) are available to purchase or read free of charge through the Kindle Unlimited program.

I warn you, though … you will get hooked on these books and then you must anxiously await – like so many others readers – the release of the fourth in the series.

Excerpts from reviews:

Couldn’t put it down! Francis Guenette goes beyond captivating in “Disappearing in Plain Sight”. Weaving her background in psychology into the lives of her characters, she creates an intimate look into their souls.

Deeply emotional characters that will stay with you long after you have finished reading.

A stunning family drama that will captivate, infuriate and ultimately change the way you look at the world.

Set in the wilderness of Northern Vancouver Island … the landscape became a character in itself.

A story that became a meditation on love and empathy … literary fiction at its finest.

Books wash the soul

Don’t miss out on this opportunity. Disappearing in Plain Sight – FREE from Nov. 11th to 13th.

Home Sweet Home to the Rain and Storms

Storm at the lake - Guenette photo

Home sweet home … never have those words resonated so strongly for me than my first night back in my own bed – requisite number of properly shaped pillows in place, my body comfortable against softly-worn, flannel sheets and the steady sound of rain against the skylights. Yes, indeed, it is good to be home.

I’ve been spending a lot of time comfy in my bed. My doctor tells me that it can take up to two months to recover from a bout of traveller’s tummy that resulted in the dehydration I described. Who knew?

Resting has given me lots of time to observe North Island rain-slashed storms and the subsequent rising of the water on the lake. I watch with interest rather than worry because our cabin is situated high up on a cliff above the water. This morning I awoke to a novel sight. Though I’ve spent twenty-three years here, I’ve never seen so many trees and logs floating on the lake – a veritable flotilla of moving debris. The migration of fallen trees that mark the shores around the lake happens almost every fall but this year is something new in terms of sheer volume. We cross our fingers and hope that most of it passes by us. We well remember the huge log that plunked down on almost half our beach and stayed for about eight years. It floated off two years ago and we were happy to wave goodbye.

Today will find me glued to the internet reading and listening to the latest news on the election results coming from our neighbours to the south. cbc.ca/news will be my venue of choice. In Canada, the image of the mouse living in the shadow of the elephant has a certain significance. We hold our breath and wait.

CBC US Election Coverage

On a final note – how can it possibly be November 8th already? Remembrance Day is just around the corner and Christmas not far behind. Does anyone else feel time racing by? I’ll sign-off with this gorgeous photo taken at Zion National Park. These native flowers springing from the surrounding rock cheer me!

Native Flowers at Zion park (2) - bruce witzel photo

Well-Laid Plans and Best Intentions

Early morning near Susanville,California - Oct. 3 ,2016 - bruce witzel photo

You may be asking yourself: What became of the road trip you invited us on? Life does interfere in my well-laid plans and best intentions. While contemplating a trip or in the early days of high enthusiasm, it’s easy to forget how tiring travel can be. The endings of each day get pushed later and later with the pursuit of things that must be experienced. Wi-fi connections are not always what one would like. Living in the moment soon takes precedence over everything else.

And then, to our great surprise and horror, Bruce and I succumbed to a nasty bit of traveller’s tummy. We can’t pinpoint exactly what was to blame but we have our suspicions. Bruce recovered after thirty-six hours but I took a full seventy-two hours to feel half-way normal and I still need to follow that acronym for the bland diet – BRAT – bananas, rice, apple sauce and toast. Not exactly what one looks forward to on a travelling holiday.

So, I didn’t blog any of the great travel stories I wanted to. We are on Day 14 and I have a long list of blog topics with not much writing to show for the constant barrage of ideas that come to me as I see new things and meet interesting people.

I’m guessing now the highlights of this trip will be shared after the fact but rest assured, those blogs to come will be worth waiting for.  Here is just a small taste.

Sand Mountain (2) Nevada - bruce witzel photo

This is a shot of Sand Mountain located on the loneliest highway in America which runs from Fallon Nevada to Ely. The native people compared the shifting dune to a large snake constantly slithering towards its hole in the desert floor. And they spoke of how, if you listened very carefully, you could hear that snake hissing.

The Silver Terrace Cemetery in Virginia City, Nevada

Silver Terrace Cemetery

Virginia City, Nevada is quite the place. The area’s history as an old west mining town has been used to turn the town into a tourist mecca. I’m betting that most people who visit are interested in the main street of funky western shops, bars and eateries. Well, we aren’t most travellers. We choose a quiet walk around the Silver Terrace Cemetery and we did not feel we had missed out on a thing.

Here is what I picked up from one of the informative signs. Established in 1867, the thirty-acre cemetery was once fully irrigated and sustained a wide variety of non-indigenous flowering plants and trees. A stroll through the shady, rose scented paths tapped into the senses in a transformative way. I was surprised to learn that these early cemeteries were so beautiful and inviting that they became the forerunners of the public parks system in America.

Rose bud at Silver Terrace Cemetery

Silver Terrace is an American West collective memory. Filled with symbols that emphasized a belief in everlasting life, a stroll through the cemetery immerses one in a socially infused cultural landscape.

Angel grave stone

These grounds was once described as the loveliest place of burial in Nevada. Not so anymore. A vast majority of the grave markers have been stolen or vandalized. In 2005, such theft became a crime in the state of Nevada and the cemetery is now remotely monitored twenty-four hours a day. This has served to halt the devastation.

Silver Terrace Cemetery - Virginia City, Nevada

I was taken by the sadness of this stone – baby Horace lived only one month and died on the same day my daughter was born – albeit one-hundred and eight years before!

Child's grave stone

I wondered about Mary Jane Simpson. Was she actually a mule or just a woman who could be mulish when it suited her.

Mary Simpson

And what more can be said of James F. Brown from Ireland but that after life’s fitful fever, he sleeps well. May we all be immortalized with such simple yet significant words.

James F. Brown grave stone