Confession Time

Reflective Chimes - F. Guenette photo

I admit it – I’m plagued by multiple, silly frustrations this morning. I want to be reflective like the chimes in the photo above, but I fear I am not. I want to be writing my next book and I know I am not.

The weather hasn’t been conducive to outside clothes drying for a few days. Today the sun is out and the sky is blue. I did two loads of laundry and filled the line but ran out of clothes pegs at the end. Seven forlorn socks stared at me from the basket. No problem. For years there has been a round pail full of clothes pegs stored in the back room. I brought them home from my dad’s place when he died. Though I’ve never had to access this resource, whenever the clothes pegs have run low, I’ve always congratulated myself on having this bucket tucked away.

I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this story. When I went to get that bucket of clothes pegs, it was no longer where I had seen it sitting for years. A futile ripping apart of the back closet was fruitless or more accurately, pegless. They had disappeared – and not even in plain sight.

The case of the disappeared clothes pegs resulted in a pointed accusation directed at Bruce. He must have moved them because I sure didn’t. I caught him in the middle of trying to pump up a flat tire and get to work. Oblivious to my need for these particular clothes pegs, he said, “I don’t know where they went. I can’t deal with this right now. I’ll buy you more clothes pegs when I’m in town.” You can imagine how highly unsatisfying that reaction was.

His response brought out my inevitable rant over dissatisfaction with limited storage space and our differing approaches to storage. I look at storage from the perspective that less used things should be buried in the back and the more frequently required items should be easier to access – a logical and common sense approach as far as I’m concerned. Bruce looks at a limited storage space like he’s building a jigsaw puzzle. If a particular item or box (whether we need it once a year or every ten years) fits in a certain spot, that’s where it goes – be it front, back or centre.

To be honest, I’m not sure where a bucket of clothes pegs that has not been required in the last five years should be stored.

Brothers in arms - F. Guenette photoAnd what of this irritation about not writing? We have jam-packed a mini social whirl into the last four days and, don’t get me wrong, it has been wonderful. We had a family guest who arrived Friday afternoon and stayed for dinner and overnight. I picked his brain for all sorts of interesting details about his work. I stored those away for future use. We said goodbye to some dear friends who are leaving the area after forty-five years. They made the trek out here for lunch yesterday. And last night, we had a riotous visit with our nearest cabin neighbours. The wine and conversation flowed. The laughter bounced off the walls and out over the lake. At one point, I’m sure all five of us were talking at the same time.

Brit and Emma at the beach - Francis GuenetteIt’s vital for a writer to be out in the world with other people. Inevitably, this will take time from one’s passion for writing and thus we come, full circle. I’m frustrated I’m not making progress on the new book but at the same time I want these other experiences, too. I’m frustrated with social media because I want to be writing the book but I also want to connect through the blog. And how can I deny my pleasure at checking into Facebook and seeing my granddaughters having fun at the beach, a picture posted not five minutes ago. And finally, I’m frustrated at the loss of clothes pegs that are really just things, no matter the satisfaction I imagined I would derive from using them. Oh the sweet dichotomies of life.

With all that off my chest, I’m off to write. And as you can see in the picture below, the dilemma of seven forlorn socks was solved by double pegging.

Double pegged - F. Guenette photo

For the Love of Kale!

Baby Kale - Francis Guenette photo

Have you heard the news? Kale is a trending vegetable. Kale is out in the Twitter world with its very own hashtag. You know something has ‘arrived’ when that happens. Until quite recently, I was not sold on the wonder of kale.

Let me take a gardening digression, here. Many years ago, my father-in-law presented me with an envelope that had the words Russian Kale written on the sealed flap. He proceeded to tell me, “I brought these seeds home from the prairies on our last visit. It’s a particularly hardy variety of kale. It might grow well where you guys are.”

Kale gone to flower - Francis Guenette photoTruer words were never spoken. That year we planted a few of those kale seeds. Not understanding that this type of kale is best eaten when it is young and tender, we let it grow and we weren’t wild about the strong taste when we tried it. We didn’t bother with the rest of it and a few of the stalks got as thick as a small child’s wrist, overwintered and flowered the next spring and into the summer. Quite pretty, really – assuming, of course, one didn’t realize the inevitable outcome – four or so feet high, delicate green leaves with deep purple veins and yellow flowers. These huge plants, bearing innumerable seeds, eventually found their way into the compost.

Suffice to say, we never planted kale again. Every single year we get carpets of tiny kale plants coming up everywhere that we had spread compost and even some spots that I am sure we didn’t. What a pain! We patiently weeded these kale plants out, letting a few go to flower for the drama of it all. We were not kale eating fans.

This year all that changed. We discovered how wonderful the small kale is as a salad green. I tried out a recipe for quinoa/kale patties that we simply love. Kale, chopped fine and layered into lasagne – let me just say, you will not miss the spinach. Our newest garden strategy is to allow those baby kale seedlings to grow. As they get to be 3 to 4 inches high, we thin them out and use them. Eventually, the other plants take over.

Baby Kale - Francis Guenette photo 2

Here is my somewhat adapted recipe for the quinoa/kale patties. There is a bit of chopping involved, so I like to make a double batch and freeze the excess. You can tell from the photo that these are the frozen ones – we ate all the fresh ones before I could take a picture – darn! They were so good, though.

Kale-Quinoa Patties

Kale-Quinoa Patties - Francis Guenette photo

  • 2.5 cups of cooked quinoa – I use an organic red variety
  • 4 cups of kale, chopped small
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • ½ cup diced onions
  • ½ cup chopped chives – I’ve used fresh parsley or basil or a combination of all three
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • ½ cup grated cheese – I used a really strong Romano last time and it was great.
  • ¾ cup finely ground bread crumbs

Form into patties – this is a cinch since cooked quinoa is really sticky. Fry on each side, in olive oil, for approx. 5 minutes. And there you have it – a delicious treat with two super popular foods rolled into one yummy package.

Location, Location, Location: Dianne Gray and Wolf Pear

Due to a few issues with WordPress related to my recently reformatted laptop, I’m not sure if this post went up in the Reader. I can’t find it – so I’m reblogging to make sure. Enjoy.

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Cover of Wolf Pear

Today, I am delighted to welcome Dianne Gray to my Location Series. I’m not sure how I came upon her novel, Wolf Pear, but wow, am I ever glad I did. Location leaps off the pages and I defy anyone to read this novel and not want to travel to the places this Australian author so skillfully describes. You can find out more about Dianne’s novels by visiting her website. You can also keep up with her doings by taking a hop over to her blog.

Take it away, Dianne! 

Every morning I look out from my house and think, how could anyone not write about this place?

1 View from back of house

2 View from front of house

I live in a small country town in Tropical Queensland, Australia. The main produce is sugar cane, the scenery is spectacular, and the townsfolk make incredible characters.

Small sugar cane trains chug along the countryside and the fields are lush and…

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Location, Location, Location: Dianne Gray and Wolf Pear

Cover of Wolf Pear

Today, I am delighted to welcome Dianne Gray to my Location Series. I’m not sure how I came upon her novel, Wolf Pear, but wow, am I ever glad I did. Location leaps off the pages and I defy anyone to read this novel and not want to travel to the places this Australian author so skillfully describes. You can find out more about Dianne’s novels by visiting her website. You can also keep up with her doings by taking a hop over to her blog.

Take it away, Dianne! 

Every morning I look out from my house and think, how could anyone not write about this place?

1 View from back of house

2 View from front of house

I live in a small country town in Tropical Queensland, Australia. The main produce is sugar cane, the scenery is spectacular, and the townsfolk make incredible characters.

Small sugar cane trains chug along the countryside and the fields are lush and green before the sugar cane is harvested

3 Train

I’ve written two stories featuring this location:

Let Sleeping Gods Lie – the scenery that features heavily in this story is something I look at every day from my veranda. The narrative throughout Let Sleeping Gods Lie is layered with powerful themes examining cult religions and the shadows they can cast across a landscape, through communities and within families. This book was shortlisted in the Australian New/Zealand IP (Interactive Press) Award in 2007.

Excerpt: Grains of sunlight sprayed through the bush as if scattered by the yawns of bushlarks and wagtails. In the distance open red blankets of freshly worked earth lay bare, while others cringed with green anticipation of what the following days would bring. Each patchwork field ran in perfectly combed rows. The river she had followed the previous day wound around her hill in a twisting mohawk of trees all the way to the mangroves. Small rail lines and dirt roads gouged through the countryside.

4 Red soil

The other book featuring this landscape is Wolf Pear – the story of a lonely woman named Esther who buries a body in her yard and plants tomatoes over the grave. A psychic detective is on the hunt for a serial killer and the smell of tomatoes leads him directly into Esther’s deadly garden. I based Esther’s house on my own house.

Excerpt: Esther’s small farm sat in the bowl of the mountains. A quaint looking shack that had been used as a worker’s barracks early last century by itinerant workers when sugarcane was cut by hand. The corrugated iron roof rose above the sugarcane fields like a pyramid. The tongue-and-groove walls had been sanded and painted the colour of flesh. At the front corner of the house a large mango tree hunched like a gargoyle over the roof. Below it a fishing-net was attached to the gutter and tied to the trunk of the tree to catch falling mangoes. Several avocado trees stood guard on each side of the driveway. Lemon, lime and lychee trees dappled the neat yard and gooseberry bushes climbed trellises that had begun to pull away with the weight of the fruit at the side of the old shed.

5 Front of house

I’d like to thank Francis for this wonderful opportunity to share my location with you. I love learning about the locations that influence other writers and look forward to reading more Location posts here in the future.

My Review of Wolf Pear

One of the most unlikely and satisfying love stories I’ve read in a long time!

Wolf Pear is, hands down, an absolute delight – like sinking one’s teeth into a ripe and luscious tomato fresh off the vine. For that is what a wolf pear is – a tomato. And this novel is about as juicy and tasty as its title suggests.

Now you might ask yourself – how can anyone call a book about a poor woman who has been bullied, pushed, shoved, and taken advantage of her whole life and a grief-stricken, haunted police detective on the trail of a serial killer, a delight? I guess you had to be there because delightful it is.

From the opening pages, as Esther Crooke scrambles to bury a body in the soil of her garden, through Detective JD Cusack’s cross country chase, always steps behind a killer, Gray hooks the reader into the story with effortless ease.

To hide the makeshift grave, Esther puts in a crop of tomato plants given to her off the back of a truck headed for an experimental farm. And boy or boy, do those tomatoes grow, achieving exactly the opposite of what Esther had hoped – her attempts at camouflage shine a spotlight on her makeshift grave.

As JD Cusack’s past secrets and special ability brings him closer and closer to the killer, Gray neatly weaves in all the loose ends of the story like an expert knitter finishing off a scarf.

This book abounds with location and character details that cause the reader to chuckle out loud or sigh with sadness.

Esther owns and runs the Crooke Books & Café, a converted house out on the highway. “Its roof pitched like a witch’s hat slashed with orange rust.” A startling juxtaposition of description tells all in a handful of words. The café is filled with books Esther has collected, none of which are for sale. Sit down, have a coffee, some of Esther’s famous carrot cake or her sticky date pudding and read a book. Patrons choose their tables based on the reading material nearby. Aren’t you dying to go to this place? Books for Esther are precious, “Miniature cameos of the world.”

At one point, Esther confronts a picture of herself in the local newspaper as she fends off a reporter and photographer who have come poking their nose into her tomato crop. “She had seen her real self in the newspaper – an ugly monster with claws and teeth and a chin like Jabba the Hut.” Oh my – read that and try not to sigh.

The place names are another source of delight – the town of Boonup, taking a trip up to Woorumbilly and the Jabiru Hotel.

Wolf Pear is a finely crafted story that pulls no punches when describing how the innocent suffer and yet the reader is forced to laugh at the incongruity of life while coming to see that always redemption awaits, growing wild and free like the wolf pears in Esther’s garden/graveyard.

Let Sleeping Gods Lie cover

There you have it folks – an author straight out of cornfields and red earth. Time spent reading anything by Dianne Gray is well worth the effort. And in that vein, I am happy to inform you that Dianne is, at this very moment, running a free promotion until Saturday the 22nd for her book, Let Sleeping God’s Lie. Is that title not completely brilliant? No time to waste my friends. Get yourself over to the Amazon site of your choice and try out a wonderful author for free.

Two-year Blog Anniversary Comes and Goes

Reflective Chimes - Francis Guenette photoI had my two year blog anniversary a couple of days ago. Yippee and all that jazz. Two years of blogging – it’s been, for the most part, an enjoyable learning curve. Of all the things I find I need to do on social media, I must say the blog is my favourite.

The first year of blogging on WordPress, I opted to pay extra for my own domain name. I didn’t regret that choice. This year, I’ve decided to go with the upgrade that means no advertising placed on my blog by anyone but me, more storage space, the option to do a bit of custom design and the use videos or audio files. You never know when I might decide to go multi-media.

To date, I’ve posted 271 times (this post will be 272). My blog has had over 31,000 views and almost 3000 comments. I currently have 2244 followers (if WordPress will ever get around to updating my Facebook and Twitter numbers and adding them in). Not bad for two years of effort. Small potatoes to some, I’m sure, but I’m thrilled.

Pink Daisies - Francis Guenette photo

Naturally, I wanted to celebrate my anniversary – if only because the WordPress people were so kind as to remind me of the date with a nifty little gold cup icon on my stats page. But I couldn’t. I was in the midst of serious laptop problems which puts me into high-anxiety mode. I call anything serious that I can’t rectify myself. I had to send my laptop into town to a computer whiz kid and have him back-up all my files and do a complete reformat. If I’d known that was needed, I could have probably handled it on my own but ever the optimist, I hoped it would be something a bit simpler. No such luck.

I had two days to mope around the house reflecting on my total lack of flexibility and complete dependence on an electronic gadget. We have other laptops in the house and I defaulted to my old Dell (practically pulling it out of Bruce’s hands – that’s how things work around here. When I get a new laptop, he inherits the old one). But of course the Dell doesn’t look or act anything like my newer model HP and it bugged the hell out of me. As you can imagine, Bruce’s suggestion that at least I had another computer to use (and could be grateful for that) fell on deaf ears.

But seriously, I haven’t been out of sight or touch of my laptop for almost two years – I’ve spent more time looking at the screen than I have doing anything else (and believe me, that statement just gave me pause for serious thought). I described this to Bruce as analogous to him going out to his truck one morning and finding that every single tool he owned was gone. How would he work? How would he feel? Like it or not, this bit of electronic gadgetry represents all my tools rolled into one package. I can’t do my job (writing) without it.

All the angst is behind me now. My laptop came back – emptied, fresh and new, except the one backup folder on the desktop. I didn’t lose anything. It was time consuming to reinstall Office and a few of my other go-to programs. It took most of last night for Windows to get itself totally updated and I had to do my own manual update to reinstall Window Live Writer 2012. I can’t blog without that tool! iTunes reinstalled with all my playlists intact. Everything is back to the way it was before the problems.

Except this low-level anxiety – what if it happens again? I resolve to check out a more systematic way of backing up my work. But knowing myself, I probably will put that off (my human nature being what it is).

I will end by saying: Happy two year blogging anniversary to me – albeit a couple of days late. I send out so many thanks to all the wonderful people who follow my blog, read my posts, like and put up the great comments that keep me motivated. I am also grateful for the many bloggers I have discovered and follow – I’ve learned so much from so many of you.

Columbine - Francis Guenette photo

Is Planning Worth the Time Spent–Redux

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I’m grateful to those of you who had time to comment on the first part of this post. I read your thoughts, refined my own through my responses and kept right on with the tentative outlining of Chasing Down the Night – so many thoughts swirled around in my head as I flipped through books on structure and process.

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On Friday night a strange and wonderful thing happened. I’d put on a mixed playlist of mostly 80’s pop/rock tunes and was listening, enjoying while back at the laptop working on my daily note pages. Something shifted. The characters took over and my writing of maybe this could happen and what about this and maybe not that became people doing things and having full-blown conversations. I had crossed the Rubicon into actual writing. I came up for air when the two hour playlist ended feeling both exhausted and exhilarated.

P1000421I’ve come to a conclusion about the time I spend on novel planning. Every resource tapped, every single page of notes, each character sketch, every drawing, chart, calendar, and post-it-note is vital – but never to be set in stone like a blueprint or ultimate guide. All the planning is a means of getting to that magical moment when everything shifts and I start writing.

After that, all bets are off and everything is to play for. I have no idea what these characters are going to get up to in the weeks and pages ahead of us. And while that thought is a bit terrifying, it’s also the most exciting part of a writer’s life.

 

I read a Maya Angelou quote this morning and it kept rolling around in my thoughts.

“A woman [writer] in harmony with her spirit is like a river flowing. She goes where she will without pretence and arrives at her destination prepared to be herself and only herself.”

A river runs through it all

I trust Ms. Angelou will forgive my bracketed insertion. She was, after all, intimately acquainted with being a woman who wrote.  

Story-Planning: Does it Justify the Time Spent?

Ukrainian dance kids - Bruce Witzel photo

When it comes to writing, as many of you know, I’m a dyed-in-the-wool planner. I take numerous notes. I do character sketches and story arc outlines. I create setting maps. I plot my stories out on a huge story board and I track story events on calendar pages. I outline chapter by chapter with post-it-notes for every scene. You get the idea.

Structuring Your Novel coverWhat I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about is a workable overall structure for a novel. I’ve been reading Structuring Your Novel by K.M. Weiland. This little book is a great resource. Weiland writes about a novel in three vital acts.

The first act introduces the main characters and what’s at stake for each of them. It ends with the first plot point in the various characters’ story arcs. This is the moment when the set-up is over and the characters are committed to moving forward in a certain direction.

The second act gets a bit more complicated. It’s broken down into first part, midpoint and second part and compromises about fifty percent of the book. In the first part of the second act, the characters find the time to react to that first plot points. Foreshadowing and character development occurs. Nearing the end of the first part of the second act is the time characters stop reacting and flex some muscle against whatever stands in their way. This is called the first pinch point. At the midpoint of the second act, the second major plot point happens. This plot point brings reactions from the first plot point to a head and moves the characters forward toward the ending. The second part of the second act is where the story really begins to heat up and roll along on the fast track.

By the third act the story is steaming ahead. This act is what everyone has been waiting for – the characters, the readers, even the author – what the entire book has been building towards. The final plot and pinch points are the game changers. Character arcs are completed, the story climax happens and all is resolved one way or the other.

There you have it – a tidy little plan. I’m finding this structure helpful as I slot story action into a preliminary outline.

Question-Mark - goggle imagesI’ve also been asking myself a lot of questions. That’s how my writing day usually starts. I review some of my notes from the day before and then I ask questions of the material and seek to answer those questions before I move on.

Today’s questions were related to notes I made yesterday on the major events of the novel:

  • What is the point of each event?
  • What is the deeper meaning in terms of the overall themes of the story?
  • Is this event necessary to accomplish one of the character’s story arcs? (if not, bye-bye event)

Today I am sorting all the characters into one of three groups: 3-D, 2-D and 1-D. (D = dimension)

3-D – the reader experiences the story from the point of view of these characters. Almost everything that happens in the story is around or about these characters.

2-D – the reader will occasionally hear these characters thoughts. These characters have story arcs in their own right but those arcs serve to strengthen and add depth to the storylines of the main characters.

1-D – these characters are in the story to support the storylines of the other characters. They are never the point-of-view character.

Ukrainian dancers - Bruce Witzel photo

As I sit here and amass pages and pages of notes that will hopefully move me to the spot where I actually start to write, I’m curious about how other people get ready to write a novel (or any piece of fiction for that matter). How does my writing process strike you? Do you structure your work along the three act system or employ a different template? How do you sort your characters? Do you actively question your work as you go? Do you outline at all?