Thoughts from the Writing Trenches – Part II

Juniper Berries, Snow Canyon Utah Oct. 8, 2016 - bruce witzel photo

79,000 words at last glance. My draft file for  No Compass to Right (the fourth book in the Crater Lake Series) continues to grow.

I went on a couple of interesting diversions today. Have you ever read the advice about making every scene count? At later stages in the writing process – rewrites and editing – I’ll be refining that advice down to making every word count. But for now, in the first draft construction of the story, it’s putting scenes together to make chapters that is building the word count.

I’m working from a detailed outline for this with all the chapters laid out and the scenes within each chapter defined as subheadings. I went through the whole list today and added a section to the top of every unwritten scene: Purpose of this scene. This proved to be an excellent use of my time. I found two scenes that would be completely redundant and one that served no purpose at all. Out they went before I ever wasted the time writing them. Of more use to me were all the new ideas that came up as I forced myself to consider how each scene could accomplish more. Scenes that do double-duty by achieving multiple purposes are dynamite.

I also had a research task to accomplish today. How does one convert a school bus to a living space? What does such a space look like when it’s finished? I’m here to report amazement on my part over what creative individuals can do with small spaces! I have this old library bus that one of my characters has renovated – you’ll be happy to know he’s leaving the large multi-coloured bookworm mural on the side of the bus.

The other day I had to Google which NHL teams played hockey on TV during the playoffs in 2012. Little details matter. In a rural town like the one I’m writing about, if you invite someone for dinner on a Saturday night in May, that person better expect to arrive at your house to find the hockey game on and more than a few of the family watching.

That’s it for me today. I’m enjoying these instalments from the trenches. Reflecting on the writing process is like priming a pump – words just begin to flow.

Mind statue - Bruce Witzel photo

Cloudy Skies and Collages

Creating with collage!

Fran's Collage - July 2016

I’ve recently been reunited with all my collage material. It is pure joy to haul all the brown envelopes of magazine pics out, dump them all over the table and get busy creating. Collage is a wonderfully creative and therapeutic activity. Give it a try if you are trying to work something out. Whatever comes out of the process is bound to be enlightening.

Unshod–A book of Short Stories

Unshod twitter

“Short stories consume you faster. They’re connected to brevity. With the short story, you are up against mortality. I know how tough they are as a form, but they’re also a total joy.” – Ali Smith

A couple of months ago, I was invited to contribute a story to an anthology being put together by eight, talented women authors – Jan Morrill, Pamela Foster, Staci Troilo, Joan Hall, P.C. Zick, Michele Jones and Lorna Faith. I would be number nine. The theme was western stories. That stopped me in my tracks. What came to mind was the old west, gunfights and cowboys. I certainly had nothing along that line. Upon further inquiry, I discovered the organizers were looking for an out west theme – era open. West coast got me in the door and my short story Helplessness made the cut.

Here’s what the reader can look forward to in this book of short stories …

An anthology of traditional and contemporary western short stories where the characters are lain bare. Nine female authors pen western tales that you’ll want to retell around a campfire. These aren’t your granddaddy’s westerns. They’re the next generation’s, and they’re darn good.

  • Feel the pain of a young Japanese girl who comes home from an internment camp after World War II and learns it’s easier to go with the flow than to fight the current.
  • Struggle with an expectant mother on the cold winter prairie while she waits for her husband to come home from a hunting trip.
  • Journey with a young woman to the Four Corners as she tries to connect with her Navajo ancestors.
  • Try not to believe in the superstition of the blue moon—if one dies, three more will follow.
  • Know that one way or another, life will change inalterably that day.
  • Walk in the footsteps of an old cowpoke who thought he made the deal of a lifetime.
  • Suffer the torments of a young lady who wants desperately to marry but seems destined never to wed.
  • Walk the wild western paths and run from unimaginable dangers.
  • Choose between an unhappy life of luxury or a happy life of simplicity.

Unshod is free for your reading enjoyment through the following e-book vendors:

Amazon.com       Barnes & Noble      iTunes      Kobo      Inktera      Scribd  

I hope you’ll download this free book, enjoy the read and maybe even feel inclined to write a short review.

85. Helpless

(An original piece of art work drawn by Xiaonan Gao for my short story Helplessness when it appeared on StoryShack)

International Women’s Day–Let’s Celebrate and Act

Today is International Woman’s Day and social media is jam-packed with some great links to articles, artwork, social justice causes, quotes and so much more. Here is a small selection of what caught my eye.

Poverty is sexist logo image

Join 39,765 others (more by the time you click on) who have come together to send a powerful message: we won’t end extreme poverty without ending global gender inequality.

 

Kiva - invest in women

On Kiva for today only – all loans are matched – double your impact and make a difference in real women’s lives. And if you make a loan today, (as I did) you’ll be able to share this wonderful graphic all over social media.

 

World Food Program image

Women and the World Food Program – the most effective solution to combatting and preventing hunger is to empower women. Visit this site to find out how and see some stunning images of women from around the world.

 

Frida Kahlo - roots - google image

What would we be without art? Let us look to the vibrancy of female artists like Frida Kahlo and may we all paint (in our own ways) wild and big and over-the-top grand! Check out a post celebrating Frida on the Paris Review.

 

George at CBC FoodBank Day

Thirty You Tube interviews done on The Strombo Show with influential women that highlight the theme of International Women’s Day – Maya Angelou, June Colewood, Margaret Atwood, Jodi Foster and so many more. No one interviews like George!

 

S E Hinton - google image

The twenty most influential women authors of all time – a list featured over on The Classic Book Reader blog. Did you know S.E. Hinton began writing The Outsiders when she was fifteen years old! That is inspiring.

 

Maranda - Dancing with Butterflies in Spirit

My niece, Maranda, dances with a brave group of young women (Butterflies in Spirit) to raise awareness – at that most visceral level – of the plight of missing and murdered Aboriginal women. For more information about this issue check out the Amnesty International Report – No More Stolen Sisters.

To all the Butterflies in Spirit – may each of you continue to find the strength to raise your voices and move your bodies. May family and friends continue to give the support that is necessary so these young women can stand strong on the front lines.

Building Castles in the Sand

Bruce & Emma in the sand - Guenette photo

“Writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shovelling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.” (author – Shannon Hale)

Never has this quote meant more to me than in these days when I start out on the hesitant and often lurching journey that will one day culminate in the fourth Crater Lake novel.

My sand consists of character sketches and grids, location descriptions, lists of major and minor climaxes, scene ideas, title options, timelines, research notes and random snippets of dialogue – all in no particular order. As the file on my desktop for this novel grows – the box into which I shovel this sand – I know I am making progress.

It is hard to trust this process as I shovel a few more loads of sand onto my story board. Definitely a messy business but this board is something I cling to. It exists in real time and space in a way that all my digital notes cannot rival. It is wonderfully solid though constantly evolving.

My mind rushes ahead, backtracks and gets stuck with regularity. I repeat myself, lose sight of important insights between one document and next and cart around a book that burgeons with quick handwritten notes. It occurs to me that there must be a neater, more linear way to proceed.

No doubt, but that way wouldn’t be my sand or my sandbox. I wouldn’t be working to build my own castle. Finding one’s way into the telling of a story is as utterly unique as there are writing practitioners. There are no blueprints for creativity. Just a messy sandbox waiting for a world to be wrought from

Sedona - Bruce Witzel photo

Tennessee Whiskey

Chris-Stapleton-Traveller2

I’ve fallen in love with Chris Stapleton’s song, Tennessee Whiskey. Oh my gosh, talk about smooth. I could listen to this guy sing all night.

“Tennessee Whiskey”

I used to spend my nights out in a barroom

Liquor was the only love I’ve known

But you rescued me from reachin’ for the bottom

And brought me back from being too far gone

[Chorus:]

You’re as smooth as Tennessee whiskey

You’re as sweet as strawberry wine

You’re as warm as a glass of brandy

And honey, I stay stoned on your love all the time

I’ve looked for love in all the same old places

Found the bottom of a bottle always dry

But when you poured out your heart I didn’t waste it

‘Cause there’s nothing like your love to get me high

[Chorus x3]

Well, I stayed stoned on your love all the time.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard a song that made me think so strongly of a character from one of my own novels. Myhetta, from my recent release, Maelstrom, is this song. He’s a whiskey drinking, hard around the edges, soft-on-the-inside, tortured sort of guy just looking for the love of a good woman to pull him out of the bottom of a bottle.

That particular myth has fuelled many a great country and western song but believe me, it can also make for a mighty endearing novel character, too. If you’ve read Maelstrom, follow the link to the You-Tube video, listen to this song and let me know if you agree. Follow the link at any rate and maybe this song will get you interested in reading my book.

Cowboy Trail off Highway 22 Alberta - Francis Guenette photo

A Special Tribute to My Mom–June Guenette

Maelstrom art with border

The following piece appears at the end of my soon-to-be released novel, Maelstrom. Enjoy.

This novel began its journey to you, the reader, when I was a child. My father worked nightshift and my mother was writing a book. We kids would fall asleep to the clack, clack, clack of the typewriter keys, the ding of the bell at the end of a line and the unforgettable sound of the carriage return. When I got older, I would stay up late and my mother would share bits and pieces of the story with me – highly censored, I’m sure. My brief introduction to the characters left an indelible impression – Sheriff Bert Calder, the sadistically cruel man who held the town of Haddon under his thumb; Myhetta, the handsome, knife-wielding adopted son of Rafael Destino; Laura, the woman who seemed to exist always in her basically white kitchen.

The years went by and I assumed my mother had given up on her book. Nothing could have been further from the truth. When I was in my twenties, I visited her and she proudly showed me a large box filled to the brim with type-covered, fluted, white paper placemats – a complete draft of Maelstrom. She was working at a café and had purchased those placemats for a good price. My mouth dropped open, my eyes grew large and I demanded that she let me read it. But she shook her head – it was too rough and raw. It needed work. From time to time, I heard that she had written yet another draft of the first chapter but more often than not, she seemed content to move onto other work. She penned a column for a local paper and honed her craft in the genre of short story writing. She joined a writers’ group and contributed to an anthology. She had a short story accepted for publication in a magazine.

When my mother died in 1997, she willed reams of her writing to my son. He was only a teenager at the time but he took the boxes she left him. Overwhelmed with sorting the rest of my mother’s possessions, I never even peeked inside those boxes. My son carted his inheritance from place to place until he winged his way across the vast country of Canada. At that point, whatever he couldn’t get on a plane, he left with his father. The boxes from his grandmother were then moved from here to there as part of a thing parents do for their kids – store their stuff.

Two years ago, my son brought me a red folder that had turned up in some of his things – pages from a book his grandma must have been working on. He had glanced through it and wondered if I would be interested, now that I was writing books of my own. I was stunned. I hadn’t seen those typed placemats for decades. I read with my heart in my throat. The margins were full of my mother’s handwritten notes. I could almost see her dark eyes sparkling with intensity as she glanced over my shoulder.

The red folder contained eighty pages of Maelstrom. But where was the rest of the manuscript? My son assumed that it must still be in storage at his dad’s somewhere. Later, the news came to me that boxes would be looked through with an eye to finding the missing pages.

I convinced myself that the degree to which I desired those pages to be found was in direct proportion to the likelihood that they never would be. I held myself firmly, repeating T. S. Eliot’s words – hope without hope.

I decided to transcribe the portion of the manuscript I had. No sooner did I begin typing than I started to rewrite. I couldn’t stop my imagination from springboarding off my mother’s words. By the time I was done, I knew that I could outline a beginning and ending for the novel.

Then came the magical day when my daughter sent me a text with a photo of a tottering pile of several thick binders bulging with pages. The rest of the manuscript had surfaced. I stared and stared at that photo, not quite believing my eyes. Those binders contained over two thousand pages. But I was never to find the all-important beginning. The manuscript started at page thirty. I have no idea what happened to that elusive first chapter that my mother had rewritten so many times.

So began a long process of reading. By the time I had finished, I was holding her version and the version I would have written side-by-side in my head. I started outlining, blocking out sections I would use and those I would not. I put sticky notes here and there in colour-coded, reckless abandon. My handwritten comments down margins and across the tops and bottoms of pages vied for space with my mother’s.

I made major alterations to the story she had set out to tell and that resulted in even more changes as the book progressed. The majority of those two thousand pages were left on the cutting room floor. Some characters were toned down, others were fleshed out with backstory wholly of my creation, a few were combined to streamline the narrative and one even underwent a gender change. I mined my way through those pages again and again for the gems – the turns of phrase unique to my mom’s way of writing dialogue, the colourful descriptions and plays on words. And I never came away empty-handed.

As the months of writing flew by, I struggled to understand whose book this was becoming. It was certainly not the book my mother had intended though it echoed with her ideas and characters. On the other hand, it was not something I could have come up with on my own.

After fifteen drafts and countless hours of work, I have come to the conclusion that the premise for the story belongs to my mother; the book you have just read is mine.

I’m not sure I can adequately describe what this experience of ghostwriting my mother’s story into my own and bringing it to a reading public has meant to me. There were times when I was so emotional, I sobbed over the keyboard and had to stop working. I never felt as close to my mother or as frustrated with her as I did when working on this novel. She made me laugh and I could almost feel her hand on my shoulder as I typed. Then she would exasperate me and I’d throw my head back and moan. I thought if I turned quickly, I would catch her shrugging her thin shoulders and hear her say, “It made sense to me at the time.”

It gives me great pleasure to present my interpretation of the novel my mother began so many years ago and to bring her characters to life with my own unique spin. It feel as if a circle is closing and, though I’m not sure if my mother would wholly embrace this version of her story, I am confident she would be proud of me for making the effort.

Pencil sketch - Casa Destino - June Guenette (2)

(A conceptual, pencil sketch of Casa Destino by June Guenette)

Countdown to Maelstrom release is FIVE days Smile