Happy Easter and Welcome Spring

Puffed up Grouse - Guenette photo

Spring must be here when the male grouse goes looking for a mate. I captured a shot of this guy outside my kitchen door yesterday. We see grouse around here all the time. They love to eat the Russian Kale that grows so profusely there is enough for all of us. But this was my first experience of seeing a male all puffed up in this way. A friend on Facebook provided this information:

It’s a Ruffed Grouse. Named after the wonderful ruff around the necks of the males. He’s starting to look for a mate. You will also be hearing a “drumming” sound, which is them beating their wings. Again, to attract a mate.

How wonderful! We’ve often heard the drumming, thrumming sound. Now we know what’s going on out in the wilderness!

Russian kale 2(original), March 20-2017 - briuce witzel photo

Holiday Reflections

Saint Benidict's Anglican Church (2), High River Alberta, Jan. 04, 2017 - bruce wtizel photo

Reasons to spend holiday time staying with family in another province:

Grandkids change so fast. The opportunity to reconnect with where they are in their lives is a precious one. We took Emma and Brit on a snowy outing to the High River Cemetery. More about why in a later blog. Emma was so excited to run between the gravestones and brush off the powdery snow so she could read the inscriptions. She is at that wonderful stage when the ability to read has clicked and she can’t wait to decipher the written word anywhere she finds it. The day was quite cold and when Brit headed back to the car, Emma looked disappointed. She told me, “I don’t want to leave.” I told her we would come back in the summer and spend as much time as she liked. She said, “Can I wear a dress?” I felt that would be perfectly fine.

High River Cemetery

A couple of snow angels visited the High River Cemetery.

A couple of snow angels

Kristen - Bruce Witzel photo

 

 

 

Grown kids still need their moms. Well, they do! Especially when mom can bite her tongue now and then. Listening matters more than always heaving the proverbial two-bits into every conversation.

 

 

 

The opportunity to do things one wouldn’t do at home. For example, watch ten episodes of The Crown on Netflix – I loved it!

The Crown - Goggle Image

Experience a white Christmas. For someone who grew up on the coast of British Columbia and hasn’t strayed far from coastal waves, this was new. As was watching Emma and Brit skate on an outdoor lake and multiple sledding trips down what passes for a hill in High River.

White Christmas - High River. Albe

Emma sledding - Bruce Witzel photo     Brit sledding - Bruce Witzel photo

Brit - winter skate - Bruce Witzel photo

Winter skate - Bruce Witzel photo

Understand what -30 with wind-chill feels like. Britney told us that her school doesn’t let students play outside at recess if it is colder than -20 with a windshield. I guess announcements over the PA system are hard to decipher whether it be at a school or in an airport.

Tsunami warning - Goggle ImagesBe terrified over one’s first experience at a wave-pool. When the waves hit me, I was standing in the worst place possible – near a wall and in the outflow from one of the water slides. Add to my terror the fact that Kristen told me to stay close to Britney. I seriously felt as though I was on the beach as a tsunami rolled in with no hope of keeping my head above the water let alone staying close to anything. Suffice to say, as Brit bounced towards me with a grin and helped me get my footing, I realized I was to stay close to a five-year-old for my safety not hers.

Baking with grandkids. Making and decorating sugar cookies is my Grandma baking specialty.

Emma & Fran decorating  Christmas cookies

Playing cards and games. We discovered Phase Ten this year and enjoyed it. Pass the Ace continues to be a favourite. As usual, I stayed on the receiving end of loss after loss at crib. Good to know all is as it should be with me and the gaming universe. One day, Emma, observing yet another of my losses, patted me on the back and said, “Don’t worry Grandma. I’m on your side because you’re the thunder-dog.” And so I was.

Candy purchases at the Bulk Barn. Hot Tamales by the pound, anyone? This is the sort of good time you had to be there to enjoy!

Getting familiar with a new, family-oriented community. I am helped to put the day-to-day events of kids and grandkids in context with such information. And we did such a good job at this that we ended up in the local High River paper. Can’t complain about that.

New Year's Eve in High River Times

Reasons why it is wonderful to come home:

No matter how comfy the bed I land in, nothing can replace the tried and true of my own bed and pillows.

The opportunity to eat in tune with personal preferences – fresh baked bread, homemade soups and a spicy black bean dip made with balsamic vinegar that is to die for. Unfortunately, Bruce is not a fan of three things – balsamic vinegar, cilantro and lentils. All of which, I love. But I had read in my Bean Cookbook that balsamic vinegar is a bean’s BFF, so I had to throw caution to the wind. The consequence I am willing to live with is that I must consume all the spicy black bean dip on my own.

The off-chance that I may finally return full-time to writing the fourth book of the Crater Lake Series – yippee!

Significant blocks of quiet that allow me the time to enjoy the memories of a great family holiday. Life is good!

Kristen & Matt - Bruce Witzel photo

On the Road Again

Big Hole National Battlefield, Montana - bruce witzel photo

I recently wrote a blog entitled – What kind of a traveller are you? I lauded the many opportunities a trip provides for a tried and true writer’s way to fill the time – people watching. I’ll soon be at that pursuit again, folks.

Bruce and I are in the process of turning our entire home upside down in order to prepare for an extended car trip to points afar. We love the car trips. There is an exhilarating freedom that comes from packing up a vehicle that one could never experience with a mere suitcase. Of course, this freedom can lead to excess.

If there’s one chance in a million we might need it – sure, throw it in! We excel at this type of thinking. We won’t leave home without a very large unopened jar of peanut butter stowed away somewhere. No way we’ll risk the chance of being stranded without a good source of high calorie protein. You just never know!

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We are constantly tuned to arranging the many items in our car in such a way that laying our hands on what we need will be as painless as possible. It takes a few days on the road for true organization to emerge – setting up a roadside picnic in a matter of moments, laying our hands on bathing suits and towels for that wonderful hot springs stop we can’t miss, finding the essential electronics when we stop for the day. But no sooner do we get into the swing of things than the early starts and late stops take their toil on our organizational skills – meagre at the best of times. The well placed suitcases, coolers and organized shopping bags start to shift. Travel guides for the day’s miles to cover and sights to see go astray, a precious chunk of cheese gets lost in the melting ice at the bottom of the cooler, and though I packed at least twenty-five hair ties, the one that is left can’t be found. All part of the joy of a road trip.

Watch for my posts as we travel the scenic byways. We’ll be in the RAV4 with all our gear perfectly organized. Not! My plan is to post every second day, keeping it short – highlights and a couple of photos. Feel free to follow along – we all love a caravan.

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Any Fool Can Know–Wednesday Wisdom

Smoke Bush - Bruce Witzel photo

“Any fool can know. The point is to understand.” Albert Einstein

A few days ago, my granddaughter and I went for a walk around the neighbourhood. I pointed out a particularly lovely Smoke Bush that was in full bloom. I told Britney how much I love the dusky colour and the way the feathery purple spikes really look like smoke coming from the bush. She nodded wisely, taking it all in the way she does.

Brit's new sweater - Guenette photo

When we were out yesterday, I saw her point out a Smoke Bush and tell her mom, “Grandma loves smoking bush.” Hmmm … I suppose that could be taken a few different ways. Then again, the point is to understand.

Smoke Bush 2 - Bruce Witzel photo

Izzy’s Clothesline Platform

Socks on the line - Guenette photo

For all the new readers of Disappearing in Plain Sight – here’s a treat and an example of how fiction informs reality.

One of the first building projects tackled after I came to the cabin was a crude platform up a couple of stairs that allowed me to reach the newly installed clothesline. For all it’s primitive nature, that original platform hung around a long time – twenty-three years this fall!

Sheets on the line - Guenette photo

In the above photo, the platform is barely visible. It was a humble structure all tucked up behind the salal bushes. And definitely on it’s last legs in 2015 with rotting posts causing the whole thing to lean forward at the front end. The already iffy platform was not helped, on more than one afternoon near the end of last summer, by the antics of a large bear who chose to climb up and plant him or herself on the end to eat salal berries.

This spring, Bruce set out to build me a new clothesline platform. Here are the results. We have both concluded that it is fancier than either of us envisioned. It seems this model would suit Izzy to a tee!

Fran's new clothes line platform, April 14, 2016 - bruce witzel photo

I’ll have to struggle along to be worthy of the magnificence Smile 

Excerpt from Disappearing in Plain Sight:

“Liam, take a look at this … it’s priceless to watch, really.” Liam looked where Caleb was pointing but all he saw was Izzy out on the clothesline platform Caleb had built for her. She was hanging out the wet laundry.

He cast a somewhat baffled look at his friend but Caleb just kept smiling through his words, “Look at how carefully she chooses each piece, Liam.” Izzy did seem to search through the basket as if she were looking for something in particular. “I used to think maybe she would hang only pants together … or shirts … or my stuff and then hers … or maybe there was a colour code or something. It never made any sense. It was the damnedest thing. And then one day I figured it out. It’s because of those two lilac bushes. You see … look … first big pieces and then smaller pieces in the middle so they will clear that one bush and then some bigger pieces again but only small pieces at the end because if the wind comes up the bigger pieces would hit the lilac.”

Liam was seeing the logic of this but Caleb’s fascination with the whole process seemed odd. Izzy put the last piece on the line and reeled it out. She turned, going quickly down the three steps from the platform and walking toward the kitchen door. Liam was about to head into the shop to do some task or another. He and Caleb were always working on something. But Caleb grabbed his arm to hold him back out of Izzy’s sight, “No wait Liam, this is my favourite part … she’ll stop,” and as Caleb said those words, Izzy did indeed stop. “She’ll turn back to the clothesline.” This was exactly what Izzy did “And she’ll survey her handiwork.” Izzy stood gazing for a moment or two at the line and then headed inside.

Caleb began to walk toward the shop door shaking his head, “It’s always exactly the same. I have never seen that woman look as satisfied as she does when she turns back to that clothesline.” He laughed out loud, pushed Liam in the arm and winked at him, “You know what I mean, Liam.” Caleb paused for effect before he added, “Never seen her that satisfied.” Then he had laughed even more. “Good thing I don’t have a big ego, hey, Liam.”

That was the essence of Caleb. Liam could still picture him, all these years later, leaning there against the workshop door – a big guy with shaggy blond hair and a wild looking beard. He would often slouch a bit so he and Liam were on the same level. In Liam’s memories, Caleb’s dark-blue eyes always sparkling with humour. Caleb hadn’t ever had anything to prove; he was sure of himself and his chosen friends.

Looking back - clothesline platform

DIY Book Formatting – A Cautionary Tale

Highway 40 bridge washout from 2013 Calgary floods - Bruce Witzel photo

This post has been sometime in the construction because I needed to see the end of the journey before I could share.

When I began formatting the softcover edition of Maelstrom, I had previous experience handling the task for The Light Never Lies (LNL) and Chasing Down the Night (CDN). It was a huge learning curve with LNL but I persevered and when it came time to do CDN, things went off with nary a hitch. I did not anticipate any problems with Maelstrom.

All I can say, in retrospect, is do not go cocky into that good night.

P1060886                                    P1060885

For Maelstrom, I made one change. Instead of the floral wingding that acts as a separation marker between chapter sections in LNL and CDN, I wanted something different. The idea of a gate suited Maelstrom. This single change was to haunt me.

Using the same specifications employed or the other books (size, spacing and font), I formatted Maelstrom, loaded the finished PDF file up to CreateSpace and waited for approval. The electronic files looked great, so I ordered a proof.

When it arrived, I was surprised and disappointed to note that on certain pages, the type was washed out. I emailed CreateSpace, included photos and explained that I had only made the one change – those gates. Could this be the problem? Without answering the question of why, they promised another proof free of charge.

Bang head - Google image

You know that old adage – you can’t keep banging your head against the same wall and expect a different outcome? What happened next was something like that. Four free proof copies later and still no adequate response to my steadily lengthening emails about getting to the bottom of the problem of the washed out print.

 

It was clear that further email exchanges could not solve this problem. I got on the phone. A polite fellow informed me that CreateSpace cannot guarantee the font I had been using – Baskerville Old Face – at the size I was using – 10.5 pt. I was incredulous because I have used this font and this size on two other books and ordered boxes of said books without ever noticing any washed out print. But ours is not to question why. He suggested a switch to Georgia 10.5 pt. This formatting change added eighty pages to the finished book!

Concurrent with all the above printing issues, I had two trips to the city planned and holidays were fast approaching. Add in the keen desire to have the softcover out in time for Christmas sales and I’m sure you can see disaster lurking right over the horizon.

Northern Vancouver Island Storm Dec. 9, 2014 - bruce witzel

The longer book required that the cover be tweaked for a thicker spine. Amid the hustle and bustle and outright agony of the process, an earlier cover file was accidently chosen and duly tweaked. With so much attention being paid to the interior file, the cover got no proofing at all. We simply assumed it was fine because the cover was the one thing about all the proofs that had met with our complete approval. The new interior file was uploaded to CreateSpace and a proof copy was ordered.

The latest proof arrived right before Christmas and a quick glance told me Georgia font was the cat’s meow – clear, dark and easy to read. Go ahead and order fifty copies we decided. Did we proof the cover? No – why would we? The cover had never been the problem. Did we carefully go over each page of the interior? No – why would we? The only problem had been the washed out print and the new font had solved that nicely. Or at least, so it seemed upon first glance.

I’m sure you can guess what comes next. When I had time to really examine the book, my first discovery was two typos on the back cover in the book description. I thought my heart might stop beating. Seriously – I simply could not believe my eyes or get my breath. Next, a reader mentioned some odd gaps in the print. A careful perusal revealed no less than a dozen incidents where the print skipped down a line for no reason. Another reader wondered if something might be wrong with his eyes because, lo and behold, the print is slightly lighter on the pages with the gate wingdings. You are now invited to picture me bursting into tears.

Emma newborn - 2008

It was back to the drawing board, yet again. I wish I could say I went with a smile but I cannot. Georgia is a darker font and even though the pages with the gates are somewhat lighter compared to the ones without, the overall quality is acceptable. I decided to keep the gates. I had become quite attached.

The cover was corrected, the interior file totally proofed and both resubmitted for approval through CreateSpace. The online proof was carefully checked and a softcover ordered. It has arrived, to much fanfare. The cover is perfect and the print, even on pages with the gate wingding, is clear. Finally, I hold this book in my hands and let out a sigh of satisfaction.

Holding Maelstrom - Bruce Witzel photo              Maelstrom interior - Bruce Witzel photo

The lesson I have learned is this – format in haste, repent in leisure. Why the rush? No longer will I impose arbitrary deadlines on myself. If a book isn’t ready for Christmas sales one year, it will definitely be ready the next. And no events planned until the books are in hand. Making life less stressful is bound to result.

Footbridge - Bruce Witzel photo

Have you any formatting nightmares to share? Please wade in and we can all wail together. Misery does so love company.

Content Editor, Anyone?

Storyboard - Guenette photo

You write to communicate to the hearts and minds of others what’s burning inside you, and we edit to let the fire show through the smoke. – Arthur Plotnik

Since I self-published and began to read widely across genres in the self-publishing world, I cannot count the number of times I’ve said, “I wish I could have had a crack at this book before the author published it.” I realize that sounds egotistical but I cannot help myself.

You see, I’ve been incredibly fortunate to work with a gifted content editor in my own writing. After taking apart four novels and reconstructing them to be as sleek as I ever thought my writing could be. Comments such as – jarring, unnecessary, redundant, unclear, doesn’t make sense, loose construction etc. etc. – have pushed me to more hours of rewriting than I care to count. But thank goodness!

I suppose the number one piece of advice that should be written in huge letters on a poster over a writer’s desk, is this: DO NOT PISS OFF THE READER.

Here is just a short list of the things that get my reading goat:

Jarring point-of-view (POV) shifting among characters. Many call this head-hopping. Once I’m firmly in the head of the POV character, don’t dump me into the head of another character without clear cut signage. I’m not against multiple points of view – far from it. Just beware of confusing the reader because that very quickly leads to pissing the reader off.

Being placed in the head of a character that I have not been adequately introduced to. Come on – we’ve barely met. I don’t want to know his or her thoughts. Not yet, anyway. At least let us get acquainted first.

Stretching my suspension of reality far beyond the breaking point. Entering into any story, regardless of form (a novel, a movie, a TV show, a theatre production), requires pushing back the real world to a certain extent. But don’t ask me to give up common sense and believe things that simply could not happen – not in this world or any other. Once you have lost credibility with a reader, it will take quite a herculean effort to get it back.

Taking the easy way out. You’ve written yourself into a corner and there doesn’t seem to be any way that your good guy (or gal) is going to come out on top. We’ve all been there. So, go back and rewrite. Don’t take the easy way out by having the bad guy up and drop dead or any of the other equally hack ways of getting out of a jam.

Don’t make me think your main character is a shallow fool. We all have human foibles and letting the reader see your characters as fully formed, capable of good and bad, smart thoughts and the occasional off-base notion – all that is great. What gets to me are the characters that continually spout off judgements about others and the world that indicate said character is a one-dimensional idiot who dwells in a world of stereotypes and ill-thought out ideas. Now, if this is your objective – to have your reader think ill of your main character – I advise caution. Readers want to bond with main characters. No one wants to bond with a fool. I’ll take a serial killer over a fool any day.

An out of the blue, drop into the voice of an omniscient narrator. This is so jarring as to be a deal breaker. Let me explain. I am reading your book and understanding the story through the eyes of the various POV characters. I know what they know. Then suddenly, a character say something like, “I wish I knew then what I know now.” Think about the implications of this little throw away comment. All dramatic tension disappears. I now know this particular character will survive whatever is to come as the telling of this story is taking place after the fact. I am no longer moving along with the characters. A huge distance has been created between the reader and the story. The writer who decides to plunk this voice on the reader without warning does so at his or her own risk.

Yak, yak, yak, yak, yak. Don’t get me wrong, I love dialogue. The things people say to one another reveal worlds an author could never adequately describe. Beware of wasting this valuable tool on going nowhere, adding-nothing-to-the-story drivel. The same could be said of endless descriptions of what characters are doing or wearing. Broad brush strokes work so much more effectively. Remember the wise words of Dr. Seuss.

“So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads.”

So, there you have it – my rant on the need for thorough and effective content editing. If you have followed my blog for any length of time, you know I go on a rant like this about once a year. Maybe I should hang out a shingle.

Let me at your work before you publish. I can help you. Fee negotiable.

I’m only half joking.

Statues near Mt. Shasta, CA - Bruce Witzel photo