Rusty Beginnings

An era gone-by

Taking a dive back into the 5th book of the Crater Lake series has me reeling with how rusty I become when away from this work for a few months. My current notes show no measure of finesse. Everything is overwrought and jagged. Trying to sort out all the threads of this upcoming novel is akin to plunging into a knitting basket of yarn after a group of rambunctious kittens have had a romp.

I’m thankful that I’m not starting from scratch. The file folder for the upcoming novel already holds several documents – detailed sketches of all my new characters, research notes on bullying programs and Afghanistan vets, list of storylines, a master table of characters and a table for this book. I have some notes on dogs that baffle me. This information must have been something I thought would be useful. I’ve created a rudimentary storyboard – sparse with post-it-notes, a few tentative lines and connections. Much work remains to be done on this valuable visual aid.

The story is a mess in my head. At this point, there is a tendency to overreact to this chaos. I have tagged one new character for possible elimination from book five. Her story may be of more use in book six. But I’ll keep her in the notes for now. We’ll see. No need to be too hasty.

Simply begin. It’s the only way I know to proceed with the task of creating a novel. My method is to write my way into the story. The more words I throw on the page, the more organized and clear the ultimate story becomes. I’ve been here before. When I begin to glimpse the contours of the whole thing through the mist, that will be the point when I know I am close to tipping from note taking to actual writing.

The promise of that moment keeps me going through the difficulty of these early days. It allows me to bear my stuttering first attempts to unravel this mess of knotted yarn before me. Damn those kittens!

Where do you begin on the journey of creating a novel? How do you manoeuvre the first faltering stages? And what if your ideas are not even at the knotted yarn stage? I came across a post on Writers Helping Writers the other day that listed some great ways to generate ideas – Ten Ways to Goose the Muse. Check it out!

I’ll leave you today with a photo of my latest garden statue acquisition. We purchased ‘Edgar’ at the Millerville Christmas Market on our recent trip to High River, Alberta. He’s a mischievous gargoyle who looks as though he just dropped in for a bit of fun. Edgar may or may not be up to no good. I suspect he may show up in my upcoming book as a new addition to Izzy’s garden. She might see him from her kitchen window and experience the same delight I feel every time I see him. Edgar was created by Castaway – an artist out of Okotoks. I am sorry to say, I gave the business card away to someone who admired Edgar and now I can’t find a link to their work. All I can say is that they create lovely stuff at a reasonable price and if you’re ever in Okotoks, Alberta looking for a statue, look them up!

Edgar has found his forever home

Are You a Fan of Serialized Fiction?

Game of Thrones

Be it via novel, movie or TV, I am a big fan of series. Words like book one or episode one make my heart beat faster. I love the way the series format allows character arcs to develop over time. I gain emotional satisfaction from the breadth and depth and incredible scope. And I don’t think I’m alone in these feelings. Consider the success of HBO’s Game of Thrones or Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels. And few will fault the creators of the Lord of the Rings or Star Wars movies. Well, at least not in my hearing!

Star Wars

As a novelist writing a series with multiple view-points and a large and vibrant cast, I sometimes face censor for the dearth of characters (all with their own unique stories) for the reader to keep track of. But when I look out into the world of serialized storytelling across delivery mode, I see a great hunger for the detail rich, character heavy saga type of story that I’m writing. 

Twitter Banner 3

To illustrate this view, a reader emailed me the other day to tell me how much she loved Disappearing in Plain Sight. These are her words:

Your character development is excellent and your storyline complex but completely believable! You are quite the writer in keeping the climax climbing a very long time but you sure tie things up in quiet a bow!

Many thanks! That is exactly what I am trying to do.

Conn Iggulden War of the Roses

I’ve just finished Conn Iggulden’s War of the Roses series. Though he may play loose with historical time lines and break the head-hopping point-of-view rule, his books are amazing. Just darn good storytelling. Kudos as well to Phillipa Gregory’s books written from the viewpoint of the female characters who lived during the War of Roses and the Tudor era. I’ve read and loved them all.

I’m not a slave to genre. I’m in for any book, movie or TV series that demonstrates good character development. As the characters gain awareness, so do I.

Jack Reacher

I’ve read all the Jack Reacher novels and am in awe of Child’s ability to keep me coming back for more. He doles out the details of Reacher’s life at just the right titrated levels. I felt the same about Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch books. I’ve sat in rapt attention watching Game of Thrones as I did with Firefly or Stranger Things or CBC’s Heartland.

Heartland

Even a character like Groot in the Guardian of the Galaxy movies has room for growth and thus something important to teach.

Groot

How do you feel about serialized fiction? Are you up for investing hours in either reading or viewing instalment after instalment, following characters new and old through the breadth and depth of their life experience? Let me know and tell me about your favourites.

What’s Over the Top Great About Fall on the North Island

Blue fall skies

When it comes to the words – there’s no place like home – climate is definitely on my agenda. I was in Ottawa a couple of weeks ago and the temperature was in the mid-30’s. Wow! Not what I was expecting. I returned to High River, Alberta, in time to get my sweaters out and got home only just in front of the snow flying. So – what’s so great about fall on the North Island? Where do I start? How about with blue skies and great views.

IMG_0019

Fall colours and the flowers in the garden are still going strong.

Fall colours - Gold's Nine Bark

Fall flowers

Fall flowers 2

Fall flowers 3

IMG_0015

Pink Hydreangea

Our garden is still producing and now that I’ve caught up with pounds of tomatoes sitting everywhere, I can enjoy planning meals around all the wonderful fresh food we are picking daily.

Blackberries

Fall lettuce

Fall carrots

Today's produce pickings

And speaking of meal planning – solar cooking chicken thighs in homemade salsa today!

Salsa chicken thighs

Sun Oven

Best of all – no bugs to speak of, pleasant t-shirt weather and I can still dry clothes on the line. It’s all good.

Laundry on the line in Oct.

Issues of Plot

Chemanius murals - Guenette photo

I’ve been pondering issues of plot. I often describe my novels as character driven rather than plot driven. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not trying to say my books have no plot.

I recently read a post on Writers Helping Writers that has me thinking – why the emphasis on character over plot? Guest poster Dario Ciriello quotes C.J. Cherryh, a multiple award-winning science fiction and fantasy author, defining plot. “… a webwork of tension-lines between characters and sets of characters. You pull one [line] and one yanks several characters. It’s not events [that drive plot]. It’s tensions.”

Okay – music to the ears of the writer of self-defined character driven novels! The tension between characters drives plot. A character driven novel with enough tension is by it’s very nature developing plot as it goes.

The Writer’s dictionary defines plot as the way an author structures a series of events into a story. Typically, an author works at organizing events in a way that will pique the reader’s interest. Usually events are not resolved until near the end of the story. “A good plot is one that has well-developed characters who are engaging in several conflicts.”

Literary devices website   describes the five main elements of a plot. Before I list their points and add my thoughts, remember that plots are often broken into sub-plots and maybe even sub-sub plots. The whole idea of the web works well for me.

1. The exposition or introduction – characters and settings are established. The conflict or main problem is put on the table. I usually think of getting all the players on the board.

2. Rising action – series of events build tension and increase conflict. Once all my characters are on the playing board, it is inevitable that they interact and create tensions.

3. Climax – main point of the plot. This is where all the tension has been leading. I often envision the climax as a set of waves. I might have three or so climaxes before the main one, each wave crashing on the shore of the story a bit harder than the last.

4. Falling action – the winding up of the story. With a character driven novel that creates tension between sets of characters, this is a challenging stage. All the loose ends need to tie up. Well, except for those I choose to leave open-ended.

5. Resolution – good or bad, up or down, happy or sad. Endings should be satisfying. That doesn’t necessarily mean the reader agrees with how everything went down. It’s more about knowing I did a good job of making the events believable. Given what I described and the characters I let the reader know – the story makes sense.

I’m going to keep considering the idea of plot. But for now, I’m going to keep doing what works for me – multiple characters, multiple points-of-view and character interactions driving untold tensions. Let me know what you think on the issue of plot.

Wildflowers in Chemanius - Guenette photo

A Visit to the Bar U Ranch – a National Historic Site.

Bar U

I had the treat of spending a few hours over the past long-weekend visiting the Bar U Ranch which is not far from High River, Alberta. My daughter, Kristen, and I had a great time listening to the Parks Canada guides, wending our way through the 100-year-old buildings and simply enjoying a pleasant day of mid-20-degree temperatures under a gorgeous blue prairie sky.

Bar U Ranch Entrance

The Bar U Ranch highlights a work culture celebrated nowhere else in Canada – cattle ranching and the changing role of the cowboy over time. The seven decades of history represented at the Bar U follows the progression of ranching from the time of the open range, through the early days of fencing in the prairie and on into the age of mechanization.

George Lane fights off wolves

The above photo depicts George Lane, a bigger than life character, fighting off wolves while working on the Bar U – a ranch he purchased in 1902. Lane is best remembered as one of the “Big Four” – ranchers who underwrote the first Calgary Stampede in 1912. Lane was also known for his world-renowned Percheron horses. In October of 1909, Bar U Percherons won almost every event they entered in the Seattle World’s Fair.

Famous Bar U Percherons

Bar U horses

The Bar U sits square in a space and time when Alberta becoming part of Canada was not a done deal. With the long-promised completion of national railroad spanning the breadth of our huge country, the incentives provided by the surveying and parceling out of prairie land and a good deal of PR, southern Alberta was settled and the United States was kept from land grabbing a huge swath of the Canadian prairie.

The life of a cowboy

The above quote caught my eye. In and out of the saddle for sixteen hour days, sleeping rough for untold nights with nothing but a bedroll to keep out the elements – not an easy life.

At its largest, the Bar U covered almost 158,000 acres. Over 10,000 cattle and 800 plus horses grazed on land controlled by the Bar U.

I was interested to visit this national historic site for a couple of reasons. Canada 150 Celebrations mean all our national parks are free of charge. Always a nice perk. I have become interested in the history of this area since my daughter and her family relocated here last year. Over the summer, I listened to a CBC podcast entitled: Heroes, Hustlers and Horsemen – history like you haven’t heard it before. These are whiskey-soaked, rough and tumble biographies about larger than life figures who shaped southern Alberta in the tumultuous late 1800s.

John Ware stamp

The last podcast in the series covered the life of John Ware, a former American slave who became a legendary cowboy and rancher in southern Alberta. His story was quite fascinating and mentions his time at the Bar U. In 1882, Tom Lynch, Bar U Ranch veteran cattle drover, hired on a few hands from Texas to help bring a large herd of cattle seven hundred miles up from Montana to Southern Alberta. John Ware was one of those Texans. In a rough world, Ware established himself with deeds rather than words. A man of legendary courage and strength, a skilled horseman with a straight forward honesty, he gained the respect of most everyone he met.

Bar U buildingsDo check out the podcast on John Ware and listen to the whole Heroes, Hustlers and Horsemen series.

I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to this National Historic Site. Canada has so much to offer to citizens and travellers alike. Have you visited any of our National Parks for the Canada 150 Celebrations? There’s still time. Go for it.

What Sort of Writer are You?

Little hummer takes a break

Recurring theme – someone asked me a question the other day: What are you working on now? I just stared. With a definite uncomfortable squirm in my chair, I responded, “Nothing.”

In another era, I wanted to be one of those women who had specific days when they did household tasks. You know the type – geez, you might be the type! Bathrooms on Monday, floors on Tuesday, dusting on Wednesday. I was more the madly try to clean up everything on the same day because company was coming woman. I could be seen running around in a state, dusting with one hand and pushing a wet rag with my foot over the dirty floor. Hoping for the best – cleaning with a lick and prayer, so to speak.

When I’m confronted with the question of what I’m currently working on and the answer is – nothing – I get a similar feeling. I want to be one of those writers who writes consistently. Like Stephen Leacock out in his boathouse every single day from eight until noon without fail. But I’m not. I’m the write until I drop and then fall into the doldrums believing that I will never write again type.

At the beginning of my master’s program, I read a book about writing your thesis or dissertation in fifteen minutes a day. It sounded wise but it was something I knew in my heart I could never accomplish.

My grandma used to say – You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. There is truth to the belief that one thing can’t be another no matter the effort put into transformation. I can no more write on a consistent and specific daily schedule than I could clean that way or create a dissertation in fifteen-minute blocks. It simply isn’t me.

When I’m not feeling uncomfortable with this state of affairs, I celebrate it. This is the fallow time. This is the gathering time. This is the time when impressions, ideas and connections incubate and grow until they burst forth in writing fury.

But there is still a part of me that feels like the sow’s ear and not the silk purse. What do you think? How do you manage your writing? Is it a daily, disciplined endeavour or is it an all out writing fury? And let me know how your garden is growing? Ours is doing not too bad Smile 

How is your garden growing

Shout-Out for Writers Helping Writers

Shout out Time - google image

I want to take a moment today to shout-out a writer’s blog that I never miss – Writers Helping Writers: Home of the Bookshelf Muse.

Emotional Thesaurus cover

The creators of this blog are also responsible for putting together the incredible writing resource book – The Emotional Thesaurus. But they didn’t stop there! They have added The Rural Setting Thesaurus and The Urban Setting Thesaurus, The Positive Trait Thesaurus and the Negative Trait Thesaurus. They are currently at work on a character trait thesaurus that I’m certain will be every bit as good!

 

 

There are so many great things to say about this resource blog. Practically every post is interesting and informative and the site is well set-up for finding archived material.

Writers Helping Writers logo

I’ve been going to this site for at least a couple of years and only this week caught on to the fact that I can feature their neat little logo on my sidebar and shout them out to other writers.

Here’s a bit about the bloggers on the site:

Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling.

Angela Ackerman is an international speaker and bestselling author who loves to travel, teach, empower writers, and pay-it-forward. She also enjoys dreaming up new tools and resources for One Stop For Writers, a library built to help writers elevate their storytelling.

Becca and Angela really walk the talk when it comes to sharing. They are very generous with the material they put on their blog and often their responses to comments are as informative as their posts.

Writers – follow this blog! It will be time well spent on the internet.

P1040311