Tipping Over …

Giving up the Fight (2)

Today marks an important transition: the day I tipped over from note taking to writing book five in the Crater Lake series. Word count – 1500. A modest start, you say. True … but I am thrilled. My dormer desk is working like an early spring tonic. The chance to focus and let my thoughts roam free is invigorating and productive. Even just a couple of hours at the keyboard in this new setting, when combined with my daily walk on the lake trails, has the creative pump gushing ideas all day long.

Not all is easy breezy, though. There is the early stage of idea overwhelm to deal with. I have been here before but that doesn’t seem to help. It goes something like this – I get one scene roughed out. I’m comfy in the heads of a couple of characters. Then, before I can stop myself, I’m thinking of all the other characters who are literally clamouring for attention and I start to panic. Can one brain hold so many storylines?

Mossy Buddha meme

When it starts, I tell myself – that’s what paper is for. Get it down, one section at a time and move on.

Prior to getting my cherished 1500 words today, I had combined all my notes into one Word doc. I set up the handy-dandy navigation tool in order to quickly move between sections.

Capture - navigation pane

I recall blogging about this feature when working on my last book. First, choose a heading under styles for your chapter and section titles. Generate a table of contents and then with a simple click, turn on the navigation pane (under view) and quickly move to any section. At this stage of writing, I make my chapter and section titles super descriptive.

The Word doc I’m describing is now my prelim, prelim, prelim first draft. And that is one exciting statement! Next, I begin roughing in each section of the first four chapters. These I’ve already outlined in some detail. Once that is done, all my characters will be on the playing board ready to rock and roll. If experience is any guide, I won’t need to do much outlining after that – the characters will take over the story. I will simply be the scribe.

Twitter banner 2a

I wonder what the cover number five will look like? Too soon to even guess.

Searching for the Perfect Writing Spot

Emma at the desk

There is no such thing as the perfect writing spot. We all know that. Though, I must say, granddaughter Emma looks almost perfect right where she sits at my desk. And my son, Doug, looks pretty productive, too.

Doug at my desk

There are simply writers who sit down and write. Wait around for the perfect spot and you won’t be writing much. And yet … periodically, I disrupt our whole house as I attempt to fulfill this most illusory need.

Our cabin is somewhat unconventional. Right angles and doors are rare. Open concept is taken to the limit. Finding my perfect writing space has been a challenge that is as much about my personality as it is about the house. I like a change now and then. Over the years, I have had my desks in at least eight areas of this small cabin. I’m sorry to tell you that the first few set-ups predated our time with digital cameras, so words must suffice.

Rake window - uppermost loft

I started with a small desk in the uppermost loft. We had to hoist the desk over the railing from one loft to the other since it wouldn’t go up the narrow stairs. It was years before we had installed a rake window looking out over the garden in that area. Maybe I would have stayed put if I had waited for that window. Who knows?

 

Railing that overlooks the main floor

Next, I got a larger desk and moved to the big loft, against the railing that looks down into the living room. This railing  just got a major facelift so I decided to include a photo, though my desk in that location is long gone. I was near that railing for a while. I loved the vantage point but hated how the whole mess of computer cords and the piles of books on my desk looked from below.

Soon enough, I was on the move again. We converted the dining room section of our open concept main floor into a full-fledged office with built-in bookshelves that surrounded my desk. I do wish I had a photo of that set-up for you. It was really neat. I wrote many academic papers in that space. I was productive and for me and Bruce, the loss of the dining room was no big deal. We still had our kitchen eating space. But the repurposing brought multiple complaints from all visitors who had fond memories of the large table that previously occupied the dining room and could seat a dozen in a pinch.

We reclaimed the dining room as dining room, though in the photo below, we had long since lost that huge table.

Table in dining area

Upstairs, we had knocked a door through the middle loft, so all three lofts were connected. The area on the main floor that contained a closet and the narrow staircase to the highest loft became redundant. We created a library/office space for Bruce and removed all the desks and built-in shelving from the dining room to that area. Below, you can see this is a wonderful cosy spot.

Library office

Meanwhile, I moved down to Victoria for several years to attend university. In my apartment, I had the entire dining room converted to an office. I think we ate at a small table in the living room. A lot can be deduced about an individual from the amount of space they are willing to allocate to desks.

desks in victoria

I had satellite desks at the cabin for holidays and the summer months.

desk upstairs near big window     Desk in entry

When I returned full-time to the cabin, Bruce designed a built-in desk for me in the sloping corner of the big loft. I was upstairs again! I distinctly remember writing my methodology paper for my unfinished dissertation there. But after a while, looking into a dark corner made me feel stifled. Okay for research methodology but it wouldn’t work for novel writing. Time to move again.

upstairs corner desk     Upstairs desk

I couldn’t exactly haul the built-in desk around, so I simply moved my laptop to the kitchen. The table proved to be the most fruitful writing space I have ever had. I was so productive that more and more stuff followed me down to the table and before long we barely had a spot to eat. Well, over time, that became untenable.

working at the kitchen table

I moved to the dining room again … completely central to the rest of the cabin.

2 desks sticking into the living room

A space begging for interruption. I pined for the wide-open view of the lake from the kitchen table. Thus, the era of trying to have it all began. I moved one desk up to the kitchen.

Table and 1 desk

Again, much work occurred in front of that view of lake but there were downsides. I had become a two-desk person and one of them had to stay in the dining room. I felt fractured.

Fractured - 1 desk in living room

One day, Bruce said, “Why not take over the whole kitchen eating area for your office. We’ll move the table to the dining room.” I was in heaven. I had both my desks, huge windows, an easy chair. Perfection at last. And close to the coffee pot. What more could a writer ask?

Kitchen office

The howls from visitors began anew and my guilt at commandeering such a big slice of our square footage grew. When we had guests, we had to haul all the food for every meal down to the dining room and people missed eating up in the kitchen with those wonderful views. Compromise was called for. Back to only one desk in the kitchen plus table.

Fractured again, I tried both desks plus the table. Unbelievably crowded and even I was howling.

Table and 2 desks    Crowded kitchen

Through all our back and forth with desks from dining room to kitchen, we had kept our china cabinet in the dining area. The next move saw us drag that cabinet up to the kitchen and that meant both my desks could tuck into the dining room space much more effectively and the whole open concept main floor looked cozy and sleek. We loved having the spacious kitchen back and having the china cabinet where it should have been all along. Hopefully, we told ourselves, this was the end of moving desks.

Kitchen with table & china cabinet

But not so fast. The dining room is still central – it feels like grand central to me.

Latest office

I bemoaned the fact that I had neither walls nor door and considered the solution of Les Nessman from that old sit com, WKRP in Cincinnati. Maybe I could draw where the walls should go on the floor and chalk in the door. But in my heart I knew, that would not stop distraction. Then it came to me – like a bolt of lightning – we have an underutilized space with a door. Our dormer room upstairs – the middle loft. One of the few places in this cabin I have never attempted to work. The kids use it as a playroom when they visit. There are big windows and an interesting view.

I was resolved that this would be a different sort of move for me. I had no intention of converting the dormer to an office. I love my office space right where it is. What I envisioned was a work area only big enough for my laptop. Whenever I felt the need for isolation, I could cart my laptop to the dormer, shut the door and stay put in front of the keyboard. No interruptions and no distractions.

Sitting up in the dormer, Bruce and I threw some ideas around. We have a set of built-in shelves under the window, and we decided that something designed to fit on the shelf and jut into the room slightly would suffice. Bruce rounded up a package of leftover hardwood pine flooring that had been given to us by friends after they redid their bedroom floor. He constructed this lovely little work surface with a back that holds it tightly in place under the upper shelf.

IMG_5882

So now, here I sit. I am writing undisturbed, enjoying the sound of the rain on the dormer roof outside the window and loving the view of the trees, multiple shades of green all around me. It’s a bit like sitting in a tree fort.

New work surface in the dormer

Hopefully, all is well that ends well. I can never say this will be my last move, but I sure enjoy the way things are now. In closing, I dedicate this post to the one who has cheerfully, (for the most part) hauled my many desks from place to place. Thank you, Bruce. As always, your support is greatly appreciated. Here’s a great photo of what Bruce was up to the other day – time to clean out that composting toilet. I bet hauling around my desks is way more fun.

Compost Toilet Haul

When Research Meets Pleasure–an ongoing relationship with Jack Reacher.

Lee Child books

Being the author of an ongoing series, I am fascinated by how authors keep their characters fresh and their readers wanting more. My son suggested Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels as an interesting case study. After reading the first three books, I was hooked. Research quickly gave way to pleasure as I read every single book. The feature on Kindle that directs me to purchase the next book in the series as soon as I have finished the previous one is extremely helpful – translation – irresistible.

With my research hat on, I asked myself, what makes Jack Reacher a hero who bears up through so many novels? Well … he’s quirky. His constant pursuit of coffee made me love him. Black, steaming hot and out of a thick white mug. Reacher is all about his coffee.

Coffee cup - google images

Then there is his abhorrence for personal possessions – exempting his signature folding toothbrush – this leads to any number of odd and humorous situations. Buying new clothes every three days just adds to Reacher’s quirky mystique. When he remarked that he was amazed to discover second-hand janitorial wear, I cringed and said to myself – Oh my God, Jack – no.

Don’t let Hollywood fool you. Tom Cruise is not Jack Reacher. He is as far from Jack Reacher as anyone could get. Just my opinion. Reacher has hands like pancakes, mussed up hair, cheap, baggy clothing and enough scars to make you cringe, he’s no Don Juan. And he knows it. He’s self-deprecating to a fault.

As the authors of serial fiction, what can we glean from Lee Child’s success? First, we shouldn’t be afraid to create a quirky character. Readers end up loving the eccentricities. One caveat – there must be a reason for the character’s quirkiness. Random weirdness is not what we are after.

The Littlest Hobo - google images

Lee has created a wonderful Littlest Hobo persona for his main character. Jack Reacher roams from town to town making things right.

There’s a voice that keeps on calling me
Down the road is where I’ll always be

Every stop I make, I’ll make a new friend
Can’t stay for long, just turn around and I’m gone again.

Maybe tomorrow, I’ll want to settle down,
Until tomorrow, I’ll just keep moving on.

Down this road, that never seems to end,
Where new adventure, lies just around the bend. (Maybe Tomorrow – Terry Bush – Theme song from the Littlest Hobo)

Reacher’s sense of justice is unfailing. He can always be counted on to handle anything thrown at him in terms of physical demands, he always ends up with some girl – though not always the glamour girl. He is more a man who falls into various situations when it comes to women. Some of his relationships last over a couple of books. Some he returns to books later, but Jack is the quintessential wanderer and the beauty of him is that he won’t settle down. Down the road is where he’ll always be.

The movement around the United States is another fascinating aspect of the Jack Reacher novels. In each state and city Reacher finds himself, Child lavishes on location details – streets, landmarks, climate and local customs. It’s like being on a road trip.

Another gleaning – locations rich in detail work well to move characters and books along. Discovering a new city through the eyes of a well-known character is a reader’s delight.

Lee Child does an excellent job at doling out Reacher’s history. Whole books are devoted to his time in the army as an MP and these additions to the series answers the questions that pop up for readers who follow Reacher from town to town and wonder what can possibly motivate him to act as he does.

Our final gleaning is to create a character with a past complicated enough to keep his or her internal struggles going strong book after book. Jack Reacher’s past will take him the rest of his life to work out and that serves Lee Child well. And another caveat – that internal struggle must lead, though it may be halting and awkward at times, to ongoing character development. No reader will put up with being stuck with a character on a long-term basis who isn’t learning and changing.

There you have it. Recipe for a hit series. Makes you want to start doodling around with some character profile cards, doesn’t it? Meanwhile, here’s me thinking I might re-read the whole series.

Street Sculpture - Ottawa

Going Silent and Coming Back

Jar Room Wonder

Well, WordPress followers … if you’re still out there … I’ve gone silent since September 18th, 2018 with my Lady Ashburn Mustard Pickles post. What a post to go out on. By the way, those pickles are so delicious! Okay, all kidding aside, months can fly by when one is filling non-writing time with food preservation, road trips, holidays and sock knitting.

Happy feet

There are about a hundred good posts in the above activities, but this blog is supposed to be all about writing. If I come to a dry spell again, I might start an all about non-writing blog. Then again, not writing really meant not writing. I have been hard pressed to put something as short and simple as an email together.

Let’s talk writing blocks. Every author has them. Getting my last book (No Compass to Right) out in 2017 was a huge effort – faster than usual writing timeline for all stages, a rush to publication to meet certain promotion opportunities then blissful nothingness. Stepping back from the whirlwind was much needed.

Kayak & kid magic

My well-earned rest flowed right into summer at the lake, visitors and a bountiful garden to enjoy. Along comes fall and there is the imperative of fresh produce begging for preservation. Then immersion as a sideline cheerleader on our jar and freezer room project (check it out in the first pic on this post). More than satisfying to see that space completed! And suddenly it is time for a road trip. We get home, catch our breath and we are in the Christmas rush. Busy, busy, busy.

Brit, Fran and Emma at Crowsnest Pass in Alberta Nov3-2018 - bruce witzel photo

I’m not fooling any of the writers out there with my busyness excuses. When we need to write, nothing gets in the way and everything else still gets done – for the most part. Writers are efficient with their time.

Coming back is hard. I can’t deny it. The longer I stayed away from daily writing, the more of a brick wall went up. Deconstructing the wall takes time. My endurance for sustained writing is low. In the first fifteen minutes I fight down a constant stream of demanding thoughts. I need to get up for a snack, perhaps another cup of coffee, maybe I should check my email and on it goes. Then, without any fanfare, I fall into the zone and the next forty-five minutes whiz by.

In a rush of energy at the end of writing No Compass to Right, I created extensive notes for the next book. Last week, I started back to those notes and simply hanging out with the characters. Asking questions. What is on their minds, where do they want to go, what do they want to be doing in book five? And do those characters ever clamour for attention. They speak, oh man do they speak – some go so far as to yell and scream. The ideas come in front of the keyboard as I write and while I do my daily walk. I snapped this photo through the glass of our greenhouse the other day. Datura in full bloom with evergreen reflection.

January Greenhouse Datura

Once I am back to writing, the desire to send my thoughts out into the blogosphere returns. This has been my longest WordPress silence since I started blogging in 2012. Here’s to going silent and here’s to coming back. If anyone is still listening … here’s a couple of pics of me and Bruce at Emerald Lake in YoHo National Park.

Me and Bruce at Emerald Lake         Emerald Lake - Yo Ho National Park

Lady Ashburn Mustard Pickles – A New Brunswick Delight

September Garden

If you are a writer with a garden and you aren’t writing, I’ll sure understand why! For weeks now, I have been harvesting, freezing and canning various jams, jellies, veggies and pickles. Loads of work but oh the rewards knowing we grew everything from seed in our own greenhouse and garden.

Today, I thought I’d share the latest offering for our almost finished canning room.

Lady Ashburn Mustard Pickles 1

Lady Ashburn Mustard Pickles. I recently listened to a podcast on CBC radio about a pickling workshop where the instructor was making these pickles. Sort of a combo pickle-relish. This recipe is a New Brunswick specialty and she was surprised that it hadn’t travelled too far from its home. This post is my contribution to spreading the word. I am hoping to make this a regular staple on our shelves.

Lady Ashburn Mustard Pickles

6 large cucumbers – peeled with seeds removed

4 cups onions thinly chopped

¼ cup salt

Place sliced cucumbers and chopped onion into a glass dish and sprinkle with salt. Place a heavy plate on top and let sit overnight. In the morning, drain and rinse.

Combine in a large pot:

2 cups sugar

3 tbsp. flour

1 tbsp. dry mustard

1 tbsp. turmeric

1 tsp. mustard seeds

1 tsp. celery seeds

2.5 cups of vinegar

Add cucumber and onion mixture to the pot and cook over a low heat for 45 minutes, stirring often.

Bottle in hot jars leaving ½ inch headspace. Process in hot water bath for 10 minutes.

Yield – 6 pints

Lady Ashburn Mustard Pickles 2

Zucchini Soup Magic

IMG_3922 (2)

This is going to be a banner year for zucchini around here! You see the latest culprit creeping out from under one of the many plants scattered around our garden. Every possible use for this magical summer squash is going to be required.

I tried a zucchini soup recipe the other day that was superb and too good not to share far and wide. My daughter-in-law, Maggie, shared the recipe with me from Skinnytaste. At only sixty calories a cup, the skinny part is right on. If you find yourself in possession of a few medium zucchini, I suggest you make this soup.

Here goes:

1 small onion

2 cloves garlic

3 medium zucchini cut into chunks

1 carton chicken broth

2 tbsp. of plain yogurt.

Combine onion, garlic, zucchini and broth in a large pot and bring to a boil. Simmer until tender – approx. 20 minutes. Remove from heat and puree with one of those nifty hand-held blender things. I don’t have one of those, so used my food processor. Add yogurt and puree some more. Salt and pepper to taste. Presto – delicious. Serve with a smattering of fresh parmesan cheese.

Naturally, I strayed from the recipe slightly by adding ½ a small jalapeno pepper at the cooking stage and a handful of fresh basil leaves at the puree stage.

Zuchinni soup

The picture – taken on my phone so I could share with jealous friends immediately – does not do the soup justice. It was so tasty and so delightfully green.

Oh man, do you see that zucchini in the far planter on the right? Looks like we’ll be making more soup really soon.

Zucchini Magic

For the Love of Beans

Purple Peacock Beans 2

There’s an old adage about gardening that I fully subscribe to – grow what you like to eat! For us, that means lots of fresh beans.

Here are two of my new-time favourites.

Bush Beans

Dragon Tongue Bush Beans – a beautiful Dutch heirloom variety that is perfect to eat fresh or preserved, or even as dried beans. When the beans turn from lime green to yellow with their bright purple stripes, they are ready to go.

Three Bean Varieties

Purple Peacock Pole Beans – Twining stems, light purple flowers and dark purple pods. A striking plant that provides a wonderful garden screen. This variety handles cool conditions well. The pods keep their flavour and tenderness even when very long. Don’t get too attached to the colour though – they turn green when you cook them.

Purple Peacock Pole Beans

Purple Peacock Pole Beans 2

Scarlett Runners are the old timers in our garden. We’ve been collecting our own seeds and growing a tepee trellis full of these beans for years now. The flowers are pretty and the vines are vigorous but for an optimal taste experience, get those beans before they get too big!

Scarlett Runner Beans 2

Scarlett Runner Beans

We also grow Kentucky Wonder Pole Beans – this type of bean has been grown by gardeners since 1864. Popular due to its vigour and fine heirloom flavour. I’ve gathered the brown-seeds and dried them for planting the following year with great success. You can see them growing in the picture below on the tepee trellis at the back of our under-the-clothes-line section of the garden. Just coming into flower now, we won’t be eating these until a bit later in the season.

Kentucky Wonder Bean Trellis

For the gardening enthusiasts, we grow in zone 8 to 9 here on Northern Vancouver Island and the varieties of beans I’ve mentioned will produce from early August through late September.

Back to the garden for me. These days I am hosting grandkids, friends and family and enjoying the beauty of the summer days here at the lake. Not writing yet but all experiences nurture the storylines brewing away in my mind. Stay tuned for more on all of the above and adventures from that Crater Lake gang.