Monday, April 29, 2013

Write Through a Sleepless Night

At one in the morning, the verticals are dancing at the open window.  I lie in the dark wondering if the sills are wet from the unrelenting rain. Finally, I check. My fingers slide across the moisture on the sill to the handle at the base of the tall window. Three turns of the crank muffles the weather and stills the shifting window blinds. A couple of backward stumbles and I’m beneath the covers squirming to find the warm mold of my body on the sheets. I try to sleep. It’s no use.

With a sigh, I turn on the bedside lamp and check my cell phone for emails and, yes, Facebook. Nothing interesting there so I reach for my book and flip it open to the bookmark at page 93. I read for an hour and then try sleeping again. Ten minutes later, the light is back on. With my husband at work, it is only the dog at the foot of the bed that huffs and snorts before flopping onto her other side.

My mind fixes on all the little things I need to do in the morning before my first appointment. Then I think of work commitments. Another hour passes before I throw back the covers and head downstairs to my office. I need to list my projects on paper. Seeing them spelled out in a neat straight row, black on white, might clear the muddle from a brain that’s all a jumble with deadlines and assignments.

With the thermostat programmed to lower temperatures for sleeping, there is a late-hour chill in the air and I go back to the bedroom for my robe. Resisting the temptation for a cup of hot tea, I sit squarely in my chair and begin my list. I’m right. Seeing my projects on paper is far less daunting than hauling them around like blocks of concrete on my shoulders.

Then, in preparation for my afternoon meeting, I read chapter six of my current work. It’s not my habit to share a novel in progress but my critique partners are encouraging and helpful without interfering with the storyline. This chapter needs a lot more work and it’s with reluctance that I print off four copies and tuck them into my bag, along with the front page of the newspaper that features a member of our group and his latest book.

I print off two recipes for my hairdresser, hoping these are the ones we’d discussed at my last appointment, but not being entirely certain. I update my calendar and sort through some research.

A glance at the clock indicates another two hours before my official wake up call.

Back in bed, I count ...

                                    ... 28, 29, 30, 31, 32...zzzzzz

Monday, April 22, 2013

Spring - The Write Time for Birds

Every couple of hours I opened the door and checked the light fixture. Each time, they’d been hard at it. I'd pull away the twigs and toss them over the railing. Poor sparrows. Each spring they attempt to nest at our front door. Over and over they put the teeny twigs back in place and over and over I clean them out. I admire their unrelenting determination but that’s as far as it goes.

One spring we didn’t check the front entrance for a whole day. Uh oh. We were too late. How do they work so fast? Of course, once the nest is occupied we leave them alone and that door is out of commission. The front entrance is an unsightly mess until they abandon their nest.

One year the silly birds nested in the wreath that was hanging on the door. Actually, aside from having a nasty white-streaked door, it was pretty neat. I could stand at the window and get a birdseye view at feeding time.
Most of the trees and bushes on the property have nests. Cardinals, doves, sparrows, robins, finches. The cover photo on my Facebook page is a picture I took last year of a dove in her nest. Look closely and see the two baby birds she's sitting on. Love that picture.

The blue jays don’t normally nest at our place. I’m glad. They can be downright nasty if you get close to their babies, which can happen innocently during spring pruning. More than a few times, a bird has scared me by flying out of a bush and directly into my face.
Normally, I take a cautious peek into the centre of the tree or the inside branches of a bush. One time I forgot to look. I was snipping and clipping a rather large ninebark diablo when I noticed two little babies watching me. Their mom was nowhere around. Relieved that I hadn’t frightened them out of their nest prematurely, I gathered up my tools and wheeled my debris-filled cart to a different area. Yes, the bush looked a little lopsided for a time.

Occasionally the silly killdeer lay eggs in the gravel driveway. One year we put bricks around the eggs to protect them. Every time we walked near them, the mother would do the look at my broken wing trick and stagger to the grass until she led us away from the eggs and then she’d fly off. 

One spring, we had a duck nest in the centre of our circle drive at the base of a bush. I can’t remember how many eggs now but there were lots. Early one morning the mom led the little ducklings all in a row across the lawn to the creek.

That brings to mind Buddy the rooster. Often when my husband was working in the vegetable garden, a rooster from across the road would come over for a visit. Marv named him Buddy. He’d say, ‘Here comes Buddy’, and the white rooster would be making his way across the back lawn. Buddy liked tomatoes but he was good about it. Rather than take a bite out of each one, he’d eat a whole tomato and then be on his way. It was comical. Then the visits stopped. We could only wonder about Buddy's fate.

Country living is for the birds.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Writers are Human

I got too far ahead of myself and crashed. Maybe. Not sure. All I know is I was unable to attend the launches and workshops this weekend. I left the first all-day event after an hour. The second day, shortly before leaving the house, I knew I wouldn't make it. The worst for me was not being there to show support for my friends at their reading events. Because that’s what writers do. We support each other.

A tension headache and fatigue had me changing into my worn cords and ancient sweatshirt and burrowing beneath the comforter. Four hours later, I stumbled out of bed with a dull ache behind my eyes and tightness down the back of my neck and across my shoulders. Foggy brained, I sank into a fragrant bubble bath. It felt indescribably good. The hot water helped ease the tension from my shoulders and neck.

My mind shifted to food. Soon, with minimal effort, my senses stirred with the smell of ground meat, simmering onions, peppers, and mushrooms in seasoned tomatoes. When the rice was cooked, dinner was ready. Though my head was still achy, after a hot cup of green tea I decided to write my blog.

It’s been a crazy two weeks. I have to put the fun back in writing and realize my limitations. The first thing I will do is clear my desk. Next, make a list of priorities and deadlines. Schedule some me time. I’m thinking clearer already.

It's not helping that we’re experiencing unseasonable weather − sunshine has  practically been non-existent. It’s rained almost every day. Sometimes snow mixed with the rain. Ditches are overflowing and fields are small pools. On a positive note, I got to wear my black and yellow rain boots a lot over the last few days. I even wore my shiny red and yellow boots – the ones my granddaughters love the best – to a meeting last week. And forget about side-stepping puddles. Kids are right. It’s fun to walk right through them. But no jumping!

There were other enjoyable activities. Aside from working on my novel, I read a suspense filled book of short stories by Jean Rae Baxter entitled Scattered Light. I enjoyed it so much that even with my stack of books to read, I will re-read this one. Writing a review for this book is one of those priorities that will be on my list. I have another book smouldering on the arm of my chair but it will be a few days until I can read, review, and attempt to arrange an interview with the author. I say ‘attempt to arrange’ because the author is ... well, let’s see if I get the interview.

Speaking of authors, it was a pleasure to meet author Ann Towell this week. Ann writes MG and YA historical fiction and is the author of Grease Town published by Tundra/Random House. Meeting for the first time, we found common ground immediately, as happens with most writers,  and enjoyed our shared experiences over a leisurely lunch. I look forward to seeing Ann again. 

In closing, I’d like to say that although it’s been hectic, confusing, and mostly exasperating, the week had some shining moments. I questioned if writing is the way I should be spending my life. Then in two separate incidents, comments directed to me made me realize something. Maybe what I’m doing is not about me at all.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Writing a blah, blah, blah, blah, blog

After writing 70 posts, I’ve finally wised up. I’m fed up with flip flopping according to the flavour of the moment in writers’ commentaries, trade magazines, and quips from other bloggers. My blog changes from humour to self-pity to fiction to writer speak.

Okay, no more! I’m going to write whatever is on my mind. If you are interested, tune in every Monday. You never know what you will find. I may talk about the crazy hectic week that ended with a migraine or the hilarious antics of my granddaughters. 

Right now my computer is balanced on my lap in the dimly lit family room, and there’s a twinkling glitter here and there − a lingering reminder of a fun weekend with Sophie and Sadie. Storybooks and dolls, Ritz crackers and milk mustaches, glue sticks and cutouts, tiny mugs of hot chocolate and pancakes. And their sparkly princess dresses. I smile.

Yes, my blogs will be about life – my life. Embarrassing moments, triumphs, losses, and disappointments. And writing. I’ll be talking about my writing − the thrill of research, the development of characters and the sense of satisfaction when it all comes together.

Things happen every week that fill me with joy, anger, frustration, and dismay. I want you to be a part of it. This past week was a prime example of too much happening too fast.  Making me wonder more than once about being careful what I wish for.
Just a reminder that I write a monthly opinion column, Up Close and Personal, for First Monday magazine. My columns have a particular voice or as one regular reader so aptly put it, a smartass attitude. Links to several of my columns are on this blog site. They cover funerals, sex, and libraries. And more. My column in April’s edition is The Write Etiquette for Facebook.

If you’re interested in interviews and book reviews, they’re intermingled with regular blog posts. I really should try to list them separately on the site, though I hate messing with my blogger site; it doesn’t always end up the way I intended.
If you’ve read a good book and would like to recommend it, leave a comment. You know I love crime/suspense but I’m always open to good writing and a good story, hopefully in the same book. (If you like reading or writing join me on my Facebook page.)

Oh, I took in a movie and dinner with a friend today. Really enjoyed it. Visited a fairly new restaurant in Sarnia, Brownstones, and on a recommendation from my son, tried their burgers made with humungous homemade patties. Delicious. I asked for goat cheese and caramelized onions for the topping. Oh, and HP Sauce. Yummy!

The movie we saw was The Call with Halle Berry. I love suspense whether it’s in a book or on the screen. I wasn’t disappointed. The Call had heart stopping suspense throughout and a jump up and punch the air ending!!  If you love a solid and unpredictable storyline that keeps you on the edge of your seat, this is your movie.

That’s all for this week, folks.

Monday, April 01, 2013

A Word on the Write Critique Group

Writing can be a lonely business. And after awhile, we are too close to our work to be objective. That’s where writing groups can be extremely helpful. If you’re interested, ask your local library or retail bookstore about a group in your area. There are online writing critique groups as well. Check them out carefully and choose one that is closest to your genre or style of writing. Or maybe you’d like to form your own group.

There are many different types of writing groups. The first one I joined, and still attend, meets weekly in a local library after hours. It’s a great opportunity for writers to share ideas and discuss, what else, writing! Because it is an open meeting, the attendance could vary from eight people one week to over twenty the next. Writers read their poetry or prose aloud for general comments and suggestions.

Though I learned a great deal from the members of this group, and have received helpful criticisms of my work, I needed more. The blog Up Around the Corner by Terry W. Ervin II provided the answer. A critique group – a small group of writers who share their work for line-by-line review. I recognized that such a group would be invaluable to serious writers like me.

With copies in hand of Ervin’s Five Areas to Consider before Joining a Writing Critique Group, four of us committed to a weekly two-hour meeting allowing each of us thirty minutes. Our genres include historical fiction that Bob refers to as faction and Victorian romance, that when read with Anne’s Scottish lilt transports us back in time. Fantasy was my least favourite genre but that was before I heard Ryan’s short stories, and my crime/suspense novel chapters have the group teetering at the edge of their seats (just kidding), and we also have a short story writer and editor, Delia, who now and then needs to remind us of the ‘rules’ and ‘style’ of writing.

Okay, did you count five of us? Invariably one of us is unavailable and so there are usually only four readers.   

If you are considering such a group, it is imperative that the members each have a copy of the work you are reading. That’s the difference between a crit group and a reading group. Perhaps one week instead of sharing your work, you’d prefer discussing a problem or issue with your storyline. Impressions and suggestions from a critique group are especially important when we need fresh eyes on a project.

A word of advice – if you meet in your homes, don’t worry about serving food or drinks. If people want a coffee or doughnut, they will stop at the drive-through on their way. Keep the focus on writing, not entertaining.

Another word of advice − the longer you read, the less time for analyzing. If you want a thorough critique, don’t use up more than half of your allotted time reading your story. 

If you’re serious about forming or joining a group, check out Terry W. Ervin’s blog

Yes, writing can be a lonely business. Inspiration and increased motivation come from networking with those who speak the same language.

Best of luck in finding a critique group that’s right for you.