Wednesday, January 04, 2017

IWSG: Writing is like quilting is like . . .

After working on goals for the coming year, I've come to the conclusion that writing is a bit like quilting.  You gather the foundation materials, reflect on an appropriate pattern, and then begin to build the quilt/story, changing/revising as the pieces come together. Heaven help us all, if we have to start ripping.

My goals for 2017 are simple: Finish Rivers of Stone.

I'm about 50% through revisions before sending out to beta readers. This story stretches over five years, so I hope I've learned how to manage some gaps between years without filling in every single detail. 

Here's a snippet from Rivers of Stone as Catriona, still disguised as a boy and some 3,000 miles from her husband, Dougal, winters over at Red River in 1840's Upper Manitoba during the fur trade era:

Cat glanced at the three men huddled by the fireplace and nodded. "I'll work in the kitchen." She slid the letter from Dougal into her belt and pushed the front door open, stepping out into the swirling snow. The cold bit her nose, but the air smelled so good after the closeness of the trading post. She hurried along the side of the log cabin to the back and froze to a stop.

A skinny wolf swayed in front of her. He lifted his head and stared at her. He sniffed at his right front paw caught in a small steel trap and looked at her again.

Cat backed up until she could feel the logs of the store behind her.

The wolf flopped on the ground, put his head down, and inched toward her, dragging the trap with him.

He can’t hunt with that thing on his foot, thought Cat. She took a tentative step towards him, putting her hand out slowly. "Hush, now."

The wolf nosed the ground and tilted his head away from her.

Cat crouched down and pried the trap apart. The wolf's foot slithered out. For a moment they looked at each other. The wolf leaped up and bolted into the woods.


Finished quillow top (January 2017)
Meanwhile, real life intercedes. We leave this Sunday for a three-month road trip south. Yes, I have my laptop, backup, and some research files. I'm taking one of those mini-desks that fit on my lap (in case there's no workable desk). 

No, we don't have an itinerary. We will drive south out of the Inland Northwest, until the snow vanishes. 

Yes, I'm taking my sewing machine. And, yes, I did finish the quillow top (a quilt that folds up into a pillow) for Allen before we leave (You can click the image to see a larger size).

For writers participating in IWSG (Insecure Writers' Support Group), how are you doing? Are your 2017 goals and resolutions mapped out? 

Are you ready like me to believe that any large goal can be achieved if we just identify the needed steps and work on them steadily?




Wednesday, December 21, 2016

A Surprising Bounty of Books . . .

Part of my to-be-read books

Interested in the fur trading era in Canada and the Great Pacific Nor'West?

This week's mail brought a surprising bounty of books to mull over.

The first pairing of books takes me sideways to Manitoba's historic Red River, which flows through the middle of Winnipeg today. Carol Matas wrote Footsteps in the Snow, The Red River Diary of Isobel Scott, Rupert's Land, 1815, for the Dear Canada series. Technically, this is a little before the 1840s, but captures beautifully those impressions of a young girl who's just arrived from England with her family to start life anew.

Anthony Dalton's River Rough, River Smooth: Adventures on Manitoba's Historic Hayes River, presents travel notes of his modern recreation of traveling by York boat from Norway House to Hudson's Bay on the Hayes River. The River runs north, which means Dalton had a wild ride downstream over and/or around some 45 rapids for about 375 miles. While well over 100 years has passed between Dalton's journey and my novel, his book helps me visualize more completely what it might have been like to live on the river.

But my characters traveled upstream, from York Factory to Norway House, making portage as needed. Folks in my writer's group said this feat was impossible. But those oarsmen really did pole through shallow marsh, bugged by clouds of mosquitoes, and paddle like crazy against the current, that is in the late summer, after the annual ship from England had landed, and before the Hayes shut down, frozen solid.

The second pair of books are a bit more academic: Daniel Francis and Toby Morantz wrote Partners in Furs: A History of the Fur Trade in Eastern James Bay 1600-1870 (McGill-Queen's University Press, 1983). And Richard I. Ruggles wrote A Country So Interesting: The Hudson's Bay Company and Two Centuries of Mapping, 1670-1870 (also McGill-Queen's University Press, 1991). Both books present fascinating stories, collections of maps, photos, and drawings of the fur trade era. Both are drool-worthy.

A final surprise this week: Earlier this year, I joined an informal book exchange. We were to send our favorite, most treasured books to the next name on the list. I did send my book off, a collection of poetry by Mary Olliver, but heard nothing and received nothing -- until this week. Mailed from England in May, these two books are both ones I've never read: G. K. Chesterton's Father Brown (tiny, tiny print), and Alexander McCall Smith's The Cleverness of Ladies (part of the series, The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, (much larger print),set in Botswana.

My to-be-read stack of books is close to toppling over with these new additions, but luckily I have time and energy enough to read, and hubby's a bookworm too. I still remember the time we took my aunt to a bookstore with us. She vowed she would never, ever again go to a bookstore with us for "we spent far too long."

May you be blessed in the coming year with books that enrich your reading.

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Writing with the kindness of strangers . . .

A cold snap is coming. Temperatures down to the 20's starting later this week. Naturally, then, I'm writing about a rugged trek south from York Factory in the summer of 1843. 

Due to the kindness of a writer I've met online, I've got maps spread over my writing desk. And I'm reading journal notes of a survey team of roughly that era to figure out which river the Fur Brigade Express took from York Factory to the infamous Red River Settlement (now Winnipeg), and exactly what my feisty heroine experienced.

The conditions were deplorable for a typical working day. Sails only worked for a little while on the narrow, shallow Hayes River, its route south from York Factory bending through the marsh in a convoluted, twisted S-shape. The oarsmen used long poles to move the York boats forward, stopping frequently to use ropes to brutally haul the boats further south when the water was too shallow. Four men traded off every one-and-a-half hour shifts, grateful to be back in the boat for a breather from hauling those 30-foot long, fully loaded York boats along slippery, muddy banks, where footing was precarious. 

Where did those maps come from? Nancy Marguerite Anderson kindly shared her research with me. She's working on a sequel to The Pathfinder: A. C. Anderson's Journeys in the West, a well-written and fascinating account of her ancestor, a fur trader and map-maker who also worked for the Hudson's Bay Company and traveled widely in Canada and the Pacific Northwest. If you are drawn to history of roughly 1831-1884, her book is well-peppered with insights, anecdotes, maps, and photographs as we follow the exploits and life of this young fur trader. Nancy's blog, An Accidental Historian, is also a fabulous resource as she comments on her ongoing research.

Fort Garry, 1884 (Wikipedia)
Translating research into story is challenging and fun. I'm constantly asking how does this new information support and drive my story forward. Should the new 'stuff' be pulled into dialogue or backstory? What nasty twist can I add so my heroine and various characters 'suffer'? What does she learn? How does this change or affect her quest? And what is the structure of this section, how does it support the overall story goal?

My original optimistic hope was to finish Rivers of Stone by year-end. I can report the overall progress is good. Major sections of the book are taking shape, and the draft is now about 95K. But I do see much revision in the section I'm working on, with at least one more round of revising the full manuscript before I can leap up from my writing desk and say, "It's done!"  Next step? Ready for beta readers.

May your winter be a mild one, and if you are writing, may your writing go well.

Friday, November 04, 2016

IWSG: Writing with Focus

We're on the road just now, at least until the elections are over, and I'm packing my relatively new travel computer, a massive 15" laptop. Too big. Too heavy. But, oh, does it have memory -- and speed. The Toshiba's a definite first choice over that cute mini HP netbook that can hardly take a semicolon before the memory flashes full. 

So I completely forgot about IWSG (Insecure Writers' Support Group) this month! Ouch! Two days late. Too many distractions. So on the first Wednesday of each month, participating writers share their challenges and current thoughts about writing.

My thoughts take me to FOCUS. As I think back over the last month, I can see real progress in taming an unwieldy first draft of about 90K. The draft is now divided into four workable sections, and I have a breathable outline for each section. Those plot holes look more like muddy puddles instead of bottomless pits. And there are far fewer plot holes!

My motivating mantra? End each writing session with a FOCUS QUESTION that emphasizes the story. Far too often, I end up writing about the story, editing, and researching. But by pushing any reading/research outside my writing time (early morning well before anyone else is up), I'm finally, finally telling the rest of the story.

I'm not writing with NaNoWriMo this year (too much), but you might like a daily writing blank sheet at 750words.com  I love this site! This morning's research/reading led me to a hanging in 1845. It's so much fun when the words flow, the research meshes with the story, and the characters come alive.  May your own writing go well. Why not stop by to see what other IWSG writers are up to -- some 260 of us? Or join us!

We're still on the road for another week. This afternoon, we're traveling to Sisters, Oregon, to admire mountain vistas and maybe visit a quilt store. Yesterday, we spent hiking at Smith Rock. Yes, my office at home has books, a good computer, and quiet mornings. But when we're on the road, we get to explore . . . 

Smith Rock Vista
near Redmond, Oregon (November 2016)


Tuesday, October 25, 2016

#21 Abandonment

The suitcases await by the door,
and I'm in the process
of abandoning the familiar, 
leaving behind those comfortable
necessaries I cannot take with me.
Even for a two week trip,
I'll miss these accessories  
that give structure to each day,
the sewing machine, three bookcases,
that cushioned chair, my comforter. 
Well, the laptop travels, as does 
a journal with blank pages,
for I would not leave behind my words.
What is this trip but another journey
of letting go?

Japanese Gardens at Manito Park (October 2015)
Another poem for OctPoWriMo. Visit HERE to see what others have written.




Monday, October 24, 2016

#20 Tucson Mermaid

Arizona Cap Canal (Wikipedia)

Tucson is an ordinary town of artsy suburbs --
if you look past the saguaro dotting the rolling, dry hills,
ancient guardians that lift spiny arms to the sky.
At night, the lights of baked adobe houses measure
blocks of homes, while stars pierce the sky,
white pinholes. My sister saw a mermaid once
who swam in the canal. This could be no ordinary
mermaid to be drawn to the desert.
Maybe my sister followed a dusty trail
along the cement waterway to discover
a fan-shaped shell, where no shell should be.
Geologists remind us of a long ago inland sea;
perhaps this mermaid searches for her family,
lost in the desert, but stubborn,
like some I know who seek comfort inside
those pretty beige adobe houses.
Outside gray wolves howl, no respite for the mermaid.
Maybe she rests near the saguaro at night,
venturing out along the canal,
searching and singing even today.

Arizona Canal near Scottsdale
(Wikipedia)

I discovered that Tucson celebrates the monsoon season in mid-August with 'Return of the Mermaids,' a community parade complete with mermaids of every description. So OctPoWriMo's prompt for today was 'fantastical'. See what others have written HERE.

#19 When September becomes October . . .

October view out our apartment

When September becomes October,
on its way to November
with gray, endless days, do we
settle down with comforters, safe
behind locked doors
to watch the television flicker?
Or do we go out,
walk along that well-known path
down past the watershed,
that little lake where the last of the ducks gather,
a few Canada geese stop on their way south,
the wind fresh with a bite 
of winter to come?

I've been sick with an early winter cold this last week, with not enough energy to even write a little poem, but I do have a renewed appreciation for each day of health and energy that, alas, we all take for granted far too much. Happy to be back and now maybe too far behind this OctPoWriMo's month of poetry challenge. But at least I'm writing, and here in eastern Washington, even when it rains, the sun comes out.

Check out what others are writing for OctPoWriMo HERE. Today's prompt was 'fantastical' so maybe I shall return and write a little more.

Friday, October 21, 2016

#18 The quilt show is over

I'm still recovering.
Last Sunday, the quilt show ended.
I wandered past some 600 quilts, 
with sore feet, a few quilts
decorated with ribbons,
and there,
hung casually among the others,
a quilt that made me stop. 
Someone's vision,
a turquoise bear, raven,
turtle, salmon,
a howling wolf,
with traditionally patched bear paw
blocks, all sacred spirit carriers
of past and present and future,
balanced in a dreamscape of white.
I wonder what creative journey
brought this quilt
to this place
for me to admire,
moved nearly to tears.


"Turquoise Bear" by Butch Bovan
Washington State Quilters 2016 Quilt Show
(click to see larger image)
What an amazing quilt. Stop by OctPoWriMo hosted by Poets on the Page to catch up on what others have written HERE