Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A Snippet for WIPpet: Farewell to York Factory

This morning, three-foot icicles dangle outside my office window, about a foot of snow on the ground, and temperatures in the 20s promise a quiet day. I found an amazing article online by Eric W. Morse on Fur Trade Routes in Canada/Then and Now that includes notes from Sir John Franklin's journey up the Hayes River in 1819. 

So many details of Cat's journey downstream were simply wrong. I'd left out the first portages and the first waterfalls. Luckily I knew about the mosquitoes, so many, Franklin reports, that they were unable to shoot snow geese for dinner for they couldn't see through the clouds of mosquitoes. I've camped a time or two and swiped bees off my food, but imagine being out in the wilderness without Deet to ward off mosquitoes. I know. Toxic chemicals. But I'd rather not hear that nasty whine and barely can imagine "clouds" of mosquitoes. 

Except once when we traveled to Inuvik near the Arctic Circle and took a side trip to a small town just because its name was intriguing. We literally ran from the car to the tourist information center to escape that summer cloud of mosquitoes. Seriously. No camping. One night in a hotel and then back to White Horse.

Today's snippet for WIPpet Wednesday picks up the start of Cat's journey west from York Factory in Manitoba in the 1840s. Based somehow on the date, I give you five paragraphs for the 5 in 2015.

Cat sloshed over the muddy beach, waded into the Hayes River, and scrambled into one of the three boats, her legs dripping wet. She sat close to one of the mail packets in the middle of the 40-foot boat, well out of the way of the six oarsmen. Charles Alcorn nodded at her. “Heard you were coming, Cat.” Two ministers she didn’t know at all were bundled heavily with blankets over their coats, sitting behind Charles. Just off the ship from London, they swatted at the ever present mosquitoes and talked only to each other in low voices, as if they weren’t quite awake.

Back on shore, a group of men gathered around Mr. Mactavish and Mr. Hargrave to consult on last minute instructions. Then, three voyageurs carried Mr. John Rowand, a bear of a man, short but weighing over 300 pounds, out to one of the waiting boats. Once hefted into the York boat, he sat alone in the center, morose and nearly buried in blankets. Muchk had told Cat the Blackfoot called Rowand Iron Shirt, but he was also known as One Pound One. Some said for the way he walked with a decided limp; others for his temper. “Watch your way west,” Muchk had said. “He has a loud bark, but he has daughters.”

Mr. Hargrave and Mr. Mactavish stood with a few of the Cree to watch their departure. Cat looked for Muchk, but he was not there. She waved at Samuels as with a cheer, the York boats, heavily laden, launched into the Hayes River, turning south to the Nelson River and Norway House.

Samuels had shown Cat a map of the trip, his fingers tracing the route from York Factory, south some 200 miles on the Hayes River. Samuels tapped his finger at the Painted Stone Portage. "Ye'll have a bit of a walk here to get over to the Echimamish River, but it's easy going down the Nelson River to Norway House after that."

Cat didn’t really care about where the boats would go. She was finally leaving York Factory. She did not look back at the few who stood on the bluff above the river near York Factory. She shivered as she glanced at the burial ground south of the whitewashed buildings. I won’t think of it. May the child be at peace in this cold place, and may I never return.

York Factory 1853 (Wikipedia)

Check out what other writers have posted this morning for WIPpet Wednesday. Thank you, Emily Witt, for hosting! May 2016 bring you good reading, good friends, and happy endings.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A Snippet for WIPpet and we're on the Columbia . . .

The snow is falling heavily outside my window this morning, and I'm alternating between writing and quilting. 

With the writing, I fall into my story, lost in the research, and imagine what happens next. With quilting, I get up and move from sewing machine to ironing board and back again. I read somewhere that we're not supposed to hunch over the keyboard for hours. My reality? Since straining my hamstring, I can't sit still so long. 

But, both occupations are equally entrancing. 

QUILTING: I'm working on the borders for a wall hanging of two leaping salmon, finished sashiko style (a traditional Japanese form). When I checked Kitty Pippen's Quilting with Japanese Fabrics to make sure the background grid was positioned properly, I spotted one of her wall hangings. She'd used a Japanese fabric to frame to sashiko. Immediately I dove into my Japanese fabric stash to find the perfect quarter. Making progress!

Sashiko project posted on my story corkboard

WRITING: Each Wednesday, we writers participating in WIPpet are to post a snippet somehow related to the date from our current WIP (work in progress). Here are 15 sentences to honor the last of 2015. 

Context: The fur brigade has edged closer to Fort Vancouver on the Columbia River. It's November, 1846, and Cat, disguised as a boy, still travels undiscovered as an assistant to artist Paul Kane. Close to her goal, she yet hopes she'll find Dougal at Fort Vancouver.

For the first time in a long while, Cat and Kane rode in the same canoe, seated in the center, the oarsmen paddling hard, and the river calm ahead of them. The two were silent for a time.

Kane straightened his back and stretched. “If we’re lucky, we won’t see much more rough water.”

“I’ll believe that when I see it,” said Cat.

“What if you don’t find your brother? Have you made any plans?” asked Kane.

“Don’t want to think about it. I’ll find him.” Cat hunched under her blanket.

“But if you don’t?”

“I’ll think about it if I can’t find him.” Cat sat forward, away from Kane. She didn’t want to talk about it anymore. Ahead of the boat, an westerly wind pushed rain clouds their direction.

Winter along the Columbia River

Why not visit those other authors who, despite the holiday rush, have posted a snippet from their writing for WIPpet Wednesday?

Or, consider joining in. One of the advantages of posting work that's fresh off that keyboard is you can peer more closely at that first draft and share a bit of your story.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

A WIPpet and a Rapid . . .

White-water rafting down the Snake and Salmon Rivers made a thrilling summer excursion for me several years back. These are the kinds of experiences we may treasure and, as writers, later mine for that telling detail.

Today is WIPpet Wednesday, that day a few writers commit to posting an excerpt from their current WIP (work in progress). The snippet needs to relate to the date in some way. In this case, 12 sentences for the month of December.

Context: In Rivers of Stone, Catriona, disguised as a boy, travels with the fur brigade in 1846, to rejoin Dougal, her husband. This week, we catch up with them just north of Revelstoke, when they pass the Dalles des Morts (death rapids).  

Just ahead, a great sucking hole opened up in the river, white swirling, circling waves at the edge and deep green in the wide center. Mesmerized, Cat leaned toward the hole. She could see almost all the way to the bottom, an immense hole that could swallow the canoe, their packs, and everyone aboard. For a few tense minutes, their canoe wavered, the men paddled wildly, and the canoe skirted the very edge of the whirlpool.

The men shouted in relief as they scooted past the pull of the whirlpool.

“Whoopee! If she caught us in that, we wouldn’t pop out ‘til spring,” said Pierre.

Cat’s eyes glassed over. Her heartbeat slowed. No wonder Dougal wanted me to stay in York. She clenched the pouch that yet hung from her neck. I’m still alive.

While our guide on that summer excursion told us that boats had been pulled down into the whirlpool and hadn't come up until spring, what I remember most was staring straight down into the center hole of the whirlpool and feeling the boat shiver at its edge.

Here's a photo of this stretch of the river from Frances Hunter's post on Lewis & Clark's voyage through this specific stretch of the Columbia:

Dalles Des Morts (Frances Hunter)

Inspired by Kate Schwengel and now hosted by Emily Witt, why not check out what other WIPpet writers have posted HERE.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

Jane Eyre, Luccia Gray, and Flash Poetry

One happy result of participating in online writing communities is meeting other writers. This week, I've been reading posts by others for the IWSG (Insecure Writers Support Group) and found a lovely blog by Luccia Gray.

Inspired by Charlotte Bronte's classic, Luccia Gray is writing a series of novels set twenty years after Jane Eyre ends. Her first book, All Hallow's at Eyre Hall, invites the reader into Jane's world, just as her husband, Rochester, lies on his deathbed. As so many others who were enchanted and changed by reading Bronte, I'm looking forward to reading Gray's book.

Luccia's blog links to other writing challenges, and so I discovered Three Line Thursday, a weekly prompt with photograph and rather exacting guidelines for flash poetry. Three lines. Ten words each line. 

I was one day late, but last week's photograph was so compelling, here's my poem:

Image by Julie Jensen

We walked here on the boardwalk so many years ago.
Now, caught between memories of yesterday and the years ahead,
I’d rather return to when seagulls wheeled under bright sun.


I'm not used to writing a strict ten word line which seems to throw the rhythm off, but this exercise was fun and brought back memories of walking with my husband along the boardwalk in Atlantic City, long before the casinos made their presence known.

Otherwise, the writing goes well, and poor Catriona is still making that winter crossing of the Rockies. Here, the snow has melted, and the coming holidays promise time with family and friends -- and a little quiet. May you have a good December, the last month of 2015.

You can read Luccia Gray's poem HERE

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

IWSG: The Challenge

Some days are so hectic, it's hard to keep a sense of balance. What is it that impels writers to make a commitment to writing a story?  I almost don't remember why I began. I only know that this day and tomorrow I will keep trying to put down those words in hopes of creating a compelling story.

These last two weeks have been more than usually hectic with a windstorm that took out power for nearly 200,000 people. For some, power was restored within 36 hours. Others waited a week. That storm tumbled trees into streets and houses. The final count, nearly 800 trees down city wide, and then it snowed. This week felt like Stephen King's quote came to life: "Build empathy for your characters and then torture them." 

And then the relatives arrived for Thanksgiving. Of course, we were more than thankful this year for the restoration of power. I wasn't fully aware of how much I depend on electricity to power my writing.

And so for IWSG (Insecure Writers Study Group), as I begin to reflect on how all this 'real life' affects my writing, to recognize my insecurities that come every day, and how slowly my writing seems to progress, all I can say is don't worry about word count. Just write that one word or one paragraph or one section at a time. 

I'm deep in revision. Some days I question if my characters reveal enough of their true nature through their actions and speech. Other times, I wonder if the history that shapes the story can be reduced to a telling image or anecdote. This week, an entirely new character emerged mid-story, but as I read over what is on the page, I fall in love with the story all over.

Read what others have written for IWSG HERE and leave a comment or two as a way of saying 'thank you' to all those writers who do somehow persevere.  And may December bring only warmth and good memories.