Writing workshops and Contests

The first day of summer will arrive at today, bringing with it the longest day of the year. So far, the garden is happy although a little confused with roses—outstanding for the first time in years—blooming with the peonies. My favourite blue clematis, struggling up from the depths of fern garden, climbs over the rock wall and up a support.Peonies and Clematis I’m a bit behind in planting. My terrace pots, most of them, are still empty. If the rain holds off, maybe I’ll get to them today.

Good news from a contest in the UK: a piece of flash fiction that I have worked on from time to time for years, The Gulls Soared, placed third in the Winchester Writers’ Festival. The prize is a selection of books, but I don’t know which ones as yet.

Contests are a terrific way to get your name out, earn a little(sometimes) and receive feedback on your work. Aerogramme Writers Studio lists contests by closing date every two months.

June 6 and 7 I spent at Barbara Kyle’s workshop “The First Thirty Pages”. A terrific two days, sharing writing with only 8 others plus Barbara, allowing an in depth look at everyone’s work. A one on one with Barbara was the highlight for me although her advice has me working diligently on an outline for my all ready completed novel. That process is ongoing and should help me sharpen the focus. Check out Barbara’s website for news of a terrific Writer’s Symposium she’s organizing for the fall.

A tip for writers: A cheat sheet for writing body language can be found at Body Language, written by blogger Amanda Patterson.

That’s about it for this Sunday morning in June. I’m back to my outline.

Master Class

Spring in Ontario—from a humid 29C to a rainy 7C this am.

A Rainy SundayThe burst of growth in May astonishes me, every year. In April I despair of ever seeing the ground again, and here it is, sprouting hosta and Korean lilac and early leaves of daylilies. What a country. The long, ice-riven winter gives way to this glory.

I’ve been working on some technical aspects of my booklaunch.io page for The Child on the Terrace, including adding a trailer. You can check it out at the link above. The trailer was produced by The Book Promoter group in Dublin, Eire.

Next weekend takes me Barbara Kyle’s First Thirty Pages Master Class. Preparation includes reading and critiquing the first 30 pages of all 9 other participants. 80-90 thousand words all together, a good-sized novel. I’m looking forward to spending the weekend with all these talented people and Barbara, who is an excellent teacher.

That’s about it for today. No blog next Sunday as I shall be away.

Blogging and Evernote.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

A warm, humid morning, more July than May. Another week of unseasonable weather has brought the Baltimore Orioles, white-crowned sparrows, and many more finches—American goldfinch, purple finch, house finch, both red and orange varieties. Tulips, daffodils and spirea are blooming. White blooms on the Serviceberry tell me it’s time to prune the roses.

I’ve finished the latest revision of my WIP. This time through I concentrated on plot, looking for holes and places where I had made it too easy for the protagonist. Tomorrow, I’m going to give description a hard look, to make sure my characters are grounded in time and place.

I’m trying a new piece of software, new to me that is, called Evernote, a way to store pieces of information, images, web-sites etc that come my way into a more coherent arrangement than bookmarks. My bookmark folder is unwieldy at best so I’m looking forward to using Evernote and Evernote Web-clipper.

One of the articles I found this week concerns blogging. The author, Philip Kleudgen, on the site Write to Done, gives 10 suggestions on giving a blog a title that will take it viral. He puts content that shines at number 5 with the following checkpoints:

S – Specificity
H – Helpfulness
I – Immediacy
N – Newsworthiness
E – Entertainment value

Number 1 talks about numbers, in headlines. We’ve all seen them and used them but apparently the numbers 10, 16, 21 and 25 are particularly good at seducing readers.

I suggest those of you who blog or are interested in blogging read the full article. Useful information, from Mr. Leudgen who blogs at  RestaurantCoverings.comThere are useful links in his bio as well and a pdf. of resources.

My garden this week.

My garden this week.

Four allies in attacking the middle(of your novel)

A beautiful morning here in the Kawartha Lakes: sunny, warm, blue skies without a threat of rain, at least not yet. It is April, however, so I expect a downpour before tomorrow. In the meantime, I’m working on the middle.

No, I’m not talking about girth, but those vast pages from the end of Act 1 to the beginning of Act 111 in a novel. They should be vast, in number at least, but mine are not. I write short, too short and too fast. I need to get to the end, to see how it all comes out for my protagonist. Yes, I should have plotted it all out and I will next time, but this book is at 62,000 words, a little long for an outline and a little short for a novel and I’ve come to the end, resolved the crisis, packed everyone up, and sent them all home to bed.

The magic middle moment(see James Scott Bell happens at 36000 words, so I’m aiming for 72,000. Not long but a decent length for a paperback or an ebook.

I spent this morning plotting, searching websites for help, considering sub-plots, considering the sub-plots I all ready have and finally returning to Syd Field’s book Screenplay, The Foundations of Screenwriting, not because I’m writing for the movies but because his approach is excellent for writers of genre fiction. I also searched out Sol Stein’s On Writing, which I’ve read before at least twice for his section on triage for editing.

Barbara Kyle recommended Albert Zuckerman’s Writing the Blockbuster Novel and I’m in the midst of reading that as well. He presents a detailed analysis of ken Follett’s The Man from Saint Petersburg through all its drafts. Invaluable.

Too much reading and not enough writing? Perhaps, but I’m learning all the time. Revision has so many sections, so much detail to consider, that learning how others have done the job helps.

The Garden:

The miniature iris are blooming and the paeonia tenuifolia have sprung up. I pruned some roses yesterday and searched in vain for one of my clematis. Perhaps it’s just late.

Mark at Galetta Nurseries in the Ottawa Valley said this week that he hit frost a 4” when he tried to dig out some roses. The old saying is ‘plant when the ground is warm enough to sit on’. Good advice.

peony tenuifoliaPaeonia Tenuifolia, my garden.

A May Morning

Spring: the leaves popped on the Manitoba Maples along the creek back; serviceberry bushes bloomed white together with the spirea;  daffodils, mine at any rate, ended yesterday; the hummingbird returned last weekend, a few days early; the red-breasted grosbeaks returned to the feeder.

A long, harsh winter left some ornamental bushes bereft of leaves. My gorgeous Vibernum “Shasta” has growth only at the base, but the branches are green when I scrape them so I have hope. No hope for the Purple Smokebush and the Blue Mallow, I’m afraid.

Most of the roses and clematis have survived except for a little beauty—Blue Sprite clematis—that appears to be gone. But one’s never sure with clematis and it was buried deep so it may come along.

At the local nursery—Hills—I found two hybrid tea roses on their own root! I couldn’t resist and bought four: 2 dark red Royal William and  2 pink Royal Kate. They are supposed to be disease resistant and have a strong fragrance.

Writing: I’m within sight of the end of my first draft of my new Dangerous Journeys mystery with Anne McPail. This time she’s in Spain, her life endangered by her concern for a mysterious little girl.

Ontario is in the midst of an election. I see the Conservative Party is trying to position itself as the party of hope. Hope, as demonstrated by planning to eliminate 100,000 civil service jobs. A mythical number, neatly dissected by an editorial in the Globe and Mail. Hudak appears to pull these numbers from an imaginary hat. How many civil servants do you know? I can count at least three, not including the teachers, hospital workers, doctors, nurses, firefighters, police and whomever else the party fears to cut. That leaves social service, and labour and the environment, all unnecessary from its collective point of view. The ones I know are not at the top, not even managers, but workers who are on the wrong side of senior and likely to be cut first. Hope? Not too much. Read the editorial here. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-debate/editorials/can-tim-hudak-win-election-by-100000-job-cuts/article18629579/#dashboard/follows

That’s about it for this Sunday in May.



Eight signs of spring

Signs of spring.

1. A miniature iris is blooming, freckled purple beside the brown sticks of a miniature rose

2. Our landscaper dropped by.

3.The lawn has reappeared sporting mounds and trails created by moles, the entrances to their tunnels as big as holes at the golf course.

4.The river below our house, a stopping-off spot for migrating birds, has welcomed baffle-head ducks, loons, Canada geese, a Great Blue Heron, the returning ospreys and many gulls.

5. Returnees to the feeder include blue jays, cardinals, finches-yellow, purple and the orange variety of house finch, chickadees, woodpeckers.

6. Dogs of all descriptions and their humans have taken to slow ambles along the streets, instead of the head-long rush to get the business done before noses and tails freeze.

7. Ice has left the river.

8 The wild turkeys have left for their home in the bush.Image


The Dog Days

The Dog Days

An August morning. A  house finches flashes ruby, resting on a daylily stem beneath a yellow flower before attacking the feeder again. The grey squirrel climbs the post and holds on with his hind legs, extracts seeds from the portholes and then feasts while his body sags earthward.

The birds fly away, unwilling to do battle with such a large creature, knowing there’s more food just a short distance in my neighbour’s back yard.

The dog days are supposed to be hot, fit only for lying about on the patio, drinking beer or coolers or wine or gin and tonic, but today opens like a day in September, after a cool night. The yellows and oranges and whites of the August garden, with a hit of vivid mahogany from a daylily whose name I have forgotten turn the cool white and green of early July into a county fair of colour.

All ready we’re thinking of what we should move, where we should cut back, how we should reorder the plantings.

Is it time to simplify? Now that we’re older and the garden is too, do we need to cover some beds with grass and leave the garden to the lawnmower’s whine?

Perhaps some day, but not yet.

The front of the house is more difficult—a smaller space but out-of-control. The heat from the grey stone that encloses four squares and lines the new bed turn the garden from a mid-Ontario zone 5b into something approaching a Mediterranean climate. In June the purple of the lavender loomed over the mauve of mother-of-thyme, set off by stands of daffodils. The lavender and thyme seed everywhere: into the cracks between the pavers, at the edges of other plantings, one tiny grey-green spike of lavender popping up amongst a clump of alyssum. We didn’t plant the alyssum, not this year. Another volunteer who found the winter mild enough to survive.

The roses suffer. Too much heat for varieties bred for a northern climate, like us, perhaps, struggling across the country with weather more suited to southern locales.

Rainy Sunday Morning

This week the peonies burst open, gorgeous Festiva Maxima, white with a hint of pink in its throat, Duchesse de Nemours , deep cream at the centre of white petals, and others, deep pink, that I planted so long ago I’ve forgotten their names. The new ones are still hiding their colour although one has a hint of the promised yellow. I planted a Japanese tree peony two years ago. As I write its candy-pink blossoms are folded in waiting for the sun to encourage them to spread their petals.
Today the peony rains have come, but not so heavily as to shatter the blossoms and smash them to the ground. Ah, even if they are broken, they are worth the heartache of their early loss for the beauty and the scent that perfumes the entire garden.

The OAC application is on its way. Of course I thought, almost at once, of an alternative beginning and a fresh point of view. Too late.

At the last Writescape Writers retreat I attended and again at the Ontario Writer’s Conference, I listened to lectures about archetypes in fiction. I’ve been looking for more information as I had questions. When did one consider archetypes: at the onset of writing, when the book was in first draft, at the end when all would be clear? The books that I have talk about the subject but not enough to satisfy my curiosity so I turned to the internet and the blogosphere.
More confusion ensued. Are there five or twenty-five or a cast of thousands. Some writers seemed to be confusing archetype with stereotype. As I understand it(so far) archetypal characters are found in all eras, across all cultures and express why a character behaves the way he does.
This site is a list of other sites that deal with archetypes, symbols, motifs, etc.

Jordan McCollom’s site has a basic description of archetypes and a download of interesting articles on Plotting. Find it here: http://jordanmccollum.com/2009/10/archetypal-characters-heros-journey/

There are many more, hundreds more, sites and essays and university course materials that deal with the subject. And there are always Jung and Northrop Frye to consult.

I’m at the end of writing the first draft of my current work in progress. It will be an interesting and useful exercise, I think, to review my characters with archetypes in mind) as well as symbols, motifs, etc. I see opportunity to strengthen the characters in their various roles, bearing in mind that the characters, like the rest of us, are complex and contradictory and not content to stay where i have slotted them.

Spring and Writing

Spring. Planted three roses today, deadheaded the daffodils, revised my talk for tomorrow night at the City of Kawartha Lakes Library, Lindsay branch, and continued revision of my work in progress.

On Saturday I attended the Ontario Writers Conference, and I must say the workshops and lectures were very useful. I especially appreciated the session on grammar by Cathy Witlox, who teaches at Ryerson and is the only grammar enthusiast I’ve ever met. She discussed an error I’d been making for years(unbeknownst to me) and how to correct it. I had been creating run-on sentences such as this. “He braked, then skidded off the road.” instead of He braked and then skidded off the road.” I didn’t always leave out the conjunction, but often enough.

I also appreciated a talk by Annette McLeod on characters and the role of archetypes in fiction.

I’ve sent a book out to be considered by a traditional publisher, without an agent, but after listening to Kobo executive and novelist Mark Lefebvre on self-publishing, I’m giving that more thought.

A great conference—lots to learn, old friends to meet and new ones to make. I’ll be going next year.

What’s next in the garden? I have hardy cyclamen to plant and one hundred summer bulbs that came free with my cyclamen order and a gift of a dinner plate dahlia. I haven’t grown dahlias, but I’ll give it a try. Haven’t even looked at annuals yet.

It’s difficult to focus on writing in the mornings, with the birds singing outside the window and the bulbs yelling from the garage that they want to go in the ground, but I keep trying.

Sunburst Honey Locust and our garden, May, 2012

Late spring is my favourite time in the garden, except for all the others. But right now, I’m loving the acid green of the ferns, the stunning gold of the “sunburst” honey locust, the mauve of the Korean lilac(and its heady scent, wafting in every opened door or window), and the whites, from the candytuft to the “Bridal Wreath” spirea to the layered blossoms of viburnum plicatum “Shasta”. Only the weigela blooms pink now but soon it will be joined by peonies and roses. I’ve attached some recent pictures