Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Back from the Rock

I always thought it was simply a term of endearment from Newfoundlanders.  They say, "I'm from the Rock," and we all know what they mean, at least around these parts.  They mean Newfoundland.  What I didn't know before I went there is that it really is a great big 'ole rock.

In the 16 days we spent touring Newfoundland, we saw maybe four farms.  And where it is flat, there's huge boulders laying about randomly all over the landscape.  Not to mention the cliffs, and the stunted trees, and it's not particularly green in June...at least not next to the Atlantic Ocean.

It's a beautiful place, though, a far cry from the prairies, and we had the best visit an outsider could ask for.  We went for a wedding, and the bride's family treated us Albertans to a lobster boil and opened their doors for us, so we saw a genuine side of Newfoundland not open to the average tourist.

Here are a few photos from our trip...and if you've always wanted to go to Newfoundland, Go!


We started off in St. John's and visited Cape Spear, the most eastern point in Canada.  A beautiful, barren place, we caught our first glimpse of an iceberg and immediately pulled over to take photos.  While we were exploring, the fog rolled in, and the fog horn sounded.  It was truly an east coast experience at 2 degrees Celsius with a blasting wind.  No complaints from us, though we were happy to get back into the car and warm up.

 World War II hidden guns at Cape Spear

 Stunted trees called "tuckamores"

The wind was even worse the next day, so we drove north on the Avalon Peninsula to Bay de Verde.  A long drive, but we had nothing better to do.  I expected Bay to Verde to live up to its name...maybe it's a private joke, but as you can see from the pictures, it is anything but green!  Maybe later in the year.  It was amazing to think that people settled this barren place.  Beautiful in its own right, to be sure, but you'd have to be tough to live here, I think!

 Early settlers of Bay de Verde.  No, really.

 The town (?) of Bay de Verde.

It was some cold wind, let me tell you.  And there are a lot of clotheslines in Newfoundland.  
And wood piles. 

Pulled over on the way up the highway along the coast to take a pic of this beauty.

 Added a bit of a surreal touch to this one...same bay as the one above...most icebergs in 35 years...good for tourists..not so good for the glaciers.  They really were everywhere...just floatin' in da bay.  Don't see a lot of this on the prairies, that's for damn sure.

 Near Bay de Verde.  Not very green.

 Jelly bean houses in St. John's.

And, yes, there are lots of moose in Newfoundland.  I freaked when I saw this one on the road...
Moose!  Moose!  Moose!

 View from Signal Hill in St. John's.

 St. John's Harbour from Signal Hill.

 Cabot House, on Signal Hill.

 We did the Gatherall's boat tour at Witless Bay as we left the Avalon Peninsula to head West...great boat tour...saw humpback whales (no tails or breaches, so pics were boring), more icebergs, and puffins.  And puffins are tough to photograph.  they look fat but move fast.

 There's one of the little suckers coming out of his nest.

Thousand's of birds at St. Mary's ecological reserve. No one got pooped on, so far as I could tell.

Once again, out on the water for the boat tour, it was even windier, and colder than it had been the day before, which was almost hard to believe, and my hands were frozen by the time we got back.  And what a ride!  Oh my Lord!  It was what I would call a rough sea...we were rockin' and rollin' the whole time, staggering around the boat like drunken sailors...and at least four people were puking into little baggies that the crew magically produced when needed.  It was a great trip, though...highly recommended!  Crew was fantastic and very entertaining with east coast music and knowledgeable tour guide.

From St. John's we drove to Norris Point in Gros Morne National Park (with an overnight pit stop because we forgot our dress clothes in the hotel in St. John's and had to drive an hour an a half back to get them, which was not fun and it got dark, etc.).  And then it was there, in Rocky Harbour, where I discovered.....

24 Flavours of Soft Serve!!!!!

Okay...we don't have this in Alberta, but we should.  I am convinced I need to start an ice cream truck.  Very common in Newfoundland, so I'm told, and we did see this sign all over.  It was delicious.  I had pistacchio, coconut, and something else.  Hubby stuck mostly to rum.

Trip down to the beach in Norris Point...As you can see, it was windy.  Although not cold for once.

We stayed in a cabin for a couple of days...visited with our friends who were getting married....had the lobster boil... with a goodly amount of lobster.  Much cheaper in Newfoundland than Alberta...by about $600 haha.  Quite the lesson in shucking those things, if that be the right term for it.

meet and greet for the wedding and moved to Neddies Harbour Inn.

 This is the view of the Tablelands from Neddies Harbour Inn, which is a very pleasant hotel with a great...great sunroom.

 The view of Bonne Bay during one of our hikes.

Not sure what kind of birdie...looks like a chickadee sort of.

 A wild orchid of some kind.

 The Tablelands is one of the few places on earth where the earth's mantle has pushed up over the earth's crust (not sure of proper terminology here).  Very cool hike.  Also, very windy and cold lol.  A theme going on in Newfoundland.  Wind.  Cold.  We did have a couple of hot days, and the weather turned very nice the day we left.  Go figure. At least for the most part it was dry.  It poured buckets the day before and the day of the wedding tho.

 Lobster Cove hike...very interesting if you take stairs down to rocky beach...lots of tuckamores.

Family pic...looked like a great place for a bear...and there was a bear sighting at Lobster Cove that day, as we found out later.

 A great view from Trout River hike...find the set of stairs in the town...worth the hour's hike. 
Typical day for this fella...get it mowed before it rains.

 Notice the graffiti in the lower left...I didn't really see many signs or buildings that were tagged...a lot of rock tags tho...mostly so-and-so loves so-and-so kind of thing.

And the reason for our trip...it was a beautiful wedding and a fun reception.  Credit to Lisa LeDrew Photography...terrific photo!

Here Chris and Tara get a talkin' to from "Aunt Sophie" who did the screeching in.  They did not partake, however...Tara being from Newfoundland, and Chris having been screeched in on a previous visit.

And hubby and I were screeched in at the wedding.  Needed that screech as a chaser for the cod liver oil..yuck!  Not recommended lol.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

An Idiom and an Idiot April #atozchallenge

This may or may not qualify me as an idiot, and the idiom may or may not fit exactly, but I suffered from a misconception while I lived in Toronto some years back, and it was my husband who had to straighten me out.

One of the first times I commuted to downtown TO, I saw a sign on the side of the road that said "No Standing."  Around this sign, seated in the grass, were a number of what appeared to be homeless people.  I remember thinking that it was incredibly callous of the city to put up a sign to prevent homeless people from standing on the sidewalk.  I thought they were sitting on the grass around the sign in protest of some sort. 

I saw this sign quite frequently, and it was some months before my husband came downtown with me, and we passed the sign.  I mentioned to him how I had seen the homeless people sitting under the stupid no standing sign.  "Why would they make them sit down?" I asked.  "So what if they stand on the sidewalk?"

(I will mention at this point there was no such thing as a "No Standing" sign in Edmonton back then, and I don't think I've ever seen one to this day.)

Of course he had a good laugh at my expense, and told me that the sign meant no taxis, as in no taxi stand.  I Googled this just now to be sure, and more accurately it looks like it applies to any vehicle, not just taxis.  Basically it means no idling.

Why wouldn't they just say "No Stopping" or "No Parking" or "No Idling?"

We have plenty of those signs in Edmonchuk.

Monday, April 07, 2014

"Fundraiser" -- The New "F" Word April #atozchallenge

I must give credit to my mom for coining this title, as she and I have been hard at it soliciting donations for a silent auction event, and she mentioned that she tries not to use the "F" word right when she starts talking.

I had to laugh, because I totally agree.  I mean, don't we all hate to be asked for money?  Or worse yet, asking for it?

Competition is tough out there when you're looking for a hand-out -- or a hand up, and I have to say that people have been very polite in their refusals -- for the most part.

So a short post today, as I have to get back to the hunt.  I hope this fundraiser is a success, so we don't have to do another one in the fall!

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Encaustic Wax is not Caustic...April #atozchallenge

I am fairly new to the arts -- I started painting about four years ago.  It was something I always wished I could do, and then one day I took a class and did it.

I fell in love with encaustic wax as a medium, and I am continually surprised at what you can do with it.

paint with it
draw with it
sculpt with it
collage with it
layer it
excise it
combine it with oil, ink, shellac, pigment, fabric, paper....

It is incredibly versatile.

Here are a few links to some of my favourite encaustic artists:

Robin Luciano Beaty

Alicia Tormey

Tony Scherman

And it is not caustic, as the name suggests.  The word "encaustic" means "to burn in" which applies to the process of using the wax.  Each layer of wax must be heated so that it will fuse to the layer below, and this can be done using a torch, but it can also be achieved with a heat gun or an iron.

I have a number of encaustic pieces on my Art page on this blog.  One of the best things about encaustic is that if you screw up, you can scrape it off and save the wax for something else!

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Who the Heck is Deepak Chopra? April #atozchallenge

So last night I fired off my post and crawled into bed, thinking about what I might write today for the letter "D." The name "Deepak Chopra" popped into my head, and I couldn't get rid of it.

I laid there thinking, "Who the heck is Deepak Chopra?  And why do I even know that name?"

Thankfully I forgot about him all day until just now as I started my post, and it popped up again.

Obviously I have seen this guy's name around somewhere, but I have absolutely no idea where.  Maybe at the bookstore?  In a commercial?  I'm perplexed.

I'm pretty tired today -- I went to three meetings and I still have a half hour of work this evening -- so I don't want to spend time researching who he is, other than a quick visit to his web page.  He's running an empire, by my first glance, and really, if I know his name without knowing anything about him, I guess he's doing some pretty great marketing.

Closed Captioning - It's What I Do April #atozchallenge

It's a unique job, and that's one of the things I like about it.

Most of you probably already know what closed captions are -- the black lines with white text that scroll up from the bottom of your TV.  Maybe you've only seen them at sports lounges or restaurants or other public places.  Maybe you have even been annoyed by them or laughed at some goofy caption that didn't seem to make any sense.

But if you have ever assumed these captions were done by voice activation or perhaps some other computerized means -- well, you are partially correct.

There is a person on the other end of those captions.  Someone who most likely used to be a court stenographer or court reporter.

It is a reasonably basic summary of how "the machine" works.  But how does this mumbo-jumbo get to the TV?

Well, it works with something called "realtime," which is the simultaneous translation of the captioner's notes to English through specialized software.  It works just like a French/English dictionary, but it's a shorthand to English dictionary that translates as I type (well, we call it writing, because it is not really typing).

Once the shorthand is translated, my captioning software sends the English via modem to the TV station's encoder, which sends it out to the TV. That is why live captions are often delayed...the captioner has to listen to the live broadcast, write the text, translate it (instantaneously for the most part), send it via modem to the station, which sends it out to TV land to a decoder in the television.

The parts that make this job really difficult, and on some days impossible, is, one, the speed, and, two, the names.  I just can't know every word that will ever come up, so I have to prep in advance.  You can get a lot from the station's website, and the longer you are captioning, the more of those strange words and unique names you can add to your dictionary, but there is always something new.  I can spell on the machine letter by letter, similar to typing, but of course that is very slow.  I only do that if I know it's not in my dictionary and I can't make the word come out using other word parts.  Oddly enough, the other day the name "Jehovah" came up on the news, and I could not get that word to translate properly.  Even though I know this word, I must not ever had occasion to write it on my machine, so I had to spell it letter by letter, or what is called finger spelling.  Now it is in my dictionary.

The other tricky part are those pesky homonyms, words that sound alike but are spelled differently.  I have different ways to write -- well, write and right and Wright.  Fish and Phish.  Discreet and discrete.  It gets so much harder when you factor in phrases and names like Duguid, which sounds like "do good."  There is a fraction of time to correct mistakes -- usually while it is on my screen and has not yet gone through the modem to the encoder.  Once it's gone, deletion may or may not work.  Sometimes the caption may backspace off the TV screen, but often it will only come off partially, or it may cause some scrambling of the following words. Needless to say, there are no swear words in my English dictionary.  That's not the kind of thing you want to translate by mistake.

I will note that the kind of captions that pop on the screen are added post-production.  Live captioning scrolls up from the bottom in usually two or three lines, or it can appear at the top of the screen, and this is usually for live newscasts and sports.  Sitcoms and TV commercials are usually captioned post-production.

Good captions come with focus, experience, and a lot of hard work.  Here is a link for more information, but I'm happy to answer questions if you have any :)

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Boredom, and its Lively Pursuit April #atozchallenge

It's Spring Break here in Edmonton, but it could pass for the middle of January out there.  Okay, so maybe it's not quite that cold, but it's not warm by any stretch.  I still heat up bean baggies in the microwave and take them to bed with me every night.  I still wear sweaters and warm slippers in the house.  And the kids are still inside most of the time, hounding me.

"Mom, I'm bored."

"Mom, what can I do?"

"Mom, can I play video games. There's no one to play with."

My response:  "It is not my job to entertain you 24 hours a day.  Go find something to do."

We're not a super active family; although, we do walk to school when the sidewalks aren't an icy hazard or covered in 3 inches of slushy muck.  And in the summer we go for bike rides and do outdoor things, but we are not high energy people always looking for excitement.  When we're not working, we chill, quite a lot.  Hence, my kids get bored.

I read somewhere that boredom is good for creativity, and I am a believer.  Given enough time with their boredom, my kids always come up with innovative ways to play, or draw, or craft.

When do I get to be bored?  I haven't been bored since February 2003, when my son was born.  And oh, how I miss it. 

Can you imagine having absolutely nothing to do?  I can barely remember that restless feeling.  And better yet, if boredom sparks creativity...what a win!  I can fill the well by doing nothing and having nothing to do.
It's not the same as being lazy.  When you're bored, you want to do something.

I need to be bored again.  Somehow.  If only for a day, or two.

That sounds like my idea of fun. 

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Art, Attitude, and Adjustments - April #atozchallenge

I complained today, again, to my husband.

"It's not that I'm not happy with you and the kids, or even our life," I said to him just before dinner, "it's just that I feel so dissatisfied.  I'm not doing what I want to do.  I want to write.  And I'm not."

We've had similar conversations over the last couple of months, ever since I took on a new volunteer role as president for a local arts council.

Part of me loves this new "job," but so far the time commitment has been tremendous.  I hope it will become more manageable as I learn the ropes -- and I think that maybe it just might be starting to get better already, but the problem is that  I had plans for this year.  The plan was to really -- and I mean really -- focus on writing.  I even toyed with the idea of going to university for a degree in creative writing.

Later this evening, I came across an old email I had printed off and tucked away from when I was teaching at court reporting school a few years back, and it was from a student to another instructor, who had passed it on to me.  To summarize, I happened to say something to this struggling student, some flash of insight I had in conversation with her, and it made her realize she needed an attitude adjustment (her words).  After this epiphany she had, she quickly reached her goal.

As I read this email from six years ago, it dawned on me that I needed an attitude adjustment myself.

Fact is, life throws curve balls, closes doors, open windows.  I've always said, When opportunity knocks, answer the door.  Opportunity knocked, and I opened the door.  I accepted the challenge, but I am a little bitter about it, because it's not the challenge I wanted.

There are many positives so far with this new position, and I am enjoying the work; it gets me out of my dungeon of a basement to meet new and interesting people, and I can see it might be something I'm good at (at least I hope I will be good at it).  Maybe I am doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing.

There is a sticky note on my fridge.  It says:  "Work Hard. Don't Give Up. Be Prepared to Sacrifice."

I'm going to leave this bitterness under the welcome mat, because frankly, it's irritating.  I will just have to make time to write in the little spaces when I steal time for myself. Just keep swimming, as Dory said.

Hence this challenge...http://www.a-to-zchallenge.com/.  It will keep me swimming, get me back in the habit of writing that I had so tenuously developed over the last year.

So, hey, I guess I will see you at the "Z" (or as we say up here in Canada, "Zed.)

Monday, January 27, 2014

Macaroni & Thieves

The other day my kid wanted me to make macaroni and cheese for lunch, and I thought he said "macaroni and thieves."  I teased him about it and said that sounded like a story title.

The next thing I knew, the two of them were tossing out all kinds of silly titles, including gems such as:

"Fork on the Floor"
"Love and Guns" (which I actually kinda like)
"Burnt Toast" (well, we were having lunch, and I think I burned the grilled cheese)
"Mean Mommy" (that might've been mine-I said no to the treats)

 It's easy to come up with a title.  I have two entire series of stories already titled and ready to go in my head, but they are as yet unwritten (the hard part).

I Googled "starting a story with the title" and nothing really came up except this title generator.  It also has character name generator and an image generator. I like generators but never think to use them.

I usually have a working title that I know isn't right, or I use "Untitled," but for me the title has always come at the end after the story is finished.

How much inspiration do you take from titles?  Has that ever been a starting point from which you developed a story, or do the titles creep into existence as the story takes shape?

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Bog of Inspiration

Every day I'm bombarded by ideas for not only stories, but for paintings or drawings.  Most of these are fleeting, gone before the thought can solidify, evaporating into little more than a vague sense of something passing through.

Some ideas come at the right moment and their essence can be captured with a quick note or sketch, but far more slip away, and sometimes the sheer magnitude of those lost masterpieces can be overwhelming.

I occasionally mine my idea file for seeds, but so far only one has turned into a story.  It's a little depressing to have so many and know there is not enough time to explore them all.

This multitude of ideas -- true gems (of course) -- are at risk of being wasted, and it is tormenting to know I am not doing enough to reach my full potential and bring them to fruition.  There is always some beauty or insight I wish I had the ability to capture and share.

There is much more art to be created than can ever be hoped to be realized.  Perhaps that is the root of the stereotype of the tortured artist.

I hope my fleeting imaginings leave behind some vestige of themselves, a spark at the ready, to be seized upon when the time is right to create something worth sharing.

"Vestige" by Cindy James - encaustic wax on cradle board 7.5 x 7.5. 2013.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Glimmer of Hope

At the moment, I have two stories submitted to Glimmer Train: "The Shameful Question," a story of twin sisters and their lingering history with a Ouija board, and "Insidious," a story about a mother's overwhelming feelings of responsibility and the attendant fear that accompanies those feelings.  "Insidious" is also submitted in Boulevard's Short Fiction Contest for Emerging Writers.  And another story, "Good Guise," is submitted to the CBC Short Story Prize.

I will be happy with anything better than a form rejection.  Right now, I have no rejections, although it's only been a couple of months, and, well, some of these prize winners won't be announced until later this year.  So good news!  There is still hope.

I am new to the submissions scene, and at this point I only have two war wounds to speak of -- my 2012 NaNo novel sent to Avon Impulse for their NaNo novel submission call was summarily rejected (perhaps they wanted that polished), and my short story "Generation Gap" sent to Boulevard literary magazine did not fill their editorial needs at that moment ;)

When I started writing, it was all about the SASE and return postage, etc., and now, many years later when I am finally ready to submit, most of it is done online, and I can even track my submissions' status(es), which can get a bit obsessive, but, hey, ya never know.  Maybe I didn't get the email.

I decided to post my rejected story "Generation Gap" on my blog -- look for the top tab if the link doesn't work. It's very short.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Finding Your Voice

How do you find your writing voice?  What does it take to unleash the voice inside your head to spew its literary magic upon the world?

I read somewhere that we have three sets of vocabulary -- one for speaking, one for writing, and one for reading.  I can certainly agree with that, and it makes sense that the level of vocabulary we use for writing would undoubtedly affect voice.

I have a great vocabulary -- for reading, but if you were to sit down and talk to me, you would not likely be dazzled by my eloquence.  I'm plain-spoken, and I have a potty mouth, and in my head, I'm pretty sure my voice has a slight British accent.  Why?  I haven't a clue.  I live in Canada.

When I write, there is a disconnect between what is going on in my head and what is going down on paper, and to bridge the gap I use the thesaurus.  A lot.  I know, I know, writers are not supposed to do this, as it supposedly makes the writing forced or there is danger of using a word incorrectly, but I don't search for new and unique words so much as the right word that I cannot seem to find when I write.

I Googled today on how to find your voice and discovered this helpful blog post by Jeff Goins.

If nothing else, I promised myself to dig deep and be honest in my writing, and I continue to try to do that.  I hope that will be the key to finding my voice. It's probably all just practice :)
 I would be interested in your insights.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Not the Education I Expected

Finally! I thought as I enrolled in the creative writing course I'd had my eye on for months.  I'd passed the prerequisites, I'd been writing for seven or eight years, and I was ready for feedback on my writing from an academic standpoint.  I figured I'd been around long enough that I wasn't going to learn anything earth-shattering.

I was wrong.

My eyes were opened to writing in a way that I had not been writing before.  I had metaphors emerge in my short stories.  I developed characters to another level.  I wrote with more purpose.  I received feedback bordering on profound.

Maybe it was just me and the point I was at in my writing "career" that this course held so much meaning for me.  Maybe I tried a little harder because I was receiving a grade.  Maybe it really was that good of a course lol.

Having all the information I needed in an organized way and being required to use the information to produce something specific was enlightening and incredibly instructive compared to my usual fumbling about.  I do so much reading on how to write, it becomes overwhelming to try to keep track of what I've learned.  There's plenty of great advice out there, and I still scour the internet for information I can apply to my writing, but this course was everything I needed all in one place.  And I have the notes all in one place.

You really never know what might inspire you, and I was definitely inspired.  To the point where I would love to enroll full time and complete an honours degree in creative writing.

Good luck with that!  I need to work.  Full time.

It is possible, but it sure wouldn't be easy.  But the hardest things are the best, right?

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Done! Not Yet...

On the drive home from my critique group meeting, I was considering my blog post for today, and I kept thinking about a comment from one of our members:

"I thought I was done with this story."

To me, that is one of the worst feelings, when you think you have finished something, send it for critique, and even though you expect some changes, you get slammed with comments and are left wondering if you can even salvage the piece.

Most of my submissions have been chapters, so I have always undertaken the rewrite, and the few times I've been through this, it has turned out much for the better.

Tonight it was a short story from our member.  Unfortunately (or fortunately) he had been the only person to submit something for review, so we had all evening to discuss his story and its meaning and the motivation of the characters, et cetera.  And we had a lot to say. 

I hope he does the rewrite, because I really enjoyed the story.  My main concern with the piece was that it contained a lot of exposition and narration.  I threw out the old "telling v. showing" comment.

I personally hate it when I hear that "advice," and for a long time I really struggled with what that comment meant.  Every time I thought I had it figured out, it would pop up in the margin, red or blue ink, glaring at me:  "This is telling."  Or:  "Show me!"

Arghhh!  How????  I am showing you what the person is thinking, or what the person is doing.  What else is there?

Thank God this conundrum became much clearer for me through my creative writing course.  I have sticky notes to remind me when I need it.

Jack Hodgins in A Passion for Narrative says that:

      "To 'show' is to make the reader see, hear, smell, feel, and even taste the story.
       To 'tell,' on the other hand, is to ask the reader to trust your conclusions without
       giving the evidence, and to hope that a secondhand version of events, dealing in
       abstractions and generalizations, will do."  (54).

(I do have other notes, but I can't at this moment find the reference in the book where I got them from, so I will have to save those for another day.)

Basically, "Shawna screamed in Brian's ear and scared him," is telling.

"Shawna crept across the carpet until she was right behind Brian, took a deep breath, and screamed, right in his left ear, 'Gotcha!'" would be showing.  We can figure out from what happened that Brian was scared.

Pretty basic examples here, and it can get muddy, for sure.  I mean, you have to do some telling some of the time.  Usually.

Anyways, I would love your comments on what you know about "showing v. telling."  I'm still learning.  I'm pretty sure I will always be learning ;)

Works Cited

Hodgins, Jack, A Passion for Narrative.  McClelland & Stewart Ltd.  Toronto.  1993.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Art of Critiquing

A solid, constructive critique can really turn the lights on.

The first ever critique I received on a short story made me realize that the reader is not going to let me get away with anything.

Over the last seven years or so, I've been involved with critiquing on a near weekly and then monthly basis with some long-term groups, and I've picked out a few things that helps keep these relationships working.

My neck twists just thinking about the few occasions where I've seen people use their critique as a stage to demonstrate their sarcasm or wit.  It is extremely painful to watch, let alone be on the receiving end of this sort of criticism.  It may be tempting, but it sure ain't going to earn you brownie points with anyone, and more than likely, you can probably expect the recipient's next critique of your material to be similar in tone to what you dished out.  If you are fair to the writer and keep your witticisms to yourself, there is less chance of delivering a hurtful critique.

Marking every single punctuation or spelling error is also not necessary.  I usually pick these out the first and maybe the second time, and if it is a problem that is repeated throughout, I would make a note to search for more of the same.  Don't get me wrong...if it's a typo that I think would be hard to pick out or not caught by a spell check, I point it out so it doesn't get missed later.  But covering a manuscript in highlights or red ink is going to piss someone off and detract from the constructive comments.

In this same vein, if I am critiquing a manuscript that is clearly an early draft, I will focus more on the story, characters, and plot instead of ripping it apart. My thinking is that if I want to help this other writer grow, it makes more sense to focus on a few areas at a time rather than slamming them with everything that I think needs change.  Baby steps, right?

I am a firm believer in not arguing with the person delivering my critique.  Most of my critiques have been face to face, with some online, but I just don't see any point in getting into a debate over what is essentially someone's opinion.  This is not a pretty scenario when it happens.  Ultimately, I found it is best to hear them out, and if you can keep your mouth shut, it will more than likely be over quicker than if you get into a row, and everyone can move on.  Besides, if you give it a few days, you may find you actually agree with some or all of the comments and won't have to eat crow.

If I do disagree, often I will reply by telling the critiquer what I was trying to achieve, and this has many times led to a more constructive discussion (in my opinion anyway).  Many people feel they have to defend their work, and I suppose you can if you really want to.  I have always chosen not to, since I usually want to consider the comments later in private before I discount them.

A great critique partner is a precious thing, but there is a fine line between being helpful and hurtful.  I don't want my critiques sugar-coated, but I also don't want to be the butt of someone's jokes either.  Just give me something that I can use without making me feel stupid, and I'm good.

I've been very fortunate to have worked with great people who have helped me grow substantially as a writer, and to them I say, Thank you!

I would love to hear about your critiquing successes.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Baking the Story

When I first started writing, I came across advice encouraging writers to let their completed manuscripts languish out of sight for at least a month.  At the time I thought, "Never!"

Last year while working through my creative writing course, I rushed through one of my short story drafts, and because of time or circumstance, I happened to let it sit.  There it was, printed, next to my spot at the kitchen table, never out of sight.

Over the course of a month or so, I often thought about my story.  It wasn't done.  I knew I wanted more from it, but I didn't quite know what to do with it.

I talked about the story with my husband, who had some ideas, and at some point I had the "aha!" I had been waiting for.  I edited the story again, and it was much better, more what I wanted to achieve.

The next story I wrote, once again, I let it sit, and when my husband asked if I was finished the story, I told him it was baking.  That's how I've come to think of this resting time; it's cooking.  No point in taking it out before it's done.

Monday, January 13, 2014

A is for Apocalypse

My friend Rhonda Parrish is editing an anthology titled A is for Apocalypse and was kind enough to invite me to submit a short story.

I focus on writing short contemporary romance, so the theme of this anthology is likely going to stretch my brain. But I have wondered if romance is the genre in which I should focus my attention.

I am a what-iffer, which is no doubt a handy character trait for a writer, but my best what-iffing is always done when I think about something terrifying.  I what-if away in my romance story, of course, but what really gets my heart pounding hard is when I imagine our car sliding off an icy mountain road into a freezing lake, or what I would do if someone broke into the house and threatened my children, or if a tornado blasted through our community at night. 

I suffer from mild anxiety, and when I go down this path, I can get pretty worked up, laying in bed playing through these life-and-death scenarios, so this anthology is a good excuse for me to exorcize some of my dark thoughts.

I decided to write romance because I truly thought I could write better than some of the romances I was reading.  Seven years ago.

I learned a lot in seven years, and I'm proud of my writing now.  I recently finished a university creative writing course and received an A+, so I know I have some ability to write a short story, at least.  Of course much depends on the reader, but I will take the confidence that comes with the A+ and use it to fuel my writing.

Each writer for A is for Apocalypse has a letter.  Mine is P.   I knew right away what the story would be about, and I can't wait to pull up some of the terror and fear I carry around with me and use it to plant tension into my submission. 

I'll keep you posted :)