Blue delphinium flowers in bowl

In a Vase By Accident

Pretty much the only way a flower ends up in a vase at my place is if it’s cut or broken by accident. I’d rather see them in their outside spots than in the house.

This delphinium, for example. We had a nice summer rain shortly after they started blooming. Rain here is almost always followed by brisk westerly winds as the low pressure system exits to the east. That was too much for the rain-soaked flower spike. The next day it was bent down at an acute angle that means only one thing–broken. So I brought it inside.

Blue delphinium, accidental cut flower, near pink African violets

I must admit, this allowed for a close-up view of the gorgeous translucent blue flowers.

I will be mostly absent from the blogosphere for the next week or so, due to summertime fun. Wishing good weather (cool or warm but not extreme) to all, along with happy reading and/or writing!

All Shapes and Disguises by Lee-Anne Stack

Local Author Book Review #17: All Shapes and Disguises by Lee-Anne Stack

This is another in my occasional series called Local Author Book Reviews, featuring authors from the Greater Victoria (British Columbia) region whose books are included in the Greater Victoria Public Library’s Emerging Local Authors Collection.

Book Description:

Kate, Pearl and Colin are back for another wild adventure. Vacationing at her family’s remote cottage in northern Ontario, Kate rescues a stranger who’s been injured after losing a blueberry patch dispute with a bear. His captivating charm immerses them in a world of gold, murder, and real estate conspiracies. But is he the real deal? With night whispering its arrival, Kate is challenged to confront one of her greatest fears.

My review:

Kate O’Malley (first encountered in Clamming Up) is back, along with her friends Pearl and Colin. This time, the trio is vacationing in Kate’s family’s cabin (known as The Camp) on a lake near Timmins, in northern Ontario. This setting, clearly based on a real place known to and loved by the author, informs and illustrates the story. Even the mosquitoes and leeches are included, as well as bears, moose (there’s a really good scene with one of these), otters, and other wildlife.

Before the fun begins, though, a prologue shows the final moments of a woman’s life. The means of her death and the reasons for it constitute the mystery element of the book, one which emerges gradually amid activities such as fishing, swimming, and boating. Another character emerges as well—Ben Brodan, whom Kate rescues after he’s injured while eluding a mother bear. It turns out Ben was a friend of the deceased woman. As Kate and her friends help him out, they are drawn into a legal tangle involving gold, mining claims, property transactions, contracts, and shady enterprises. Kate and Ben are also drawn to one another, introducing an element of romance.

Even though it takes a while for the mystery to manifest, there is always something exciting going on. Kate and the others know how to enjoy themselves, whether they are fishing, cooking, playing board games, or imbibing an impressive array of beverages. (In fact, a complete menu for a stay at a rustic lakeside retreat may be derived from this book.)

The point of view and narrative voice is Kate’s, in short chapters with catchy titles. A few even shorter untitled chapters briefly show nameless persons carrying out sinister deeds. A couple of local eccentrics and an Ontario Provincial Police detective with the memorable name of Tuffanski round out the supporting cast.

The motives and methods are figured out after a number of harrowing situations and with the help of friends in the right places, a few lucky breaks, and some tech. The ending is satisfying. I recommend this book unreservedly to anyone looking for a realistic mystery with an upbeat style. The vicarious stay at The Camp is a bonus.

What Happens Before the Writing?

Cage Dunn describes what she does before starting to write. This background work places the character into an environment with depth and nuance. Does anyone else follow a process like this? Comments on the original post, please!

Cage Dunn - Fibber, Fabricator, Teller-of-Tall-Tales

Pre-writing is a thing for me. I have pages and pages of ‘stuff’ that relates to some aspect of the story. Snippets of conversation, an overheard argument between unknown characters, sounds, places, objects. I particularly like rambling about the history of the place they’re in. How it started, why it started, when it grew beyond the initial dream and became ‘somewhere’. It means nothing to the story I write afterward, but it means something to me as I’m writing – it makes it real in my mind.

All these little bits go into the mix for that purpose – to feel real, to make it more than an imagined thing. There’s too much of it to be fake or imaginary. The people have history, the place has history, the underlying tensions and bickering and secrets make it as real as everything around me that I see, hear, touch, smell, experience.

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Novel or Novella?

Mark Paxson at Writers Supporting Writers has a question about whether to develop a promising story into a novel or treat it as a novella.

“Do you ever have this experience? You start a story. It’s going great and then something gets in the way and you begin to wonder if you can actually pull it off. If you can get your head around all of the details and the possibilities and the realities of the story itself?”

You may read the rest of Mark’s post HERE, and offer your thoughts in the comments.

What Are “Darlings,” and Why Should We Kill Them?

Uh-oh, it’s happened. I’ve been resisting, but now I’ve caved in. I’m writing a post about the second most popular piece of advice for writers (after “Show, don’t tell”): “Kill your darlings.”

First, the origins of the phrase. My admittedly casual googling led me to Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, who apparently said: “If you here require a practical rule of me, I will present you with this: ‘Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—whole-heartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.'”

But what is a writer’s “darling”? I’ve seen the term applied to characters, scenes, sentences, and even single words. Strictly speaking, it’s anything that does not move a story along, however well-written it may be.

I can’t really quibble with that. Anything that weakens a piece of writing, that makes it less readable or creates plot holes or lapses in logic, should be changed or deleted.

But…

I don’t care for the phrase. Especially when it’s trotted out smugly and superciliously, with the unspoken but implied addendum of “…you naïve little writer, you.” It’s not the advice I object to, but the way it’s worded. Because it includes “kill” and “darlings” in close proximity, it’s seized upon with glee by people looking for an “advice to writers” topic.

The main thing that bugs me about “Kill your darlings” is the implication that anything the writer really loves about their writing, any sentence or paragraph they think is especially fine, must necessarily be a “darling,” and so should be ushered to the chopping block.

I don’t think that’s the meaning of the advice, however. Rather than “If you think it’s good, it must be bad,” think of it this way: If a scene or paragraph detracts from or harms the story, consider deleting it, even if it’s well-written.

I wonder how many writers, reviewing a work in progress after a productive writing session, think “Wow, this is really good. Did I really write this? It’s great!” Only to decide the whole thing must be a “darling” (because they like it so much), and therefore they must delete it forthwith. They end the session in a demoralized state, berating themselves for being a “bad writer.”

Getting back to Q (Quiller-Couch’s pen name), I’m wondering if that advice, which appeared in a lecture series, wasn’t intended as a rhetorical exaggeration, rather than an ironclad rule. Some writers–and those who love giving advice to us–are always looking for hard-and-fast rules, as though by adhering to them religiously, we can produce perfect pieces of writing.

Well, no. Writing doesn’t work that way. There is no formula or recipe.

Here is my revision of “Kill your darlings”: If some element in a piece of writing introduces awkwardness or is out of synch with the rest, take a close look at it. Consider changing or deleting it, even if you think it’s well-written.

Okay, that’s not nearly as brief and memorable as “Kill your darlings.” So if KYD is a actually a code for my longer and duller revision, great! But don’t automatically assume the worst of any piece of writing you love. By all means subject it to scrutiny. Seek out the opinions of critique partners, beta-readers, or editors. Consider their opinions (keeping in mind that mean-spirited or envious individuals may apply that “darling” label for reasons of their own). Don’t automatically “kill” something just because you like it.

Verbascum chaixii, yellow mullein with purple stamens
If I followed the KYD rule as a gardener, I would rip out these yellow mulleins, because they intrude into the path. But gardeners aren’t told to kill their darlings, so there they are.

Fellow writers, do you kill your darlings? How do you identify the ones that deserve deletion?

By the way, my most recent novel, She Who Returns, is free today (July 24th) on Amazon. Click the link below the cover image.

Featured image from Pexels

fractal gold flower black and glowing blue background

Fractals

Here is a really useful element for creating images: fractals.

What are fractals? Well, here’s what Wikipedia says (among other things): “…fractal is a term used to describe geometric shapes containing detailed structure at arbitrarily small scales.”

From that comes fractal art, which “…is a form of algorithmic art created by calculating fractal objects and representing the calculation results as still digital images, animations, and media.” There’s lots more in the Wikipedia article.

If you go to Pixabay and key in “fractal,” you will be rewarded with a wealth of shapes and patterns. Some are beautiful, like the featured image. Some are weird. Many can be combined with other design elements to produce something unique, or at least make an ordinary image interesting.

fractal purple circles and swirls black background
I’ve used this fractal in a few of my creations…
Image #2 for Welcome to the Witch House story
…such as this image for one of the stories in Tales From the Annexe.
fractal gold circles and swirls
This conglomeration of gold circles and swirls was useful to suggest the supernatural in a couple of recent images.
Herbert West Series A plus image
SHE books info
Image for The Night Journey of F.D. story
This fractal, resembling an eye, was perfect for another of the Tales From the Annexe stories. All I had to do was add the title.

Here are a couple of fractals I haven’t incorporated into anything as yet, but I couldn’t resist downloading them from Pixabay.

fractal black background white circles
This would be perfect for a dark story.
fractal blue and green and yellow shapes suggesting tentacles
And this gorgeous one suggests a tentacle-bearing undersea entity.

I upload the fractal images to Canva and use it to assemble and adjust. (Canva also includes fractals in its photo library.) I do some cropping to size and fiddle with the degree of transparency. That’s one of the nice things about Canva–you can easily layer images and change transparency to make abstract shapes like these fractals into backgrounds or nearly transparent foregrounds.

A word of warning, though: messing around with images can eat up a lot of time.

manuscript and notebook She Who Comes Forth work in progress

Why Do I Write (and Publish)?

There is private writing (diaries, lists, things not to forget, unvarnished thoughts) and public writing (fiction, essays, treatises, histories, etc.). Private writing is not meant to be read by anyone else. Public writing is intended to be read by others, which is why it’s published. That’s what I’m talking about here.

Why do I write with intent to publish?

A few weeks ago, I heard a composer (Jim Hopson, who has written a concerto for alphorn) say that a musical score is just a set of instructions for performers. It’s the performance that matters, not the marks on paper. Then I wondered if the text of a novel can be thought of as a set of instructions for a reader’s brain to make a mind-movie. In which case it’s the reading that matters.

Except the author can’t assume the work will be read.

So why do I want to create such a thing? Especially as an obscure indie author.

Here is one answer, from author Chuck Litka, in a a comment on Mark Paxon’s June 20th WSW post “Is It Vanity?”:

“Putting aside why we write in the first place, for me publishing can be summed up in one word; completion. When I make a painting, it is complete in and of itself. It doesn’t have to be displayed, published, or sold to be a painting. A manuscript, however, remains a manuscript until it is published and made available to readers as a story or a book. If it was written to be read by strangers, it is an unfinished and unrealized project until it is published. I like finishing projects.”

Certainly, no one needs to write in order to fill a shortage of books or stories. There isn’t one; quite the contrary. But is there an eternal need for new stories? Or old ones freshly rendered. It could be argued either way, but for sure we have an eternal need to create story.

I write to satisfy a need to create my own version of a story. Whether anyone reads it is a secondary matter, although after I’ve expended the time and effort to bring the thing into existence and polish it, making it available for others to read is the logical completion of the process. Knowing that someone has read it is a validation of my efforts.

I’ve realized that as I write I am conscious of a ghostly shape in the corner, a potential reader, a receptive mind hovering on the edge of my consciousness. I don’t envision this entity in any kind of detail, but it’s always there.

Another musician I heard recently talking about what it’s like to return to live performances after the pandemic said the audience closes the feedback loop. Perhaps readers are to writers what an audience is to performers.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

The question is: would I write even if I knew no one would ever read the written work? If that ghostly reader vanished?

Answer: I would write, but I might not publish. My writing would then be private. Lacking an incentive to make it readable, its quality would probably decline. It would become obscure and idiosyncratic.

Photo by Nadi Lindsay on Pexels.com

But we don’t know that no one will ever read our published writing, any more than we know that someone will. There is always hope, however threadbare it may be. For posthumous success, perhaps? And when an idea surges forth and insists on being rendered into writing, the ghostly reader shows up as well.

All right, fellow writers, what about you? Why do you write and publish? Do you envision a reader for your writing? Would you continue to write and publish even if your works were unread?

This is the second of two posts. The first one is: “Why Do I Read?”