The Streets of Dawson City

Dear Vi,You might have heard that the streets of Dawson City are paved with gold,but the truth is, they aren’t paved at all.Here’s evidence: boot brushes outside the door of every establishment.And miles of boardwalk.This summer has been a writing retreat for me. I left home with a sketchy idea for my next novel, and today I’m well over halfway there. I’m writing about 1,000 words every time I sit down, which has been about 5 days per week. Sometimes more, sometimes less. When I’m not writing, I’m reading All The Books, which is so incredibly delicious – a summer of unlimited time.

And I’ve been accompanying Sam on his walks, of course. We love to walk up and down the streets, the boardwalk sometimes booming under our feet, sometimes squeaking , often soft with age.

I brought quilting projects and everything I need to sew a blouse, but haven’t taken my sewing machine out even once. And that’s just fine. It’s okay to stop once in awhile to wade in the water and smell the grass.

Don’t you agree?

Head and Shoulders, Knees and…Elbows?

Dear Vi,

I hate to be a complainer, but I just have to tell you:

Too much hand quilting, knitting, typing, and gripping heavy weights at the gym have given me tennis elbow in both arms and caused the arthritis in my hands to flare up.

It’s my own fault. I let it go too far. I let it get away from me. I let it get to the point where it hurts to even pick up a cup of tea.

And that’s not all. Poor ergonomics in my sewing and writing life are affecting my shoulders, neck and back, which (not surprisingly) has worked it’s way down into the knees.

‘It hurts when I cackle!’

Because I’m a writer, I’m often at my laptop for several hours a day. If I want to continue, it’s imperative that I address the ergonomics problem.

Fortunately, I know what I have to do to fix it.

Yesterday I went to Staples and bought myself a properly adjustable office chair. My lower half notices the improved sitting situation already, but my shoulders are still complaining because the keyboard is too high.

In a perfect world, I’d buy a properly adjustable computer desk. But the reality is, we all have to work with what we’ve got and live within our means. Whatever modifications I make to my writing space cannot infringe on the rest of my very small house, and they also have to fall within my fixed-income budget.

Installing a sliding, adjustable keyboard tray (and new keyboard) under my sewing table and using my laptop like a desk computer may be the best solution.

The laptop can easily share real estate with the sewing machine. Both are lightweight & portable, and can easily be unplugged and set it aside to make room for the other. Mr. C will have the final say on whether or not the sewing table can be modified.

It may take a month or more, but getting back to my home yoga practice, doing physio & massage therapy for the elbows, and making these ergonomic fixes will hopefully take care of the worst of the problems.

Have you ever suffered repetitive strain injuries or dealt with ergonomic issues when sitting for long periods at the keyboard or sewing machine? Has knitting or hand quilting ever given you tennis elbow?

Do tell!

Query Blurb for Holding Space

Dear Vi,

I’ve been climbing steadily and have finally reached the top of Procrastination Mountain.  I’m clinging onto it like a barnacle.

I’ve spent countless hours on the internet and read countless articles and blog posts on the Dos and Don’ts of writing a query letter. There’s a lot of conflicting information out there, let me tell ya. So much conflicting advice, in fact, that I’m inclined to just ignore most of it.

What does the query blurb have to do? Well, it has to accurately capture the gist of the story, it has to be professional, it has to be tight. It has to make you Want. To. Read. The. Book.

And the entire query letter – blurb and all – has to fit on one page.

Eee gads.

Well, yesterday I finally wrote something that feels like it’s getting close. In fact, it’s your lucky day, Vi, because I’m going to share it with you!

Here it is, in block quote format:

On May 18 at 1030 Coordinated Universal Time, nearly every person on Earth disappears.

In Winnipeg, battle-scarred Canadian Forces veteran Kat Russo is fighting PTSD while trying to rebuild her life after the death of her lover. When humanity vanishes before her eyes, she falls back on her military training and embarks on a cross-country search for survivors and, ultimately, for herself.

In Vancouver, Dr. Maria Zhou is the brilliant but pampered only daughter of immigrant parents, and the youngest staff member at the University of British Columbia’s Quantum Matter Institute.  When the unimaginable happens, she finds hope in the unlikeliest of places while attempting to formulate a hypothesis to explain the mysterious event.

On the remote west coast of British Columbia, aging artist Noella Harris takes refuge at the Seal Island Lightstation. Alternating between hope and despair, she figures out how to start the lighthouse’s big diesel generators and begins broadcasting messages over the station’s radio beacon in hopes of saving her sanity – and any remnants of humanity that may be listening.

What would you do if you found yourself suddenly, achingly alone? Holding Space isn’t the story of what happens; it’s the story of what happens next.

Holding Space is a character-driven work of science fiction set in the initial weeks following the disappearance and told through alternating points of view. Complete at 81,000 words, it touches on the themes of grief, loss, family, and the unexpected sweetness of reunion. It would appeal to those who enjoyed Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel and Dark Matter by Blake Crouch.

Okay! There you go. It isn’t polished up to a glossy shine just yet, but it’s getting there. I’m going to sit on it for another day or so and then look at it again.

As always, your thoughts are welcome.

Polishing Edits

Dear Vi,

It’s been awhile since I’ve mentioned the manuscript. Were you wondering what’s up with it?

Well, at the end of February I sent it out to a few friends who volunteered to be beta readers. These are people who give the novel a test run and report back with any problems they find.

While they were reading, I put the manuscript away and moved on to other things. At the time, I felt so done with it, I really didn’t care if I never looked at it again. But time passed and comments started trickling in.

Their enthusiasm was so contagious that I felt ready to pull it out again and tackle the polishing.

I printed out the novel and have just finished reading it from start to finish with the handy red pen that my writing partner Holly sent. And because I literally haven’t looked at it for about six weeks, my eyes are fresh, which allowed me to catch a few things I hadn’t been able to see when I was deep in the throes of creation.

Believe it or not, this is the first time I’ve actually read it as a “real” book.  Just between me and you, Vi, it was an incredible experience. I felt…in serious awe of myself. I wrote a book! And it’s damned good!

(oh, boy, you’ve no idea how hard it was to say that, having grown up in a serious never-toot-thine-own-horn culture)

Now it’s time for me to get to work reading and analyzing what my test readers had to say.  Stay tuned because there’s sure to be a blog post or two coming out of the experience. 🙂

Fire!

Dear Vi,

It’s foggy this morning. Outside my window, wisps of fog stream past like smoke from a chimney. Wait… maybe it really is smoke.  I get up to check. Nope, it’s fog. Relieved, I take another sip of coffee. And then I burst into tears.

A couple of months ago, I woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of sirens.  The urgent wail came closer, then faded as it passed.  I got out of bed and wandered through the house toward the bathroom as one does in the wee hours. But something was wrong. It took my sleep-addled brain a second to figure it out.

The kitchen wall was lit with a strange orange light. And it was flickering. I could hear a distant roaring sound. I turned around and looked out the window.  Less than 100 feet away, the big fir tree on the edge of our yard was engulfed by flame!

My heart stopped for a moment before I realized the trees were not actually on fire. They were backlit by fire. On the street behind us, my backyard-neighbour’s house was a raging inferno. Totally engulfed.

“Fire! Kelly, wake up, there’s a fire!”

I called 9-1-1. They had already received the call. The emergency crew was already on site.  More sirens came screaming in the distance.

Were we in danger? Did we need to leave? We were running on adrenaline, barely breathing. Everything was happening fast and slow at the same time.

Kelly opened the patio doors and stepped outside. I put on a jacket and followed. As soon as the door opened, we could hear the roar of the fire, so loud. It crackled and popped. We could hear the thrumming engine of the water truck, see great arcs of water shooting from the hoses.

We could also see that it wasn’t the house immediately below us. The house engulfed by fire was on the far side of it. Empty, its elderly owner had passed away less than a month previous.

We got dressed and walked down the street to join the huddle of neighbours watching the firefighters. The sky slowly lightened. Dawn came. The fire burned down, was drowned and washed away.

The next day it snowed.

It was as if Mother Nature wanted to cover all the ugly fright with a shroud. Take it away. Make it better.

Except you can’t cover up a fright like that.

Fight or flee? Huddle or bolt?  This is the kind of fear that lives in the depths of your bowel and in the stem of your brain.  It shares a very old room with fear of the dark and of falling from a great height and of unnamed monsters under the bed.

For weeks afterward, I got up two or three or four times every night…every single night to wander the house. Going from room to room, I’d look out all the windows, looking for the tell-tale flickering orange glow.

Several months have passed since that horrible awakening, and I’ve lost the worst of the urgency. I only check for fire once each night, now. I get up to use the bathroom as I have always done. But instead of going directly back to bed, I take a tour of the house, checking out the windows. And I always check before going to bed in the first place.  I can’t help myself. A whiff of smoke sends my heart racing.

A week ago I woke up at 3am with a terrible sense of urgency. I’d dreamed of fire, of course. In my dream, Kelly was shouting. “Fire! There’s Fire!” His voice ringing in my ears, I got up.  I checked all the windows. Nothing. I put my coat on, shoved my bare feet into boots and went outside. Nothing. I walked out the driveway and stood in the middle of the street. Nothing.

The hulk of my backyard-neighbour’s house is still there. Melting snow reveals charred beams, twisted metal, the blackened refrigerator.

And I’m here in my own house, like the rhinoceros racing by instinct to stomp out flames. Even when there aren’t any.

Blog Posts: Letters to Vi

Dear Vi,

Blogging has always felt a little bit awkward to me. From the beginning, I’ve wanted to address each post as though it were a letter. But it always felt awkward. A letter to whom? And yet it feels just as strange to open a new page and simply start talking. I’m old-school that way. Letters always begin with a salutation, and in my mind, my blog posts have always been letters.

And then I checked a book out of the library called Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. Have you read it? (I’ve read it twice, actually. I’ll probably read it again before too long. I should probably just go buy it.)

In the book, references are made to letters written by one of the characters, addressed simply to ‘V’. We don’t know who the mysterious V is, and it doesn’t really matter. These letters give backstory and insight into the life of Arthur Leander, one of the main characters.

And after that, I stumbled upon a fabulous knitting blog, called Mason Dixon. The authors of this blog write knitterly letters back and forth to each other: Dear Ann, Dear Kay.

There are probably more out there, but you get the idea. It certainly gave me an idea.

I’m going to try an experiment. I’m going to let my heart lead my hands and address these blog posts to a person.

Of course, that begs the question of to whom shall I address? If I pick one family member or friend, will another feel slighted? Or, God forbid, dread that they’ll be targeted next?

So I’ve chosen a person who doesn’t exist. I will name this person Vi.

As in rhymes with pie.

And you can silently substitute your own name, because you’re the one I’m really writing to.

There, doesn’t that feel better?

Until next time – All my love, N.

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Knitting a Novel: on and off the needles

Did I tell you that I finished my novel again? This isn’t the first time I’ve finished it, of course. The first finished draft was the equivalent of a scarf knitted up in open lace-work. Silky threads to hold everything together, but full of holes.

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A lace infinity scarf: cast on, enjoyed and cast off to be gifted to someone whose name I can’t say here, lol. I bought this beautiful silky wool at the Itsy Bitsy Yarn Store in Whitehorse.

When it was as ready as I could get it, I sent it out to my two critique groups and examined their comments and reactions for places where the tension was uneven, the weave too loose. Places where I’d dropped stitches, or gotten them twisted.

Then I took the framework and did it up again, weaving in the loose ends, picking up the dropped stitches. In that way, the novel went from lace to garter stitch. Sort of. These are very loose metaphors, you understand.

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Another gift for someone whose name I cannot mention here. 🙂 The pattern is Wheat by Tin Can Knits, knitted in Berroco Vintage Chunky wool that I bought at Knit2Yarns in Kamloops, BC.  It’s actually a lovely heathery dark forest green, though it looks pewter in the photo.

Garter stitch is nice because it has texture. It’s elastic enough so you can push it around a bit and yet firm enough to handle it. Easy to rip out and easy to knit back up again.

Then I sent it back for more critique.

Critique comments can be very interesting. Often times uplifting and exhilarating when the reader gets it and is obviously excited about what they’re reading.

Also interesting is when the reader giving the critique is annoyed because the character is not behaving the way they would behave if they found themselves in a similar situation. I love these types of comments because it means they’ve got the socks on their feet, are trying them out. They’re engaged in the story, and that means I’m doing it right.

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Socks, knit with Fabel superwash from my stash. Another Christmas gift to add to the pile. 🙂

Although there’s always the occasional reader who will try to push this work of speculative women’s fiction into the action-adventure genre, thus frustrating both of us, lol. I try to see these comments as a reflection of reading preference rather than a criticism on writing style, but it does sometimes make it a bit difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff, if you don’t mind a cliché.037

So anyway, what I’m doing with the novel right now is like blocking the finished scarf or sweater. Soaking it and laying it out to dry, pinning the edges straight, smoothing out any bumps or wobbles. I’m happy with it. I’m really happy with the ending, even if though I’m still fussing a bit with the final fit. Like putting the sweater on and shrugging my shoulders, seeing how it feels.

And now, are you wondering what’s on my needles at this very moment? Just what is keeping me company every evening as Mr. C and I binge-watch old episodes of 24?

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The Noël shawl. A name appropriate to the season, don’t you think? Also another project whose recipient shall go unnamed.

Lovely lovely lovely. My favourite so far, and my very first shawl. The wool is Hawthorne Fingering, from Knit Picks.

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What’s on your needles?

Meanwhile, I knit

Sometimes writing a novel feels an awful lot like waiting. And what does any sane person do while waiting?

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I’m trying to figure out the last chapter of this novel I’m working on. I mean, I know how it ends, I just don’t know how to get there.

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Sigh. I know.

It’s the words. I’m waiting for the words.

Meanwhile, I’ve been doing a lot of knitting.

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“At that time of night, the only traffic consisted of trucks filled with bodies and detainees, and police cars that roamed the streets like lost wolves howling in the darkness of the curfew.”

That sentence was written by Isabel Allende, and can be found at the bottom of page 442 in her 1985 novel, The House of the Spirits.

I honestly think this may be one of the most perfect sentences ever written.

You don’t need to know what the book is about to feel the fear and despair in these words.

I won’t do a book review on The House of the Spirits because there are so many on the internet already.  I will tell you, though, that I’ll probably read it again someday.

What’s on your nightstand?

p442 IsabelAllende

the mother who saved the mothers from the black bear – a story by Nita, age 9

The Mother who Saved the Mothers from the Black Bear

By Nita Luton (Collins), age 9 or 10
A story I wrote for my mother on Mother’s Day, 1970-71 (or thereabouts.)

One day Jane was in school sitting in her desk waiting egrley for the surprise Mis Cod had promesed them the day before. So now Jane and the rest of the clas were waiting for Mis Cod to tell them.

Finally Mrs. Cod came into the room. As usual Mis Cod had them sing good morning. After they had finished singing good morning, Mis Cod told them the surprise. Now was the time Jane had been waiting for.

Now Mis Cod began, “now Sunday is mothers Day so we are going to have a mothers day play. It will be called, Mother I Love You. It will be a story on mothers. Now Bob you will be the bear. Sue you will be one of the mothers. Sally, Misty, Karen, and Colleen will be mothers and Jane will be the mother who saves the mothers and their babies from the black bear.  Bob, Joe, Jim and Mike and Terri (a boy), will be the animals who lead Jane to the mothers.

[next week: play begins]

Jane was surprised when she did her lines right.  Now the play was over. Everyone was talking at once. After everyone quited down, Janes mother said “O, what a wonderful mothers day,” she said, almost crying.

The End

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom! ♥

grade 4 pointer

Knitting and Novel Writing… and Lord of the Dance for the letter L

Hi!

So, you remember a couple of days ago when I told you about the green sweater I wanted to knit? I’m so glad I decided to switch patterns. Somehow the way this sweater pattern is written reminds me of how I’m writing my novel.

What?

On sweaters I’ve knit in the past, you start at one end and you knit until you’re finished, hopefully at the other end. A lot of writers write this way, as well. They cast on with the first chapter, knit up the body of the work, throw in a few interesting twists and turns (maybe a cable stitch or two,) then cast off with a nice, tidy ending. Hopefully, everybody lives happily ever after and there are no loose ends.

Well, in the Grace Cardigan that I’m knitting, the first thing you do is knit up a small piece, add some shaping, and then set it aside for a bit while you work on something else. While it’s resting in the knitting basket, you cast on another little bit, only this time using a  technique called the “provisional cast on.” This leaves the cast-on edge “live” so that you can go back later, pick up those stitches and knit in the other direction.

That’s exactly the way I’ve been writing my first novel, Holding Space. I wrote a bit on the beginning, then set it aside and spent some time in the middle. Then I went back and worked on the beginning again. At some point, I picked up those stitches that I left “live” and knit/wrote them going in the other direction, until eventually the two halves met up. Then I worked on the ending.

Now I’m working on the polishing. That would be the knitting equivalent of burying the loose threads, sewing up the seams and doing the final blocking.

Gee, I feel very writerly for noticing that! (is writerly a word? Oh, who cares!)

LLord of the Dance

I chose this pose for the letter L today simply because I love the name!

Also because it’s a balance pose and I love balance poses. Maybe because I’m pretty good at them.

…although some days I feel like the little sister in this video… (It’s only 27 seconds long and honestly…ya gotta watch it! I dare you not to laugh!)

If you need to, use a chair or the wall to help you with your balance.

…or a horse, if you’ve got one handy…

God, this is fun! Balance poses are all great for working the core!

http://www.yogajournal.com/pose/lord-of-the-dance-pose/

http://www.yogajournal.com/pose/lord-of-the-dance-pose/

 

x

90,423 words later

I have finished the rough draft of my first novel.

It’s gone past the critical eye of two critique partners, so it isn’t as rough as it would have been. In fact, some parts aren’t too bad at all.

I thought I’d feel elated. I thought a giant whoo hooo would come bursting out of me, that I’d be jumping all over the house and popping the cork on a bottle of something fizzy. Done! Done done done!

But…now that I’ve actually typed the words the end at the bottom of the last page, I feel kind of … sad. Let down, somehow. Aimless. It’s finished? Really? But I’m not ready for it to be finished yet. I want to know what happens to my characters. What will they do? Where will they go? I want to keep on living their lives.

But that’s the way of it, I suppose. Every story must end.

So what happens next? Off it goes to Beta Readers, and then I start revisions.

Revision revision revision. Edit. Rewrite. Edit some more. Maybe more Beta Readers.

Until I hit the bottom of the last page. Again.

At some point, I’ll have to give the poor novel a title.

And then?

We’ll see.

Meanwhile, some yarn therapy:FullSizeRender