Who’s Really in Control?

I love starting a new story. A blank page, or computer screen in today’s world, is filled with so many possibilities. I usually begin with a character. If I’m lucky that character might just pop into my head right out of the blue, and start speaking to me the way Pru Burbidge did when I wrote Bitter, Sweet.

Once I have my main character in place I have faith that the plot will eventually unfold. I usually have a broad sense ahead of time of what’s going to take place. It’s just a matter of moving from one scene to the next. I know— it sounds so simple. Doesn’t it?  Things tend to go along quite smoothly when we stay in control and we writers do have complete control over the page.

Um…Did I say complete control?

Maybe not so complete.

Sometimes a writer may have one idea about the story they’re working on, but one of their characters might not be so cooperative. Easy to get in a tug-of-war over some seemingly small issue all because some know it all doesn’t want to do things our way. We say go left but, oh no, they insist on going right. Who do they really think they are? Talk about ungrateful!  I mean, we’re the ones who create these characters, we breathe life into them, give them names, we are right there when they utter their first words on the page. But then we let them take those first few steps unattended, and the first thing we know they want to run the whole show.

I’m pretty sure most writers have come up against this exact scenario at one time or another. It might sound rather strange to those of you who do not write fiction, but I can assure you that many of the writers who are reading this are likely nodding their heads. Sometimes a writer thinks they have a pretty good idea of what’s going to happen in a story, and right when we think we have it figured out we discover that we were totally mistaken.The story takes a completely different turn altogether. We end up scratching our heads in dismay.

I’m reminded of how in “real life” we become exasperated with the people around us for these exact reasons. We can’t understand why they make the choices they do or, why they fail to take our advise or, live up to our expectations. Why won’t they just do it the way we would? Why do they insist upon going their own way?

A good writer must sometimes  just allow a character to choose their own path, especially when said character is totally capable of making their own decisions. Just as a writer might have to relinquish control over their plots, so is it true in real life. There is no point in our becoming annoyed at someone simply because we cannot control the decisions they make. It is their life after all. As I write this I’m reminded of a particular person in my life, whose failure to meet  with change, often causes me grit my teeth. But I know it is my own selfishness, my own need to control their behaviour, that causes me irritation. I know that my annoyance really has nothing to do with their behaviour at all.  So from now on I’m going to practise acceptance and understing. They are just being the person they are. and nothing more. I may sometimes need to remind myself of this  from time to time, but I’m certainly going to make an effort.

I’ll push aside my own need to control, my own wrong beliefs that somehow I know what’s best for this person, just as I would for one of my character who keeps insisting left when I said right.

Acceptance often does lead to a peaceful ressolution. Doesn’t it?

The Versitile Blogger Award

Last week I was awarded the Versitile Blogger Award by Joylene Butler. I met Joylene through Carol Garvin‘s blog awhile back.

For those of you who are not familiar with Joylene’s Blog you may want to check it out. There’s some pretty nifty things going on over there. (Did I just say nifty?) Joylene’s novel,  Broken But Not Dead, is due to be released by Theytus Books in July 2011 so keep your eyes peeled for it when the time comes.

Of course this award does not come without certain conditions, which seems to be the general theme with most blog award, I’ve noted. Usually these rules get changed but for some unknown reason I actually followed them this time.

For those of you sitting on the edge of your seats asking what the heck are the rules?…Here they are:

Drum roll please………..

1. Thank the one who gave me this award.
2. Share seven things about myself.
3. Present this honour onto 15 newly discovered bloggers.
4. Drop by and let my fifteen new friends know I love them.

Sounds pretty simple. Doesn’t it? So, thanks Joylene for sending this award my way. You know I love your blog!  I told you I wasn’t sure if I follow fifteen blog, but I guess I was wrong.

Hmm seven things about myself—without being too revealing are:

1.I’ve been married for 32 years, have two daughters, a son and now, a beautiful granddaughter!. (All this and I’m still only 39 years old! How did she manage you might ask?)

2. I have not travelled any further from home than a six hour car drive to Fredericton many years ago when my daughter attended UNB.

3. I don’t like driving and didn’t get my license until I was 25. I much prefer sitting on the passenger’s side.

4. I can’t type. (No kidding you say!) Anyone following this blog may have already figured that one out. I’m of the “hunt and peck” variety. I often  peck the wrong keys.

5. Until recently, I have never shared a WIP with anyone other than my editor. No one read Bitter, Sweet until it was made into a book.

6. I have watched Mary Poppins a gazillion times. (Thanks kids. I owe you one!)

7. I love to sing. There isn’t a day goes by that I don’t break into song at least a couple of times. Luckily , for those around me, I CAN carry a tune.

Here are the fifteen bloggers I have chosen for the award.

1. Charlotte’s Weblog

2. Ann Lynn

3. Life According To Loup

4. Polilla Writes

5. Herding Cats in Hammond River

6. Gayle Sharpe

7. The Writing Place

8. A life Less Ordinary

9.Madison Woods

10. The Wright Words

11. Small Town Big Life

12. Melanie Crouse

13. Shakti Mama

14. Shari Green

15. Miss Julie’s HodgePodge

Whew! I made it. There are a few blogs that I have recently discovered, a few others that I have been following for awhile. Since I’ve given out awards before I picked on tried to choose some totally new ones. Some of these bloggers are new moms, and do well to blog let alone doing all the things required of one receiving this award. So you’re off the hook on this one. And that goes to anyone else who would rather just bask in the glory of this award without passing it on. The choice is up  to you. But know that I read your blogs and like what they have to offer.

Well that’s about it for the day. I hope you’ll check out some of these terrific sites when you have the time.

Welcome, Pam Chamberlain

Today I am welcoming Pam Chamberlain, editor of  Country Roads: Memoirs From Rural Canada to my blog. As I worked on my piece for the antholoy I came to respect  and admire Pam as an editor. Now that the book is out, and we have kept in contact, I am pleased to consider her a friend.

Awhile back I asked Pam if she would like to write a post for my blog, and to my delight she agreed. So, since this post isn’t about me I’ll stop rambling so that you can read what Pam has to say about compiling an anthology.

The Unexpected Rewards of Compiling an Anthology

When I first embarked on the project of compiling an anthology on rural life, I thought the main reward would be a completed book. Although (trust me!) it was wonderful to finally hold the book in my hands, the published book—Country Roads: Memoirs from Rural Canada—is only one of the rewards of such a project, and possibly not even the greatest one.

I originally decided upon an anthology format for this project because I didn’t think I alone was capable of telling “the” story of rural Canada. How could any one person do that? Yet I believed it was important that the story be told. I decided I needed help, so I sent out a call for submissions. In response, I received 150 submissions from people who had grown up in rural communities across the country. What a joy it was to read the submissions and find that there were people across the country who had shared the experiences of my childhood. After the difficult task of selecting which ones would make it into the book, I was left with about thirty texts. I began contacting the writers to ask for their permission to include their story in the anthology and, in most cases, to request revisions.

I didn’t anticipate what a rewarding experience it would be to work with authors on their text. Working together on a text is an intimate act. The editor must move carefully, respecting the author and the writing; otherwise, the writer might dig in and refuse to revise or to be part of the project. The editor must also work to build the writer’s trust. For only if the writer trusts the editor will he or she be willing to make the changes. Working together on revisions is like a dance—it requires a shared goal, mutual trust and respect, and give and take. I’m sure some of the contributors were initially disappointed by my requests for revisions; however, it is interesting that those writers with whom I worked on the most substantial revisions are the ones whom I developed the strongest relationships with.    

Through this project, I have gained not only a published book, but relationships with writers across the country, most of whom I had never heard of before this project began, and most of whom I have never seen in person. Despite the fact we’ve never met, I feel we have developed a community. I know that if I find myself in Nova Scotia, there is a cup of tea waiting for me in East Dalhousie, and one in Halifax, and one in Bridgewater, and one in Upper Stewiacke—from four women whom I’ve never met. Yet we have shared the intimate experience of working together on their writing. Long after the book is out of print, I will remember the people who so generously contributed to this book.

I don’t call Country Roads “my” book. I call it “our” book, and so do many of the contributors, many of whom were as excited as I was to see the book in print. Some of them are working at least as hard as I am to promote it. The final product is an accomplishment we can all be proud of. It is ours.

Three is the Lucky Number

Had a great time in Bedford today at Helene Boudreau’s booksigning for her early chapter book , “Keep Out!

Helene is a super supportive author, one of those people who just can’t seem to do enough for those of us who are new to the whole publishing business. I was finally able to thank Helene, in person, for all of her help and advise. She’s just as nice in person as she is on facebook!

Author JoAnn Yhard also showed up while I was there. Here we are, three Nimbus authors, all at the same book store holding up our books for the camera! Some days you wish would never end! Thanks Helene and JoAnn. What a great time!

Just Call Me Linda McCormick—Not

When people learned that I had a novel about to be published a few of them asked if I was going to use a penname. I’ll admit it sounded a bit strange to me at first. I hadn’t even considered it. I’d had work published in literary magazines without ever once considering the use of another name. I know there are people out there who do, and they likely have their reasons, reasons that make perfect sense for their circumstances. I see nothing wrong with it if that’s the way a writer chooses to go.

I always thought that if I had a book published I wanted to be the one to take the credit.  Maybe if I was a big name author, like Stephen King, I might write under another name as he does with some of his work. But his reasons for doing so seems to make sense. I can’t imagine that someday I’ll suddenly start writing, say, romance or horror. In fact I can’t see myself writing anything other than what I write. But, as they say, never say never.

As a kid, I often used the name Linda during my times of make-believe. That was me, Linda McCormick, always getting myself into scrapes, and getting back out again. (I had a vivid imagination as a child. What writer doesn’t? Heck, what child doesn’t?) I have no idea why I chose that name. It hardly sounded glamorous, yet that was the name I chose. I guess even back then I had trouble coming up with any original sounding names. Imagine being able to pick any name in the book, and I chose Linda McCormick. Go figure! I don’t think Linda ever did any writing; she was all about the drama. Cooking up schemes and then coming up with solutions. (I’m sure you all know how that works.)

Concocting names for my fictitious characters is challenging enough for me without trying to come up with a super new name to write under. I have a few baby books that I thumb through when I’m on the hunt for a name. After all, it’s a pretty important thing. I like to give it a certain amount of consideration. The name has to strike me right. I have to look it over and see if it fits. I like to know a bit about my character before I begin naming them although, there have been times when the name was sitting there on my tongue just waiting for a character to come along and fill in the blanks. Sometimes, when a name doesn’t jump out at me, I give it a little time. Just as like it takes time for a new pair of shoes to feel comfy, sometimes it takes awhile for a name to grow on me.

Coming up with last names is the most challenging for me. That’s where I usually draw a blank. I start stealing names the last names from people I know or else starting thinking Smith or Jones. That goes to show you how original I can be! So don’t laugh when I tell you that I usually turn to the obituary column or the phone book. Again, I like to use something memorable. Of course every name in the stories we write can’t be something exotic with thirty-five letters. Every once in awhile we have to throw in a Jane or a Tom just to keep our writing in balance.

So how about you, do you find it challenging to come up with a name for your fictitious characters? Do you have any tricks to share of how you go about choosing names? What about when you were little. Did you ever use an assumed name as a child? If so, what was it? Do you now use, or plan to use, a penname in the future? Wow! I’m really full of questions today. Aren’t I? Oops there goes another question. Silly me.

Clouds

I love looking at clouds.  As a child I would lie in the grass and watch to see what form they resembled. Sometimes an image would jump right out at me, other times I’d really have to use my imagination to come up with a likeness. Then, when I was able to find some vague likeness in a cloud, I’d end up feeling a tiny bit disappointed as I watched it change so quickly, or else dissolve into the sky like a passing fancy.

Life changes like the shifting clouds. We watch with eagerness as they move about elegantly on a warm summer breeze, and look on with trepidation as they become dark and menacing during times of turbulence. Like life, clouds are in a constant state of change, stretching themselves out as fine and thin as a whisper, or collecting themselves into thick bulging mass of thunderous noise. They continue on their way just as we must continue on, despite the times of turbulence, and especially during those times when we wish for a particular moment to linger on for a little while longer.

I’ve been spending much time these past few days with my head in the clouds. Can you really blame me? It’s been an incredible time. Thanks to all of you for your wonderful comments, well wishes, for the emails and for those of you who dropped in just to get the scoop. I appreciate all the crossing of toes, fingers and any other body parts that might be involved. But, as much as I’d like to stretch this moment out forever, life is telling me it’s not going to happen. How can it?

Receiving the Bilson nomination has been wonderful, and it may sound corny to say, but I really do feel like a winner already. No kidding. So if you get tired of all the toe and finger crossing (It’s going to be a long few months ahead) it’s really okay. LOL!

When I look at the other contenders I can’t even begin to describe how I feel to be included in this nomination with them. This is much better than I could ever have dreamed up.

But I hope you’ll humour me a little. And if I find myself floating, from time to time during the next little while, promise me you’ll allow me a little room to float freely. In turn I’ll promise not to come off as too obnoxious.

So can you answer me this? Is that a lobster claw I see in them there clouds or is that just a little wishful thinking?

Gone Fishing!

Fishing at West Lahave

So while I was off fishing with my family in West Lahave there was a little bit of a stir going on unbeknownst to me. My daughter called my cell phone to say congratulations. “Bitter, Sweet” has been shortlisted for the Geoffery Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young People.

Word from the publisher is that it’s quite a honour.  Hey, I’d say!!

So do you think I am excited?

Excited doesn’t even begin to describe what I’m feeling.

Here’s part of the official word, straight from the Canadian Children’s Book Centre:

GEOFFREY BILSON AWARD FOR HISTORICAL FICTION FOR YOUNG PEOPLE ($5,000)

Sponsored by the Canadian Children’s Book Centre’s Bilson Endowment Fund

Bitter, Sweet
Written by Laura Best (Springfield, NS)
Nimbus Publishing
for ages 10 and up

“A beautifully crafted novel set in 1948 in Nova Scotia told by Pru, a young girl trying to keep her siblings together after their father abandons them and their mother dies… Best has masterfully created a sense of time and place… The characters are thoughtfully developed and their relationships to each other skillfully described.”

I’ve been nominated along with some pretty cool writers : John Wilson , Barbara Haworth-Attard, Shane Peacock , and Nancy Hartry.

Here’s my son’s girlfriend catching her very first fish ever.. I kind of know how she  feels.

Guess I should go fishing more often!!

What? No Imagination, You Say!

The world of reality has its limits; the world of imagination is boundless.

—-Jean Jacques Rousseau

“What an imagination you have!”

Most writers have likely heard that a time or two, I know I have. Many non-writers seem to be in awe of what thoughts run though a writer’s mind. Some people seemed to be under the impression that a writer’s imagination is somehow different than the average person’s, that we posses the ability to think up the strange and unusual in a way they could only dream of.

I’m not so sure I agree.

Granted, as writers, we allow our imagination to unfold upon the page. It is not a private thing. Once it is written it is there for anyone and everyone to see. It is not the same thing as a thought. A thought is private, one we can choose to verbalize or keep to ourselves. What sets a writer apart from the rest of society? We write out our thoughts, create them into whole new world. We mould and meld them to suit ourselves. We write it down.

But imagination is not the only thing that a writer needs. It takes patience and a willingness to work with words, the same words over and over, as we move about phrases and sentences to produce the proper flow. We sometimes rewrite the same sentence many times before we get it right. Sometimes we even know the story well, yet we struggle to capture it on paper the way we envision it in our minds.

But the rest of you use your imaginations as well. How many times have you gone over a conversation with someone in your mind, struggling to express yourself coherently? Or have planned a set of circumstances for an event that has not yet happened and perhaps never will? Please don’t try to convince me that you’ve never taken an event say— someone being late for dinner—and spun a whole story around the what ifs and could haves of the situation. Don’t be ashamed. We all do it to some extent, some of us more than other.  It could just mean that those of us who do it more often are the ones who exercise our imaginations more.

Words are not the only place where out imagination comes into play. Anytime we create something we hold a vision of it in our minds before we bring it into existence. I can’t imagine someone thinking that they do not have an imagination.

Some of us try and define imagination. We describe someone as having a good or bad imagination. We might label someone as having a wild or even vivid imagination. Sometimes, in exasperation, we might even claim that someone has no imagination whatsoever, but of course that is impossible. One thing I’m almost certain of, we do all have an imagination. If we have the ability to think I would challenge anyone who says they have never dreamed a what if in their life.

Just for the fun of it (because I’m such a fun person) if someone were to define your imagination in one word, what do you imagine that word would be?

Buried History

When I heard that Mike Parker, author of many historic books, was coming to Coles in Bridgewater for a book signing, I made plans to be there.   I had picked up “Buried in the Woods: Sawmills Ghost Towns in Nova Scotia” a few weeks back and really enjoyed it. If you’re interested in saw mill ghost towns in Nova Scotia this is a good book to read. Lots of photos as well.

My home in E. Dalhousie is not so many miles from Crossburn, a logging town that was quite a booming little place in the early 1900’s. It is also one of the “sawmill ghost towns” that Mike Parker writes about in his book.

A few years back a group of us headed off to Crossburn to see that was left of this once flourishing town.  Luckily, we went armed with a map (hand-drawn by one of the last surviving residents of the town who is now 100 years old.) Our map helped us to locate such things as the schoolhouse, the roundhouse, and the area where the community garden would have been. There was evidence of where the machine shop stood, old wells, and foundations from some of the buildings. We found old bottles buried beneath the ground and was even able to establish the area where the railroad once ran through.

Crossburn came up in a conversation I had with a friends a few weeks. This person mentioned that they had been there as well, but there was nothing left. I found this statement interesting because, as part of the group who went a few years back, I came away with the impression that the area was brimming with ghosts from the past. I could almost picture the town in my mind as it would have been so many years ago. I couldn’t help but be fascinated by the evidence of the town’s history that we found that day.

Buried In The Woods is the perfect title for Mike’s Book because it describes these forgotten towns so nicely. An open mind, as well as a little imagination, can sometimes help us to gather a clearer image of the past. I often say that what amazes me the most about history is the fact that these people who came before us were just living their lives, getting from one day to the next. They never anticipated the fact that, years later, we would we looking back on their lives with interest and recording these events for those who will come after us.

Moments of Magic

When my son was in his last year of high school he became quite interested in magic. He found some books on card tricks and, before we knew it, he was mesmerizing us all by the tricks he had mastered.

In the beginning his tricks were rather simple, but over time he was able to perform some rather complicated ones that kept us all spellbound. When family and friends came to visit we would urge him to show off his talent. Many times when he performed a trick people would look at me and ask me if I knew how he did it. They thought that since I’d seen him do these tricks many times that I would have it all figured out.

But the truth of it was, I didn’t want to know. I wanted to watch and be amazed the same way they were. I wanted to feel as though I was seeing these tricks for the very first time. I wanted to believe in the magic, not spoil it all by breaking it down into a calculated step-by-step process.

What I remember the most about his tricks were those moments when everything came together in the end, and I was struck by a sense of wonder, a deliciously sweet feeling of awe.

As a writer, I have experienced these magical moments over the years. They always catch me off guard when I least expect it. It is that feeling that comes when the wording is just right, when the thoughts that are conveyed feel fresh and new, when I capture one precious moment in a sudden flash.

I do not know for certain where it comes from or just how it gets there. Like magic, I accept it for what it is without the need to know. Not everything in life can or should be explained. I want to take delight in these tiny mysteries in life not spend my every moment contemplating the seriousness of life. Sometimes we just need to be amazed.

There is a natural rhythm that continually flows if we choose to allow it, if we do not stop and try to figure out exactly how the trick is performed.

So, my question is, do you believe in magic? Or do you like to have an explanation for all of life’s mysteries?

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