Thursday, September 29, 2011

A daunting paint job

I can't believe it's nearly seven months since I posted about the painting I was working on, and claimed it was "getting very close to finished."

Truth is, it's been sitting there on the easel in my study ever since, defying me to pick up a paintbrush again and put my words into action.

The trouble is, I knew there was something wrong with it, and I couldn't put my finger on what exactly, or how to go about fixing it.

Then, last week, it finally hit me. The whole thing was too flat. I think I knew that already but didn't want to admit it because I knew the solution was going to be technically challenging and time-consuming to put into practice.

The paint I use (gouache) gives vibrant colours and a wonderfully precise finish, great for my style of painting, but it dries almost instantly on the paper. This makes it incredibly difficult to achieve any fading or gradation of tone, especially across a large area.

But that is exactly what I needed to do to make this planet a planet. i.e. Round.

So I've been working at it.

Here is how I left it back in March.

And here is how it looks now.

There's still a lot of work to do, but I can finally see it moving in the right direction.

Maybe look forward to another update in, shall we say, another six months?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Save the whales

I was both intrigued and delighted to read an article recently (New Scientist, July 9) that gave new and compelling reasons for protecting whales and other large marine predators.

Now, I'll come clean and admit that my stance has always been that these animals are worth saving in their own right.
(Picture credit: Green Living Earth)

There's no good reason to hunt these creatures, and I won't even get into the specious arguments some nations use about "scientific" whaling, which is a thin disguise for commercial hunting. More than enough good science can be done with live animals in their natural environment than has ever been achieved by killing them.

But I acknowledge that such thinking cuts little ice with the decision-makers in this world.

What most delighted me about this article was that this research should appeal to some influential folks. Big business cares nothing of the lives and well-being of ordinary citizens, but it does care about the bottom line. And that's where it gets interesting...

The established view in the fishing industry goes as follows: There is a food chain. Those at the bottom get eaten by those at the top. Therefore, fewer predators at the top means more survive lower down.

So, creatures like whales and squid are seen as a bad thing, because they (literally) eat into the profits of fishermen.

But this is only part of the picture.

The marine ecosystem is not a one-way street; it is a cycle.

The top predators don't just take from the system. They are, in fact crucial to the health of the whole ecosystem.

The middle links in the food chain depend on the microscopic organisms at the bottom, particularly photosynthetic plankton. The entire system is limited by the productivity of these foundational species. And they, in turn, are limited by the nutrients available in the sunlit layers of the ocean.

Here's the catch. Nutrients tend to sink rapidly into the depths, where they cannot be used for photosynthesis.

It turns out that large animals are vital in re-circulating "lost" nutrients back into the upper layers.

Before efficient whaling removed the majority of the population of whales, the world's oceans were teeming with life. Today's oceans are barren wastelands compared to what they were only a few hundred years ago.

If the "top predators" dogma were true, fish should be even more abundant now, but they aren't. By removing large animals, we have made the oceans a much poorer place.

These predators give way more back than they take out.

If the fishing industry, the same industry that has so successfully resisted any attempts to limit catches to sustainable levels, realizes that more whales = more fish, then that gives me hope.

Sadly, the world is ruled by self-interest.

For once, self-interest may be a good thing.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Link Award

It's time for more bloggerly tag games. Both Unikorna at Why I Wake Up Every Day, and Laila at Untroubled Kingdom, have passed on to me the 7x7 Link Award. Many thanks, ladies.

Here, I have to nominate my most interesting and successful posts in a number of specific categories.

Now, some of these had me scratching my bald patch for inspiration, but I've had a go...

The most beautiful post: Right off I'm struggling. I don't think I do beautiful posts as such. Only in the sense that the brat screaming in the supermarket aisle is beautiful in the eyes of its mother. But I picked A surprise around every corner, because it was an account of a beautiful day out.

The most popular post: This one was easy, courtesy of Blogger statistics. Cogitus Interruptus.

The most controversial post: Another tricky one, because I don't really court controversy. But Never mind the matter/anti-matter photomultiplier - just give me warp speed! did trigger a bit of writerly discussion.

The most helpful post: Tricky for another reason, because I am always trying to be helpful. I thought about something from the writers' toolkit series, but finally settled on Whatever you want curry, because it wraps an almost endless variety of dishes into one simple recipe.

The most surprisingly successful post: How to write compelling characters. This was my first blogfest, and the response just blew me away.

The most underrated post: many to choose from! But I liked Homo Imbecilicus for its silliness and wished more people had seen it.

Finally, the most pride-worthy post: This was easy. It's my very first blog post, Welcome to my world. I am proud of it because it was a big step outside my comfort zone, when I had no idea (or expectation, really) of anyone else ever actually reading anything of mine.

Now I have to pass this award on to some more deserving bloggers. So, in no particular order, and looking for people I've not tagged recently, and please forgive me if you've already been tagged with this one...

Gary at Klahanie
Heather at Little Red Henry
Lindsey at Jesse Said Yes
J. Andrew Jansen at...J. Andrew Jansen
Mooderino at Moody Writing

Please check out all the awesome blogs in these links.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Christmas pudding

This is an old family recipe. It makes dark, moist, steamed puddings, traditional in England on Christmas day.

These are best made months in advance and left to mature. We are late this year, I originally planned to do this back in January but never got around to it. Never mind, any left over will be perfect for Christmas 2012.


1 lb each of: raisins, currants, sultanas, prunes (chopped into sultana-sized pieces).
Approx. 2 pints of brandy (this is our secret addition)
1 lb breadcrumbs
1 lb brown sugar
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp mixed spice
1/2 lb mixed peel
1 lb plain flour
6 eggs
1 lb suet
1 dessert spoon marmalade
1 dessert spoon coffee
1/2 pint milk

Note on quantities

These quantities are direct from our recipe, but this makes a huge amount. I guess this is from the days of larger families. We always halve this, which makes three decent-sized puddings, each one giving maybe six to eight servings.


Measure out the dried fruit (raisins, currants, sultanas, prunes) into a sealable container. Add enough brandy to cover the fruit. Seal the container and leave the fruit to soak for at least a day.

It doesn't matter if you leave it for longer (a few days), that just gives more time for the brandy to soak in.

Measure all the dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl. Add the fruit and the remaining ingredients, and mix well.

Turn the mixture out into greased pudding basins. Don't over-fill. The mixture should be just below the top.

Cover each basin with a sheet of parchment paper and then a clean cloth or handkerchief. The paper and cloth should be pleated to allow the mixture to rise. Tie the covering with string.

I always make a loop of string over the top as well, to make it easy to lift the basins in and out of the pan.

For each pudding, put an inch of water into a large saucepan, put the basin into the pan, bring to the boil and simmer gently for about 4 hours. Check the pan occasionally and top up with boiling water if needed.

Don't let the pan boil dry, and don't put so much water in that it can bubble over the top of the basin. The water level should be about 1/4 to 1/2 the way up the basin at all times.

Leave to cool, then store in a cool, dry place.

When you want to serve, re-heat the pudding for an hour or so in a pan of water, like when cooking, then turn out onto a plate. If you want to be fancy, you can pour a shot of brandy over the pudding and light it before serving. Be sure to dim the lights so you can see the blue flames.

Serve with any or all of: ice cream, custard, cream, brandy butter (the most traditional).

Any leftovers can also be reheated in a microwave, but be careful just to warm through and not to overdo it.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Once more into the valley...

Success is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration - Thomas Edison

In response to my last post, Laila Knight and Andrew Jansen both asked about the critiquing cycles I've been through.

When I thought about it, I found that question remarkably difficult to answer. Like the evolution of language itself, the process is messy and not altogether linear.

So here is what Ghosts of Innocence has been through so far.

I started off using the Critters forum. About 30% went through the regular queue, but it takes several weeks to get each submission through so there's a limit to how much of a novel you can realistically get critiqued that way.

Still on Critters, I then used the "Request for dedicated readers" feature to get a handful of whole-novel critiques.

Later, I discovered Critique Circle and was impressed by the depth of critiques I received there. I am completing a round of pushing the whole novel through the public queues. As long as I can keep to my target, that review will have taken exactly a year.

The opening scenes have had much closer attention. The first chapters got posted both to Critters and to Critique Circle prior to fuller rounds of critiques. I've also made use of other opportunities out there, such as Authoress's "Secret Agent" contests, Ray Rhamey's "Flogging the Quill", and more recently the experimental "The Hook" queue on Critique Circle. These give a very different perspective from regular critiques.

In between times, I have several times printed off the whole thing and read through it to get a reader's perspective. I find this best done after setting it aside for a while so I can come at it almost like it's someone else's work.

So, in terms of how many rounds has it gone through ... pick a number!

If I look at the document version numbering I use on my laptop, where I save a backup copy prior to starting a major round of revisions, I am currently on version 8.

And this whole process has taken just over three years to date.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Lies, damned lies, and statistics

After a break from the fray, I'm easing myself back into the frame of mind for critiquing and getting ready to submit more chapters to Critique Circle.

In an effort to keep myself honest and true, I'm laying bare a few numbers. Maybe the fact that they're out there on the Interwebs for all to see - yes, both of you - will help hold me to my targets.

Current Target
Word count 98,800Not to exceed 100,000
Critiqued 73%100% by end of November
Revised 14%50% by end of December

Critiqued = put through the Critique Circle queue and feedback received.

Revised = feedback analysed and relevant chapters revised accordingly. This does not include rounds of beginning-to-end reading.

There. I've said it. May small wriggly things infest my breakfast cereal if I fail to hold true to my course.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Revision valley

I've mentioned before how I find story critiquing and writing/revising to be mutually exclusive activities, engaging my mind in vastly different ways. My mind is old, creaky, and slow to change gears between one activity and the other. I need to get settled into a frame of mind before I can be productive at either, so trying to do both in the same week leads to unacceptable beer consumption, hair loss, and nil progress.

I've been on a critiquing hiatus since the middle of August so I can: (a) Enjoy vacation without battling the overloaded wi-fi at the campground, and (b) Get back to revising Ghosts.

Vacation duly enjoyed. The kind with lots of late mornings, lazy days, and nothing exciting to report (apart from the odd boat launch escapade).

Revising also progressing.

More important than the revisions themselves, though, I seem to have finally found a revision process that works for me. Something I've struggled with horribly ever since my first round of critiques on this novel three years ago.

Typically, I find a novel chapter gets on average half-a-dozen critiques from the queue in Critique Circle. Many of these are from a core of die-hards who've been following the story from early on, which is wonderful for continuity and overall thoughts. Comments vary from little nit-picks (typos, and grammar corrections), to issues of clarity of a description or sequence of actions, to bigger issues like motivation, connection with the characters, pacing, tension, and balance.

It's a lot to take in, and a lot of it is contradictory. For example I had three different suggestions for where to start chapter one (other than where I actually started it).

So, my approach now is as follows...

(And it looks a bit like crossing a valley)

Look at the big picture from the high ground: Scan the comments for common themes, other than minor line edits, and summarise what these themes are telling me.

I don't want to tackle these yet. I just make notes at the head of the manuscript.

I use MS Word, with the story split up into about a dozen individual documents to keep them to a manageable size. I often put a few carriage returns to create white space around the segment I'm working on, and put editing notes in red font to make it stand out from the text.

So, I'll end up with a few lines in red at the head of the chapter, like:

Shorten descriptions, up tension, more assassin's POV from Shayla.

Now I've parked the difficult stuff, I delve into the weeds and go through the minor stuff: This is a paragraph-by-paragraph edit, picking up the nit-picks.

The "inline comments" feature in Critique Circle makes this process a dream. I can get a view of all the comments together, so I can see all the critiquers' suggestions on any given paragraph together. Great for seeing where several people have issue with the same thing.

Some are obvious errors - easy to deal with. Some are more a matter of style and I'll filter those more carefully. Some I'll agree with on the spot. In some cases, I can see what the critter is saying but will choose to correct it my way. In some cases, I choose to disregard the comment and we'll simply agree to disagree.

These last two points I believe are crucial to keeping this "my" story. I've gone through the experience before of editing the life and soul out of a chapter in an effort to please everyone. Never again!

This phase is relatively easy for some sections, where sentence and paragraph edits work OK in isolation. But every so often I'll reach a section which needs more drastic rework.

The editing is still localised, but is more than just one or two paragraphs. Here, I'll create some space above and below the offending section, a bit like hauling a broken piece of machinery out onto a workbench. If it needs a serious rewrite, I change the old text to another colour so I know what to delete later on, and start drafting a replacement version alongside it.

When I'm happy with the editing, I go back through the whole chapter to see how well this new piece integrates with the whole. It's amazing how often I find I've echoed a phrase or idea from somewhere else, and I need to decide how to eliminate the duplication. Sometimes it's better off in its new home, sometimes not *face palm*. Or I might have introduced a continuity error in the process of rearranging something *head desk*.

With all that out of the way, I lift back up to the bigger elements. You may ask why I do this last, which may well involve messing up all the careful editing I've done up to now.

Well, I like to think with a clean manuscript. Getting rid of the smaller stuff "clears the decks" for me. I'm also worried that if I move things around I'll lose track of some of the essential line edits I was going to do.

But the biggest reason is that I need time to let some thoughts "perk", and to reacquaint myself intimately with the details of a chapter that I might not have worked on in months. I find this to be essential to get myself out of "revision" mode and back into proper "writing" mode, which is how I prefer to view these large-scale changes.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

So, is it summer, or what?

I don't think it can make it's mind up right now.

On the one hand, all day today we found ourselves seeking shade at every opportunity. And yet, as always seems to happen early September, it's like someone's flicked a switch and the evenings are suddenly no longer inviting for sitting out on the deck. After weeks of non-stop outdoor living, we are back to eating meals indoors.

Yesterday evening, we were out picking our first blackberries. Something that should have happened a whole month ago.

Then today, we went to the Saanich Fair, which always, to me, signals the end of summer.

What a topsy-turvy season.

The Saanich Fair has become an annual favourite of ours, even though most of it is now familiar and predictable. There's big sheds of livestock, arts and crafts, and all the usual displays you'd find in a country, vegetables, home baking, well as a wide assortment of stalls and endless varieties of food stands.

Because we've seen it all before, we asked the kids if they wanted to bother this year. Megan, especially, insisted. Here's why...
She's made friends in past years with some of the goat owners, and spent the whole day helping them out.

Of course, going to fairs like this has its attendant perils. There's always the danger of coming home with rather more than you intended to.

Please welcome two new additions to the family: Midnight and Liquorice.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...