Tag Archives: Musings

December Musings

December means a lot of things to a lot of people:  For some it’s a month for slowing down, or baking, or taking time with family and friends, or cuddling up on the couch with a good book while it snows and blows and freezes outside (for those of us in the northern hemisphere, at least); for others it’s a month of work stress in winding up the year-end’s tasks, or cramming in meetings and project plans that need to take off in the New Year; for others it’s stress due to shopping – either because one has no idea what so-and-so wants/needs yet one must give said person a gift, or because of the crowds that seem to defy population censuses for any given town.

For me, it’s the juxtaposition of wanting to cuddle up with a selection of books on the couch between our three cats, settling in with an Earl Grey tea and a blanket and ignoring the world for a day or two, versus reaching my goal of getting the first draft of my fifth novel done before Christmas.  Said draft goal is only realistic if I keep at it, every day, disciplining myself to ignore the urge to kick up my feet and read, and (I will admit it) even ignoring the urge to write for my blogs, until I’ve written 1,000 words toward the completion of the manuscript.  Once that’s done (or the equivalent in editing and tweaking), other things can be given attention.  Important tasks that come at the right time are “priority”, but when they come up at the wrong time and intrude on my concentration, they are merely distractions.

So here I sit, 2:30 a.m. and finally have time to sit down to write to you.   Whatever your December looks like – whether stressful or relaxed, planned to the gills or with room for the spontaneous – remember that each day we wake up is a fresh opportunity to get it right, and each time we go to bed is an opportunity to take a moment to remember the blessings that came our way that day.

Awkward

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Back in the Land of the Living

Last week I took a much-needed break from the computer after launching my latest novel, The Cardinal (Parts One & Two)!  It is such a complex story with rich landscapes that it deserved the room to breathe and unfold, and so it became two novels, though that decision didn’t come until well into the second draft.  When it was all said and done, I had formatted two books, twice each (one format for Kindle, one for paperback), designed four covers, written countless versions of blurbs, etc., and gone through the publication process four times.  Trust me, I’d seen enough of my computer at that point to have a love-hate relationship with it for a while.  During that break I managed to read five books in a week, not a single one of them research-related for the next project!  I’ve since made peace with my computer, and I’m beginning work on the next novel – this time, back to the 18th century to complete the Northing Trilogy.  I’m looking forward to exploring this new aspect of characters I already know well from the previous two novels; it will take me through the grime of workhouse orphanages and the salty brine of the British navy in the mid-18th century, and already the research questions accumulating portend at least one trip to London, which is one of my favourite cities anyway, and I’m sure you’ll hear more about that in the months to come.

The Culprits

The Three Culprits: Gandria, Caprino and Allegra (top to bottom)

With all of the push and shove of getting the books ready to publish, Christmas has snuck up on me!  It hit home this weekend, literally, when we put up the Christmas decorations:  Here in Switzerland it’s usual to put the Christmas tree and decorations up on Christmas Eve, so we’ve struck a compromise between our varying cultures and aim for the first Advent; it’s also a pragmatic compromise as, if we’re going to go to all that effort, we might as well enjoy it a bit.  We went to the first Christmas market of the season, complete with hot wine punch, roasted chestnuts, and Christmas shopping.  If any of you have cats, you’ll empathize with me on one point:  As we walked through the market, again and again we saw things that we liked, “But…”  A nice wind chime made of drift wood, stones and feathers in perfect balance?  Cat toy.  Ditto for the man-sized candle holder made of stones & driftwood.  Scratching post.  Now mind you, our cats are well-behaved, and they only scratch on their scratching post; but there’s probably too little of a difference to their perspective between the allowed version and the decorative, expensive version…  Any cloth craft item is like catnip to our calico, Gandria – she carries off anything cloth she can get into her mouth (she’s even learned how to unzip my husband’s backpack; her favourite thing to steal is his tissue packs).

All of that just to say this:  I have now re-entered the land of the living after having been sequestered with my book manuscripts in the final polish and publish phases.  I’m more than ready for holidays, and blogging, writing, researching, plotting… in short, starting the next manuscript.

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A Postcard from Lugano II

Lago di Lugano, Switzerland, with San Salvtore beneath the moon.

Lago di Lugano, Switzerland, with San Salvtore beneath the moon.

I’ve been absent from posting for a few weeks now, as I was away on holiday and I left most of my writing at home.  Most.  Last summer I wrote you the first Postcard from Lugano; and I will say that not much has changed.  It’s still beautiful, with lazy hot days with a cool breeze coming off the lake, and warm evenings with glistening stars  overhead and a glittering city below.  This first photo was taken at about 4 in the morning (I have no sleeping rhythm, which is handy when such scenes present themselves).

 

Villa Helios:  The back of the mansion with the terraced walk leading toward the lake.  Under renovation.

Villa Helios: The back of the mansion with the terraced walk leading toward the lake. Under renovation.

But as I told you, I left most of my writing at home – not all.  When in Lugano, I’ve been working on a novel the past few years; it started out as a fun idea to explore, and gradually developed into a  more serious endeavor.  I thought I’d share it with you as it may inspire you to take on such a writing project of your own on holidays (it may not classify as travel writing per se, though in some ways [like my postcards] it may at times take on those characteristics):  Our family flat overlooks a sprawling mansion that we have watched decay from neglect for over 20 years; it was most likely trapped in an inheritance dispute.  It had been boarded up, its windows bricked in, its magnificent garden going wild until it was an impassable jumble of green.  About three or four years ago suddenly a crane was set up, and renovations began!  Of course it sparked my writer’s brain – who had inherited it, or purchased it?  What was its history?  From the looks of it I will have several more years to ponder its end as the renovations continue; but by now the gardens and the terraced walls have been brought to life, a new drive laid with mosaic stones, and the house itself has been set free of its bricked-over, blinded windows, the roof replaced, and the beautiful stones (I would venture to guess Bath Freestone) sand-blasted and cleaned to their pristine beauty.

Villa Helios, as seen from our balcony.

Villa Helios, as seen from our balcony.

Called Villa Helios, it was designed by architect Otto Maraini, who was born in Lugano on 8 November 1863 and died there 16 January 1944. Villa Helios in Castagnola was built in 1901-1902, including a series of walls and terraces that formed part of the lake shore.  I came across a few historical photos at arteeidee – thank you to them for sharing the old magazine photos (“The Modern Building” monthly magazine of architecture and construction practice, August 1904)!  Check out that blog post for the older photos (click on them to enlarge); The photos I’ve added here are current shots.  I’ll just say two things about the crane:  Note the box hanging from it, near the vertical shaft – that is the tool crate, hung up at the end of work days to deter construction site thieves.  Also, though the crane interrupts our view of Lugano at times (it shifts freely with the wind when not in use, so sometimes we barely see it), it gives us a brilliant view of birds that take over when the workers are gone – there’s a constant conversation between the seagulls and the Hooded crows.  I’d love to do more research on this building, but most of the information is in Italian, which I can fight my way through only passably, but as I said I still have plenty of time.  That’s the beauty of holidays.

To you writers out there:  Find an interesting old building in your own area, research into its history, and create a story with the building as one of the characters and not merely a location.

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How To Boost Your Focus

I’m probably the most organised person I know; I’m not OCD about it, I just work better when things are organised.  Writing a book means that I accumulate bits and pieces of information, research facts, website links, editing tips, formatting guidelines, historical trivia that I can integrate into my plot (but only if I can find it when I get there), maps, diagrams, lists of names in various languages, grammar points to remember (I’ve made up a word for “points to remember” – poitrems – you heard it here first), How-To cheat-sheets for PhotoShop, publication checklists (pre- and post-), Shelfari to-dos, and… need I continue?  I’m just getting started.  And that’s my point.  If I’m not organised, I’ll waste half my day looking for something… where did I put that note about the dimensions of a modern casket?  Was it hot arsenic or cyanide that smells like garlic?  Are blue diamonds more valuable than pure white?  What kind of micro-organism poops arsenic?  A friend of mine complimented me one day when I told her some of the things I was researching; she said, “You’re just weird.”  And it’s something my husband repeats fondly on a regular basis.

So, I’d like to share a few of my organisational tips with you:

1)  Know thyself.  Know your weaknesses (You know, those distractions, procrastination excuses, time-eating habits like “just checking into Facebook for a minute before I sit down to write” and an hour later you’re hungry, then you see that the kitchen needs cleaning… you know who you are.).  Recognize those time-wasters, and nip them in the bud before they mushroom into a day wasted.  Keep your cell phone at a safe distance; wear earplugs if you need to; turn on music if it helps you focus, turn it off if it distracts you.  Write down points to research and only dive into research when you have 5 items on the list (and stay away from time-monster sites like Facebook and Youtube while you’re working!)

Character Profile Worksheet 12)  Find a system that works for you.  I organise my notes, etc. in various ways:  I have pocket-sized Moleskin books for quick reference character profiles, lists of words, family trees of characters, etc.; I also have lined notebooks with those heavy-duty post-it tabs labelling the sections (that are well-spaced apart for future additions); I write the section names on the front and back of those tabs so that I can find it from either way the notebook lands on my desk.  For instance, one notebook I always have at hand has sections like publications, pre- & post- publication to-dos, paperback formatting checklist, KDP guidelines, CreateSpace guidelines, grammar, PhotoShop Elements helps, editing checklists, proofing checklists, Beta checklists, and step-by-step guides for various publication formats.  Another notebook I keep on hand has things like time-related notes (Julian calendar terms, Ages [Stone Age = ~6,000-2,000 BC], etc.), medical notes (that’s where I put that note about modern casket dimensions), glossaries for archaeological terms, 18th century England notes, lists of museum curators’ names, phone numbers and emails, etc.  Besides notebooks, I keep “cards” – here’s an example (to the right):  I type up the information in PowerPoint, then save each “card” to .jpg format through MS Paint.  These cards are then saved onto my Tab through Dropbox, and Bob’s your uncle, I’ve got them handy whether I’m writing on the couch, on holiday, or in a café.

Pomodoro Time Management Tips3) Learn to focus.  I’ve recently found a great way to focus better through those hours of the day and night when I know I’m going to be most distracted:  It’s called Focus Booster.  It’s basically a timer on your desktop that counts down time increments, with an additional break-time at the end of each cycle.  The standard unit of time is 25/5, though you can adjust it to your rhythm.  The thinking is that anyone can focus on a given task for 25 minutes, even those who struggle with ADD.  In using it, I’ve realized how often I get distracted by a thought that comes into my mind while writing and I get up to do something quickly.  This way, I stay working for a solid amount of time, and use that 5 minutes to switch gears and get other things done; it’s amazing how much you can get accomplished in 30 minutes.  I’d encourage you to download it and give it a try if you struggle with concentration.  Here’s a second card I’ve made with the basic principles for the Booster.

Those are just a few ideas; if you struggle with a specific area, or would like suggestions on dealing with specific challenges in focusing, just ask away!  Focus well, and your writing will flow so much more smoothly and swiftly.

 

 

 

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Filed under Articles, Nuts & Bolts, Research, Writing Exercise

Fools & Madmen

Aldous Leonard Huxley“The vast majority of human beings dislike and even dread all notions with which they are not familiar.  Hence it comes about, that at their first appearance, innovators have always been divided as fools and madmen. ”

Aldous Leonard Huxley, 1894-1963, British writer

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The Future in the Past

I love keeping up with the latest technologies, scientific developments, astronomical discoveries and the like; it informs my novel-writing and plot development.  But what did our present look like in the past (if one could say that)?  What did past generations look forward and envision for our time?  How much of it was humorously inaccurate, and how much of it could be inspiration still?  For a glimpse into the minds of the past, click on the photo below.

Future Guess, 1920s

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It’s a Small World After All

What happens when complete strangers, from enemy-nations, meet face to face?  Or in this case, screen to screen?  Smiles, and the realisation that at the core, humanity transcends race, colour, creed, nationality, culture and language.  Coca-Cola engineered the experience; unfortunately it’s not a permanent installation due to the complex technology involved, but what if it one day could be a permanent fixture?  So many people are alone in a crowd; it would be a possibility to connect with a stranger face to face, and maybe in the process, even meet a new friend.  To read the article and see the video, please click on the image below.

Small World 2

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Food and a Hug

There are restaurants, and then there are places that serve experiences.  Here is an amazing story of Tim Harris, restaurant owner, 10-time Olympic medalist, and a hugger.  Yep.  He serves food and a great hug.  And he might also have the distinction of being the only owner of a restaurant who also happens to have Down Syndrome.  And he’s so right:  People with disabilities are a gift to the world.  Through their perspectives and challenges, love of life and courage to face it with a smile (even though they have moods along with the rest of us!), we can learn to appreciate what we have, and take each day as a gift.  Click on the photo below to follow the story, and come out smiling!

Tim Harris's Restaurant

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On Getting an Education

Christmas is over and schools are starting back up this coming Monday here in Switzerland.  We all know the adage of the older generation answering the complaints of the younger generation about going to school with, “When I was your age, I (fill in the blanks)____________ (had to cross a snow storm on my hands and knees every day / rode a horse sixty miles one way / had to eat the horse halfway to avoid starvation…).”

I don’t know what it’s like where you live, but here children need to know what they want to do with their careers by the time they’re 12 or 13 so that they can begin training specifically in maths or sciences toward that goal.  I don’t know about you, but I never thought that far ahead at that age!  I don’t know a child who does; so it puts a tremendous amount of pressure on them at a far too early age, if you ask me.  Having said that, children here don’t have to traverse war zones, landmine fields, or floods to get to their school here.  Some may have to cross mountains, but they do so in a school bus.  Yet for all of that, education is one of the most precious assets on the planet; with it, the world lays open before us; without it, opportunities often remain just out of reach, or so far away that they’re completely out of sight.

So the next time you hear a teenager you know complain about going to school, just show them the photos from the link by clicking on the images below, and may we all remember to count our blessings!

risking-lives-for-school[2]

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Winning with Kindness

In a world of virtual contact, communication and anonymous cities and neighborhoods, it’s easy to lose touch with what’s really important. It’s easy to lose touch with others, and when they (or we) go through difficulties, the distance can seem insurmountable.  We may live in a global village, but at the heart of all of us is a longing for relationships, for friendships, for connecting with other humans on a deeper level than superficial social politeness.  Here’s a woman who overcame her own depression by focusing on others, and it’s amazing to see how much it has snowballed since that one act of kindness to a stranger.  Click on the photo below to watch the story unfold.

Simple Kindness

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