Category Archives: Books

Just Before the Muddy Middle

The path to completion is never easy…

Approaching the muddy middle… never a fun place to be. Photo by Holger Link on Unsplash

There’s a stage in every writing project where the first draft seems unfinishable. For me, that point is usually somewhere between the 50–75% mark. By then, I’m usually frustrated by how slowly things are going, feel like I’m never going to finish the first draft, hate most of what I’ve written, feel that either I’ll never have enough to say to finish a whole book or that there will be no possible way to wade through all the resources and rough notes to and whittle them down to a reasonable number of words that will fit within the target word count. By that point, I’m usually feeling bogged down by all the reading I’ve done and physically am buried under stacks of printed out articles and teetering piles of library books. The number of tabs open in several different browsers are slowing my poor laptop down to prehistoric speeds.

It’s all rainbows and unicorns around here at the moment. I wish I could hang onto this feeling of lightness and optimism as I approach the book-writing equivalent of the doldrums. Photo by Austin Schmid on Unsplash

But just before I get to that dreadful muddly middle where it seems there is no realistic chance I will ever finish writing the first draft, there’s a lovely stage of enthusiasm and ease that lasts up until about the first third is done. I’m nearing the end of that blissful stage in That Deforestation Book and I thought I’d take a moment to pause, reflect, and enjoy the fact that things are going well.

There are loads of resources out there and I’ve sunk my teeth into several (though finished reading none). I’m finding my research is actually fitting quite nicely into the fairly detailed outline I set up in Scrivener. I’ve been told by my editor to be careful because Scrivener and Word (which is how I’ll eventually need to export the draft before it goes off to the editor) don’t always play nicely together. For the moment, I’ve decided not to worry about that too much because I’m finding Scrivener to be quite helpful and a good fit for the chaotic way in which I write. I jump all over the place in a manuscript when I’m starting out and only later go back and get all methodical and chronological about the material. That’s when I realize just how big the gaps are that I’ve left to deal with later…

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For now, though, I am merrily inserting ‘look at this later’ comments to myself when I discover I don’t know as much as I thought I did about specific details (like the percentage of forests in BC that are clearcut each year and how that number has changed over the past 50 years). On the other side, I’m finding resources like the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN) document, Global Forests Resource Assessment 2015 which is available as a free Kindle download and which provides an interesting overview of global deforestation (and replanting) numbers over the past 25 years.

Basically, I’m still feeling optimistic and happy about how things are going. I’m approaching the 30% mark in terms of word count and am easily finding material to slot into the various sections. What I also know is that this feeling of ‘I’ve got this’ is about to turn into ‘What the hell was I thinking?’ as I approach the halfway mark and the beginning of the muddy middle.

Wish me luck!

Also reading: Breakfast of Biodiversity: the Political Ecology of Rain Forest Destruction by John Vandermeer and Ivette Perfecto [and various other titles procured from the library — love my library!]

Word Count (cumulative): Just shy of 3000 words

Suggestions? How do you deal with that terrible place in the middle of a first draft where things slooooooow right down and it seems like you’ll never reach the end?

Haven’t bought the last book yet? Here’s the link to Christmas: From Solstice to Santa

Repost: Coppice vs Pollard – What’s Happening with That Deforestation Book

Wherein a book is nurtured… and willow twigs are bent into all manner of odd shapes… Photo by Nynne Schrøderon Unsplash

If you are following along over on Medium and my author blog (yes, I know, too many blogs…) you’ll likely recognize this as another in the accountability blog post series. That Deforestation Book, as I’ve been calling it, is coming along slowly but surely. Today’s research dug into the differences between coppicing and pollarding. Both involve lopping a tree off at its knees (or ankles) and then waiting to see what happens. In the case of most evergreen species, not much, but if you try this trick with something like a willow or a maple tree it’s more like, ‘holy crap! shouldn’t that thing be dead?’ because after a relatively short time the tree stump sprouts a bunch of fresh sprouts that rapidly grow into usable sticks, poles, and, left for a few years, fence posts. 

So, What’s the Difference between Pollarding and Coppicing?

The difference between the two ancient practices (according to this BBC article, there are coppiced trees in France that have been coming and going, so to speak, for six centuries!) is that one cuts a coppiced tree right to the ground, whereas a pollarded specimen has been cut a bit higher up. In both cases, the new growth is quick, vigorous, and eminently useful.

Furniture of various kinds made from young, flexible twigs… Photo by Isaac Benhesedon Unsplash

Thin, pliable, young shoots may be used for basket or furniture-making, but if you leave your fresh growth to mature for a bit, it’s possible to produce quite a large amount of usable wood in a relatively short amount of time. In addition to the basic concept, I’ve added some new vocabulary (stool, copse, lop, poll) and found a few decent photos, so that whole section is looking reasonable.

Back in my farm and gardening days, I made good use of my coppiced/pollarded bounty to build gates, trellises, structures for supporting beans, peas, cucumbers… Here, my niece is on an Easter egg hunt, oblivious to the magic of coppiced sticks to her left… 

One of the interesting challenges of writing a book in the Orca Footprints series is that the authors must all have some sort of personal connection to the subject at hand. At first glance little old me, a tree lover, might not have an obvious hand in global deforestation (other than the vast number of sheets of paper I print out in the course of writing a book… ), but I’m finding that the connections, in this case, are plentiful. Take coppicing. 

Have I Ever Coppiced a Tree? Why, Yes I Have!

The first time I coppiced a tree was after a wild blizzard on Vancouver Island. A lovely old, but fragile, plum tree split in half and basically disintegrated under the weight of a huge amount of wet, west coast snow. The sprawling wreckage that emerged when the snow melted was heartbreaking, but the debris was also affecting other trees in our orchard as one half of the plum had fallen across a young cherry tree we had planted and the other half had crashed into one of our favourite apple trees. So, we cut the plum tree down thinking that was that. Lo and behold, when spring came a virtual forest of plum tree stalks shot up from the stump. We left the spindly young ones alone for a few years and they put on quite the show of blossoms each spring. Because the original fruiting part of the tree would have been grafted onto rootstock, we never did get any more edible fruit, but the amount of regrowth was truly inspiring and I used quite a few of the new sticks to build some rustic gates and other farm and garden structures.

That was my introduction to the concept of coppicing which, as my father enlightened me at the time, was a common practice back in the UK and elsewhere in Europe. In terms of That Deforestation Book, my fond memories of lopping and chopping have been recycled quite nicely into a sidebar in the pollarding section…

Word count: Running total 2663 (though, that’s a bit inflated because it includes my growing list of references which won’t be included in the final total…Using Scrivener, I’m not quite sure how to exclude a section when doing my word count. If you are a Scrivener expert, do tell…)

Christmas is Here!! (Day 8/365)

Guess what was waiting for me in my mailbox after we got home from the BVI?

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It’s the Advance Reading Copy of the newest book!! Christmas: From Solstice to Santa will be out in September, 2018 – in plenty of time for stocking stuffer season…

 

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That’s a somewhat younger version of me sitting on Santa’s knee… 

 

As always, the book looks lovely thanks to the hard-working team at Orca Book Publishers! Also, a special shout out to Dani, co-author, daughter, and Christmas-lover who came up with the idea for the book waaaaaaaay back when… it’s so cool to see this inching toward final publication!

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Also waiting for me once I was back in regular contact with the virtual world was a message in my email in-box. What a relief to read the wonderful note from my editor, Sarah, who says the first draft of the book about medical assistance in dying is in reasonably good shape. By this I mean, it doesn’t look like I need to go back to the drawing board and completely rewrite everything, which is most excellent news. Of course there are all sorts of issues to have a look at, some things to move around, and a few gaps to fill, but overall, we are off to a great start with this book about our ultimate ending! (Tentative title: When the Time is Right: Choosing to Live, Choosing to Die)

All of that’s fine and dandy, but let’s get back to Christmas… and, art – which, if there’s going to be an over-arching theme to the posts over the coming months, it will likely be that… Art, I mean… not Christmas…

 

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Christmas at Home by Grandma Moses

 

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In case you have always wanted to know what Grandma Moses (1860-1961) looked like, there she is… Her full name was Anna Mary Robertson Moses and what is most inspiring about her is that she didn’t get serious about her painting until she was 78!! Which means I have decades in hand if I get my finger out and start doing some visual art now…

 

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I can’t say this is really art, but it probably counts as a decorative element  in my journal (or, a doodle). And, yes, we did get stuck in the Puerto Rico airport for a bit as a result of an unfortunate ticketing error that had us boarding a plane bound for Tortola while we were still in the air travelling from Chicago… Obviously it all worked out ok because I’m now back in Canmore, but we did have some sweaty moments while trying to sort it all out! 

 

I’m a bit too jet-lagged to write much more today (if you didn’t clue in based on the rambling incoherent  somewhat disorganized nature of this post), but it feels good to be back, unpacked, laundry done and looking ahead to what’s coming at me over the next few weeks. Hint: more sailing, some school visits, climbing, the Camino book, art-related projects, and a bit of Shakespeare… Stay tuned!

 

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Calendar – 1902 by Theophile Steinlen

 

Note: What the heck – given I’ve now passed the 40-days-needed-to-create-a-new-habit mark, I’m going to set my daily blogging goal at 365 days and see if I can keep this streak going. Though, I wasn’t actually going to count the blog posts in April. If I counted the AtoZ posts, that would make this #38 and not #8. But really, who cares? I feel like this is the start of a new challenge embarked upon without the benefit of the inherent structure of the alphabet… and that, for some reason, feels quite daunting.

15 Painful Stages of Writing a Book

Want to know what’s going on in my head during the course of a book’s lifetime?

Scroll down for Fifteen Painful Phases of Writing a Book.

Imagine my delight when Orca Book Publishers let me know that Deep Roots: How Trees Sustain Our Planet has been long-listed for the 2017 national Green Earth Book Award, awarded annually to children’s and young adult literature that best convey the message of environmental stewardship. (For more details, visit the official website.)

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The book has had some terrific reviews (including this one at CM Magazine) and was chosen by the New York Public Library system as one of the Best 100 Books for Children and Young Adults in 2016. It’s been nominated for a Silver Birch Non-fiction Award (I’ll be heading for Toronto to take part in the celebrations in May and speaking to students at several school and library presentations), which is pretty exciting.

Of course, I am delighted to see a book is finding such a warm response out there in the world. But on the other hand, I’m scratching my head a bit, too. I mean, I’ve written a lot of books now (30 or so, and counting) and I have never  been able to predict which ones will take off and which ones won’t. You’d think that after spending decades writing I would get a feel for when something is decent and not so much. What actually happens is pretty much the same process for every book. Here’s what’s going on in my head at each stage…

Fifteen Painful Phases of Writing a Book

Phase One: Getting Started

I LOVE this project! This is the best idea I have ever had! I can’t wait to get writing! I can’t type fast enough! My ideas are FLOWING! GUSHING! My life is a string of gleeful exclamation marks! My fingers are dancing over the keyboard! Yipppeeee!! (And, yes, I use words like Yipppeeee! in everyday conversation when I’m in Phase One and never again throughout the entire book creation process).

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It’s all good… in the beginning…

Phase Two: Getting Serious

Hm. This is harder than I thought it would be. I’m not quite sure I’m heading in the right direction. Maybe I should go back and start again. No, that would be a bad idea. Keep going. You can write your way out of this.

Phase Three: Mild Panic

What was I thinking? This is awful! Nobody will ever want to read this. I should stop and start a new project. Where is the paper shredder? So boring. It is agony to sit at my desk. My fingers are leaden and uncooperative. Oh, look – Facebook! Was that a dirty dish I heard calling my name? Yes, I think I need a long walk to clear my mind. Oh, man – I’m so tired after that walk. A nap would be the best thing. I will wake up refreshed and ready to get back to work. I feel like death warmed over. Tomorrow will be a better day.

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The dog days of book-writing… Let me sleep. Let the misery end…

Phase Four: Repetitive Face Palm Syndrome Sets In

I have lost it. I can’t imagine I will ever get to the end of this excruciatingly awful project. What made me think this was remotely a good idea? This is so bad. What a mess. I should retire. My favourite coffee shop has a Help Wanted sign in the window. I was a great waitress back in the day. I don’t even go near my desk. What’s the point?

Phase Five: Resignation

Ok, it’s terrible, but I am so close to the end I might as well just finish it so I can start on a new, better project.

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In those dark, dark moments of believing what I have produced is utter garbage, I bribe myself with the promise of a new project that, surely, will be better than the dreck in which I find myself mired… 

Phase Six: Submission

Well, it’s done now. Be strong. Click ‘send.’ Aggghhh! Off it goes to the editor. Steel yourself for the worst. Start another project.

Phase Seven: Really?

The editor doesn’t hate it. In fact, there are some redeeming qualities. Yes, some editing to be done, but actually, now that I’m sitting down to work on it again, the edits are doable. and there are parts that aren’t hideous.

Phase Eight, Nine, Ten… : More Editing

Ok, this is getting old. I am now more sick of this project than seems humanly possible. If I have to write another draft I. Will. Die.

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May as well take a long walk off a short pier at this point… 

Phase Eleven: Survived!

Hm. I am not dead. The book is in production.

Phase Twelve: A long time later…

Hey! A box of books arrived in the mail! Did I write that? It was all so long ago… Well, I’ll be… some of this isn’t too bad! Oh dear – I’d change that bit if I could. Too late now… Let’s hope someone else out there reads it and doesn’t hate it.

Phase Thirteen: Reviews, or Silence

With any luck, someone will care enough to read and review the book. I try not to read reviews too carefully – sort of skim through them to see if there’s anything really bad and otherwise file them away and try to ignore them. Ditto with lists of nominations – I have done my best and making it onto long-lists or short-lists is completely beyond my control. This is when I put on my best, ‘whatever will be, will be’ face.

Phase Fourteen: Shockingly short timeframe later…

The book goes out of print. Did it ever exist? Does anyone care? Does anyone else miss the book the way I do now that it’s gone?

Phase Fifteen: Return to Phase One

Because, you know… I’ve got this GREAT IDEA!!

(Images courtesy of the talented photographers at unsplash.com)

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Enjoy the blog? Consider becoming a patron to support the creation of these blog posts, photo essays, and short videos. In return, you’ll have my undying appreciation, but you’ll also get access to Patron-only content, advance peeks at works in progress, and more – all for as little as a buck a month! It’s easy – head on over to Patreon to have a look at how it all works.

Two Book Birthdays in One Week!

When it rains, it pours, as they say… As if having one book come out this week wasn’t exciting enough, the latest in the Orca Origins series arrived today! Birthdays: Beyond Cake and Ice Cream is a collaboration with my talented daughter, Dani. Dani and I also wrote Take Shelter together and, in fact, have another in the works for the Origins series (about Christmas).

 

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Dani checking out our new book at a Starbucks where we like to work together…

 

Birthdays was a lot of fun to research and write in part because it meant we were able to dip into those big boxes of family photos in search of family birthday memories. Not that we have to wait until we are researching a book before we dig around the archives. The reality is, though, we have a LOT of photographs (my mother was a professional photographer) and it’s a bit overwhelming to open those boxes and go exploring. It’s easy to lose hours and hours traveling back through the time machine of family photographs.

nikki peter birthday magic 15875135_10157964105550364_4577374677000110276_o.jpgThis photo was taken in about 1970 during our first year in Canada. My brother, Peter and I shared a birthday bash that year as we had a magician come out from Calgary to perform at our party in Banff. We invited everyone from both our classes at school and had a party we both remember well even now.

I posted this photo on Facebook not long ago and a friend who was at that party reminded me I had fits of giggles every time the magician handed me his wand which, to my delight and confusion, refused to stay rigid whenever I touched it. The wand’s inevitable collapse each time I took it left me in hysterics. I had forgotten that part of the party but remembered that the party favors included boxes of Lucky Elephant Popcorn.

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Bright pink and sweet, that candy popcorn was one of my favorites when I was a kid! Apparently, Lucky Elephant is a Canadian treat, so if you live elsewhere and have no idea what I’m talking about, that’s why.

Though our infamous magical birthday party didn’t make it into the book, lots of other family birthdays did. Dani’s 20th in Japan (wearing a fancy kimono), my dad’s 80th (holding a certificate from our then-newly-minted PM, Justin Trudeau), and my fifth (holding onto a very fuzzy white pony in Australia) are all in the book along with a whole lot of things about birthdays I didn’t know before we started writing.

 

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Happy Birthday, Birthdays!!

 

For the past several years Dani and I have been working together on one book or another, so it’s a bit strange now to be in the phase where we are tossing ideas back and forth and considering what our next collaboration might entail. We have a few thoughts that might have legs,  so stay tuned. You never know where our inquiring minds might take us next!

The New Book is Officially Out!

It never gets old, the arrival of a new book! Deadpoint was officially released into the wilds today (and, by wilds, I mean your local bookstore, library, or online bookseller…)! I love the quote on the bookmarks, “Fear is not an option.” I even like the punctuation – that period at the end of the statement […]

via Deadpoint is Alive! — Nikki Tate – Author

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Enjoy the blog? Consider becoming a patron to support the creation of these blog posts, photo essays, and short videos. In return, you’ll have my undying appreciation, but you’ll also get access to Patron-only content, advance peeks at works in progress, and more – all for as little as a buck a month! It’s easy – head on over to Patreon to have a look at how it all works.

Where the Past and Future Meet

 

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Just because it’s an ugly job doesn’t mean I can’t have some scribbly fun in my journal. The journals, btw, are going into storage. You never know when I might need a reminder about all the strange decisions I’ve made so far…

At the moment, my past and present are colliding in a humongous jumble of boxes stacked high in every available space in my Victoria suite. After 20 years at one address (a record!), I am moving. And, downsizing. Drastically. With any luck, I’ll be spending lots of time over the next number of years living in tiny spaces – a sailboat. A tent. During my more luxurious moments, in a condo in the mountains.

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Every room looks like this at the moment. Books and boxes everywhere. Total chaos.

With all that in mind and more determined than ever to be mobile and unfettered (as unfettered as someone who is recently engaged can be…), I have been going through ALL my stuff. Yep, even the boxes full of ancient files containing useful things like phone bills from 1984, the dot matrix drafts of papers from university, every draft of every book or article I’ve ever written, random receipts, shopping lists, birthday cards from people I don’t even know… Why, oh why did I feel I needed to keep my copy of meeting minutes from every meeting I’ve attended over the past 30+ years? Phone memos torn from those pink message pads? I can barely remember those jobs, never mind the person or phone number so carefully saved in boxes all these years. The toss (well, recycle) ratio on most of this papery dreck is running at 90% or higher.

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Typical of the number of boxes of files and papers in a given corner… Below, the same corner after the excavation. All that reduced to one, small box.

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Likewise, the books are being drastically reduced in number. I have been culling for several years now, but this last go round is truly impressive. I probably started with 12,000-15,000 books and will perhaps wind up with 500. Which is pretty incredible (though I’m wondering if I could actually get that number down even lower). I’m either donating to schools, giving them to friends, sending them off to thrift shops, or, for the relatively few that may have some modest value, they are heading off to find new owners via a couple of used book shops. Said shops provide store credit only, so for the little I get from my 50+ years of rabid collecting (hoarding!) of books, I’ll be able to get a few choice Christmas presents or select titles I decide I absolutely need to add to what will be a rather modest collection. It’s thoroughly depressing to think how very little used books are actually worth in our world.

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So many manuscript drafts. I kept editorial notes (like these from an early draft of Tarragon Island) and a few sample pages here and there, took some snapshots of random pages and then… tossed the rest away.

Has it been hard to let all that stuff go? At first, it was excruciating. Every book that went into a ‘donate’ box tugged at my heart strings. I may not have read every book on my shelves, but I know where they all came from and why they are there. My bookshelves were a sort of visual archive of my entire life and every time I let one go it was like letting a little piece of my past disappear.

And then, it got easier. I’m not sure what happened, but there was a massive shift in the way I was looking at what suddenly seemed to be an excessive number of books for any one human to possess. Armloads started going into the boxes destined for various schools… most of my equestrian-themed books went off to the Victoria Therapeutic Riding Association. Others, I realized, would find plenty of pleasure in the books I have had around me for so long.

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Photos like this one of me feeding a monkey in Singapore, 1967 are keepers. The French homework notebook into which this photo had been tacked has been tossed. This is why it’s taking me so long to go through everything. There are gems hidden away, tucked between the pages of books, folded up and wedged between old phone bills, scribbled on napkins and, yes, recorded on ancient cassette tapes. The audio-visual finds will have to wait to be shared until I can convert them into something the digital world can understand.

The task is, as you can imagine, huge. Though it has become easier to decide what can go and what must be stored away until I’m once again in a place where I can lovingly place my favourite bliblio-babies back on bookshelves, the sheer volume of material I need to work my way through is staggering.

But so worth it.