Janice Dick is a Saskatchewan writer who blogs at Tansy and Thistle Press. She has written, among other things, two historical fiction series about Mennonite families from Russia, based on their history. Book 2 of the “In Search of Freedom” series is loosely based on the memoirs of a man who survived Soviet persecution of his family in China after fleeing from Siberia. Book 3 will be out soon.
Janice recently interviewed me on her blog, where I have enjoyed reading about a good number of other authors as well. The interview is posted at: https://janicedick.wordpress.com/2018/07/24/author-interview-sharon-plumb/ . Thanks, Janice!
My parents were married on April 2, 1961. My dad is gone, but today would have been their 57th anniversary.
For their 40th anniversary, my sister and I and our families re-enacted their wedding for them…well, their wedding as we imagined it. I played my dad in a plaid shirt and suspenders, my brother-in-law played my mom, my youngest son was the “flour” girl, and so on. We had fun, and they laughed.
Here is the play for your enjoyment. Happy anniversary, mom and dad!
Here is an interview I did recently with CANSCAIP Sask.
Sharon Plumb Hamilton writes stories and plays for children of all ages. She has two traditionally published books, a picture book about a bear who shovels snow off his roof and a young adult science fiction novel about a lonely dragon and his girl. Right now she’s finishing up another YA novel with all dragon characters, and touching up a middle grade adventure novel set in a garden of giant vegetables. She also writes and directs children’s Christmas plays.
Sharon is currently the president of CANSCAIP Sask Horizons, and really excited about these “Meet Our Members” posts. Other writers have been a huge help and encouragement to her, and she hopes this group can be the same for you.
Describe your workspace.
I have three workspaces: my desk and my treadmill in my bedroom, and a large table in our family room where I write regularly with two friends.
Describe a typical workday.
I don’t really have a typical workday, but one that happens fairly often (a couple of times a week) starts with my friends Alison and Marie coming over to write at the table I mentioned above. We usually talk a little bit before we get going, but then work quietly and steadily. If we ever start talking again, my son Richard, who works at his computer in the same room, reminds us why we are here. These mornings are good because we all know that this is writing time and that’s what we do. If there isn’t something else I need to do after they leave, I often keep writing. I also do my best to write on the mornings when they aren’t here.
List three of your most favourite things in your workspace and why they are meaningful.
Other than the friends I write with…
1. My treadmill desk. Sitting too long makes me sleepy and stiff, so I love walking while I work. I learned the hard way, though, that I can’t walk all the time. I did too much at first and had to stop for over a year while I went to physio and repaired the damage. Now I pace myself and stop after 45 minutes, then do it again later if I want to. Now that the sidewalks are icy, I’m extra glad I can walk inside again.
2. My office glasses, which are for seeing close and medium distances and make it comfortable to look at the screen. With the progressive lenses in my regular glasses, I had to tilt my head back to see the screen out of the bottom of the lenses. Not comfortable at all! Sometimes I wear the office glasses all day at home, because even when I’m not writing, most of the things I do are close at hand.
3. Richard, my best story coach. He analyzes everythingI write with his super-logical mind, then points out every part that doesn’t make complete sense or is inconsistent with something that happens on another page. Then he gives me suggestions for how to fix things, or discusses my fixing ideas. When I hear him say “I like it!” then I know I’m onto something good. (He likes to read other people’s manuscripts too, as long as they are fantasy or science fiction and the author is looking for honest feedback.)
Do you have any rituals in your work habits?
Not really, except that I am taking the advice Alice Kuipers gave in her Facebook talk last spring (https://skcanscaip.wordpress.com/category/workshops/) to do the writing first and leave the other things for later. I had already noticed that whatever I started in the day was what I got done. So now I try to be intentional about doing the thing I most want to accomplish that day. If I don’t answer your emails until later in the day, that could be why.
What do you listen to while you work?
Nothing. If I listen to music that’s what I think about. I like silence when I work.
What is your drink and/or snack of choice while you’re working?
Tea. Green or black in the morning, and herbal later in the day or I can’t sleep.
How do you develop your story ideas? Do you use an outline, a muse, or some other technique?
I can’t seem tocreate story content and compose nice sentences at the same time, so I do a lot of pre-writing with a pen in a notebook. I let the ideas flow and ask myself lots of questions until I have a good idea of what the story is about, who the main characters are, and where the story takes place. Then I write a general outline. Then I outline the chapter I am going to write. Sometimes I carry on without an outline, but when I get stuck or bored, I do more pre-writing and outline again.
The main thing I need to know before writing a scene is what each character wants to accomplish. I make sure there are conflicting goals and that something is going to change by the end of the scene. Sometimes the characters come to life and change the direction of the story, but that’s fine. For example, in the dragon novel I’m writing now there is an impromptu love triangle that just happened. Since I hadn’t planned it, I had no idea how to resolve it until one of the characters surprised me at the end by doing something I didn’t expect.Problem solved, and I didn’t have to figure it out.
All my planning and pre-writing is a way to bringmy charactersto life so they will take the story into their own hands.There are always plenty of things I don’t know about the story until I write it.
If you were forced to share your workspace but could share it with anyone of your choosing, who would it be?
I suppose it would be Alison and Marie and Richard, who already share my space a lot of the time. But if I had to choose someone I don’t know, it would be Patrick Rothfuss, author of The Name of the Wind and A Wise Man’s Fear and the third book in his trilogy, which I am impatiently waiting for. I would sit quietly and watch and hope to learn how he creates such a vivid and compelling story. From the amount of time between his books, I expect part of the answer is hard work and a lot of thought.
What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve heard or received?
There are a few, but I often go back to what I heard from Anita Daher at a talk on self-editing at one of our Prairie Horizons conferences. She said (and I paraphrase), “It doesn’t matter if you write horribly as long as you edit beautifully.” This advice has enabled me to write when I am painfully aware that I’m not doing justice to the story I envision. And I like editing.
For about the past ten years, I have been writing and directing children’s Christmas plays at my church. I don’t know if the kids enjoy them more or if I do, but they have become my favourite part of the Christmas season. Now, for the first time, I am able to share one of my plays with you!
“Gloria!” tells the whole Christmas story from the unlikely birth of John the Baptist through to the hasty flight of Mary and Joseph to Egypt with the young Jesus. The focus is on the ways God reassured the people involved that He was with them, even and especially in the most difficult of circumstances.
Special features of this play include:
Elizabeth’s greeting to Mary, Mary’s song (The Magnificat), and Zechariah’s prophecy sung as solo parts to the tune of “Ding Dong Merrily on High”. The rest of the cast gets to sing the chorus with the most “Glorias” ever!
A special song and dance number by the angels to the tune of “Jingle Bell Rock”. (Gloria, Gloria, Glory to God! Your Saviour is here; Sing songs of good cheer!…)
A poem by the pre-schoolers, who get to dress up as shepherds and sheep.
Our cast usually consists of about 25 children from age 3 to grade 6, but the play is adaptable to more or fewer children. Props are minimal, and we prepare in four or five Sunday morning practice sessions plus one dress rehearsal the Saturday before the big day.
“Gloria!” is included in InScribe Christian Writers’ Fellowship 2017 Christmas Anthology, pictured above. The book contains 56 pieces (stories, poems, plays) by 40 fabulous authors. Contact me if you would like a copy!
Anne’s topic was creating atmosphere in your writing by describing setting through the eyes of your character. From a character’s viewpoint, setting is never neutral, and the way the character feels about his or her surroundings needs to shape the way it is described. The description, in turn, gives the reader a sense of the inner landscape in the character’s mind and heart.
Here is the example she read from p. 99 of her own book: the prairie as seen through the eyes of 20-year-old Moira, banished to the wilderness as a result of an out-of-wedlock pregnancy:
People in Ibsen had told me the prairie was harsh and unforgiving, and I’d be lucky to last the winter. But perhaps it was instead a kindred spirit of sorts, its obvious failures pocking the surface for the world to see: the slough dried up before the ducks could hatch their eggs, the would-be trees stunted into shrubs, the fledgling grasses destined always to wait for the sun. My failures simply blended in.
It’s a lovely description that tells us a much about Moira’s state of mind as about the scenery.
After listening to Anne’s joyful and inspiring presentation, I bought Dollybird. I wasn’t disappointed–it is full of beautiful, atmospheric prose grounded in the thoughts of its two main characters, characters that lived with me for some days afterwards.
My challenge now is to put Anne’s advice into practice, and write my own descriptions from the deep viewpoint of my characters. Since I write kids’ fantasy, not adult historical fiction, my atmospheres will be quite different from hers!
My current work-in-progress is a middle-grade adventure called The Mystery of the Giant Kohlrabi.
When it starts, Nero’s family is lost in the backroads of the prairie, trying to find Uncle Peter’s farm of giant vegetables. When a speeding semi runs them into the ditch and the car gets hung up on stump, Nero takes time out under the shade of a nearby tree.
The tree was very strange. Its bark was pale green and perfectly smooth, and its branches had leaves like fish fins. Each branch led up to a single dark green leaf as big as a parachute. Shivers trickled down Nero’s spine. The swaying leaves were held open by stiff, white bones, and one of them had holes the same size as the one in the road sign. Above him, in the centre of the tree, sat a bulging, alien…brain.
Not so long ago in a land not so far away, a man and his new wife moved to the countryside to grow vegetables. She admired his strong hands and tanned shoulders, and expected to be happy even though they were as different as earth is from water.
While he loved the feel of dirt between his fingers, she spent her time moppping it out of their small house. While she listened to the crows and reported to him all the gossip she heard and more that she hadn’t, he spoke only when necessary, and his words came out in sharp bursts like a spade splitting the hard soil. While she boiled the soup and brushed her hair and sewed tiny clothes for the child she hoped would come, he dug furrows and pulled weeds and watched hungrily over the green shoots.
As summer wore on, he grew weary of her incessant chatter. It filled his head like pounding rain, and he retreated into his silence the way a beetle creeps beneath a rock. His moodiness felt to her like a stone wall, so she spoke more often and more shrilly to break it down. But to no avail. The time came when she looked at her husband and knew he could not remember why he had married her.
She watched him in his garden chasing away the hungry crows, lovingly picking worms off his cabbages, tenderly untangling bindweed from his beanpoles, and caressing the soft carrot fronds in a way he had never touched her hair. Since he would not listen, she poured out her complaints to the crows, and they answered, “Caw, caw.”
As the warm days gave way to cool nights, she watched her husband eating the young carrots with a rapture he had never shown for her soup, even though soil still clung to their fat roots, and sleeping under the prickly pumpkin leaves, smiling as he never smiled in her soft bed. She saw that after the vegetables were stowed in the cellar, her husband would spend his days and nights in that earthen place among the corpses of his silent beloveds, and jealousy burned in her heart.
That night, while he slept among the worms on the hard dirt, she crept into the garden and picked all the vegetables except one carrot that he held tightly in his sleeping hand. She dragged the usurpers behind the house and hacked them to bits with an axe. Even if I starve, she thought, at least my husband will be mine again. But when her husband awoke and saw what she had done, he gave a fearful shriek and dropped dead on the garden patch, clutching the one remaining carrot to his heart. Try as she might, she could not pull it from his dead hand.
Then the wife cried out to the black crows that feasted on the remains of her rivals. “My husband rejects me even in death, and without him I will surely starve. If only I could be a carrot also and sleep as she does in his embrace.” The crows answered, “Caw, caw.”
So she went to the garden and lay down beside her dead husband, with her fingernails dug into the carrot’s crisp flesh. The crows flew screaming in circles above them, and soon dark clouds rolled across the sky. Torrential rain churned the soil they were lying on into thick mud that swirled over their bodies and buried them, all three.
Later, a passing stranger wandered into the yard and saw carrot fronds growing tall in the garden patch. Reasoning that good food should not go to waste, he waded into the mud and pulled it out. It came out clutched tightly in a skeletal hand. But it was the sight of the carrot that made him drop it and flee with terror in his eyes.
Two-headed, twisted, warty and tentacled like some mutant insect of the sea, its main root was torn open by a smaller root clawing at its back: two heads battling over one tortured heart. Where it split, the carrot was red like blood.
After the stranger left, the hands pulled the carrot back into the soil. Word spread, and people steered clear of the accursed garden patch. Only the black crows stayed, flying in circles over the doomed lovers and crying sadly, “Caw, caw.”
Note: I wrote and published an earlier version of this story in 2012 on my other blog. If you want to copy it, thanks! I’m glad you like it. But please provide a link back to this site.
I’ve been back from When Words Collide 2015 for four days now, and I’m still flying high from the excitement and energy. Here are a few of my brightest highlights:
A fabulous full-day workshop on “The First Five Pages” by Faith Hunter, author of the Jane Yellowrock vampire hunter books. Her advice to “bait and hook” by giving the reader something to latch onto (an intriguing main character, interesting setting, and immediacy in writing) and wonder about (hint of conflict to come) made me realize that my FFP were completely wrong. Now I’ve rewritten them to start where the story starts, and am in the middle of “making lasagna” by sprinkling bits of the backstory throughout the story. And finding it’s better this way.
Hearing an acquisitions editor from a publisher I really like saying she wants to see my book. ♥ ♥ ♥ This was during the Fantasy genre “Live Action Slush”. In a LAS, you anonymously submit the first page of your manuscript , to be read out loud to a panel of four authors and editors. They put up their hands when they would stop reading the manuscript in a slush pile, and the reader stops when three hands are up. My page (freshly re-written after workshop #1) made it all the way to the end. And they clapped. And said it was fantastic. And…first sentence. Wow.
Learning about Eco-Fiction, or fiction that seeks to create and build dialogue about protecting and valuing the world we live on. Realizing that I write this. Draco’s Child is about restoring a damaged eco-system–on another planet, and Bill Bruin is about a bear and a raven learning to delight in winter. The ones I’m working on do this too. More accurately, I write eco-fantasy. Thus my tagline: Exploring Nature in Imaginary Worlds.
Another workshop, this one on the 20-second elevator pitch. Faith Hunter (see point 1) and David B. Coe helped me hone my pitch for the Middle Grade novel I will be pitching to an editor from Scholastic Canada at the CANSCAIP Prairie Horizons conference in September. Giant genetically-modified caterpillars, here I come!
Going to Regina writer Marie Powell‘s launch of her historical fantasy book Hawk.
A half-day plot workshop with Daniel Abraham, in which he re-told MacBeth as a story about a self-help book, computer hackers, and ballroom dancing. You can read it here.
Watching Brandon Mull channel his inner 10-year-old describing his Middle Grade fantasy books in enthusiastic detail.
Learning 10 ways to hide a clue in a mystery novel, from the Calgary Crime Writers’ Association.
Having 20 people show up to hear my WordPress Workshop when they could have been listening to Diana Gabaldon or any of the other 9 presenters.
Spending time with a whole lot of Regina writers, a bunch from elsewhere, my cousin Carol, and an anthology of other writers (collective nouns are fun) who are now new friends.