Orange, the colour of autumn, pumpkins and Halloween

Classic orange pumpkins in the autumn sunshine, Ontario

Tickled orange! I’m coining a new phrase to describe how I feel every September and October.

Orange is one of my favourite colours, in small doses. That may sound contradictory, but a little orange goes a long way. A friend of mine loved the colour so much that she wore orange outfits frequently and painted her entire living room tangerine – attractive, but I couldn’t visit when I had a migraine.

The colour sits between red and yellow on the spectrum, meaning scientifically that our eyes perceive it when through light between 585 and 620 nanometres. (For sci-fi novels that might be important.) It’s named after the classic citrus fruit whose juice makes Screwdriver cocktails and Creamsicle martinis so delicious.

Invasive orange goldfish, pond at the botanical gardens, Niagara Falls

Orange as an English word comes from the Old French for the fruit, pomme d’orange, which in turn was derived sequentially from Italian arancia, based on Arabic and earlier roots.  

Artists as far back as ancient Egypt used an orange colour for skin tones on their famous murals, made from a reddish-orange mineral called realgar, an arsenic sulfide compound that would have been very toxic to work with, as so many of the early pigments were.

Orpiment, a related yellowish-orange mineral (also toxic), was more in use by medieval times, as it had been an important trade good in the Roman Empire. It was common in illuminated manuscripts.

Orpiment crystal, By Rob Lavinsky, iRocks.com – CC-BY-SA-3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10145584

Interestingly, it was also in use as a medicine in China, despite its toxicity. Its name was a contraction of the Latin word for gold (aurum) and colour (pigmentum), and coupled with its yellowish tinge, medieval alchemists thought it might help them make gold, and ultimately the Philosopher’s Stone.

In the late 15th and early 16th century, Portuguese merchants brought the first orange trees to Europe from Asia, along with the Sanskrit word naranga, which eventually morphed into our current English name.

The old Latin word for orange fruits was pomon, and by the 18th century orange was sometimes used to depict the robes of Pomona, the goddess of fruitful abundance; she was a popular subject in paintings and sculpture. her name came from the, the Latin word for fruit.

“Pomona”, By Nicolas Fouché – The Yorck Project (2002) 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei (DVD-ROM), distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH. ISBN: 3936122202., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=150971

Initially oranges were an exotic delicacy in Europe, England, and even North America, but they became more common thanks to the invention of the heated greenhouse in the 17th century. Wealthy homes had buildings of this type attached; they were called orangeries. There’s a well-known one at Kensington Palace in London (the official London residence of The Prince and Princess of Wales and their children, including Princess Diana), where you can enjoy a lovely Afternoon Tea.

Screenshot, Kensington Palace Orangery website

A French scientist discovered the mineral lead chromate In 1797, which led to the invention of the synthetic pigment chrome orange. The Pre-Raphaelites in Britain loved the colour, using it particularly to paint shades of red hair. The Impressionists prized orange for depictions of the sun and its reflection in water, especially because they understood colour theory and how beautifully orange and blue compliment each other. Some painters used it straight from the tube, like Renoir, while others mixed their own custom hues, like Cezanne. 

Toulouse-Lautrec used orange regularly to represent gaiety in his paintings of Parisian clubs and cafes in turn-of-the-century Paris, while for Van Gogh orange, together with yellow, captured the glorious sunlight in Provence. He often contrasted his yellows and oranges with blue and violet, apparently writing to his brother that he was “searching for oppositions of blue with orange, of red with green, of yellow with violet, searching for broken colours and neutral colours to harmonize the brutality of extremes, trying to make the colours intense, and not a harmony of greys.”

Blue and orange in an old Gulf Oil sign in a cafe in Virginia

In modern times, orange’s visibility has made it a popular colour for certain kinds of clothing and equipment, like life jackets that can easily be spotted by search-and-rescue, vests worn by cyclists and highway workers to avoid being hit, astronauts to highlight them in space and against the blue of the ocean when they splash down.

Life jackets on a cruise to see the Ballestas Islands off the coast of Peru

On the flip side, it’s also been used for prison uniforms to make escapees easier to spot. The ‘black boxes’ on airplanes are actually bright orange so they can be found more easily, and some warning icons used orange to indicate danger.

Orange mixed with yellow in the background of this wall mural in Belfast enhances the impression of toxicity

Orange, like all colours, has a split personality. In Paganism, orange represents energy, attraction, vitality, and stimulation, and Buddhist monks are famous for their saffron-orange robes, but in Christianity, orange represents the Deadly Sin of Gluttony, because of its association with fruitfulness. It can be a decidedly vivid colour, as in the clothing of various cultures around the world.

Colourful robes, Samburu tribe, Kenya

As a wall colour, it can be unexpected, spicy and pungent, especially when used in a normally sedate setting like a monastery.

Monastery of Santa Catalina, Arequipa, Peru

But the ubiquitous fall fruit, pumpkin, produces a mellower colour of orange that, for lovers of the flavour, instantly makes our mouths water.

Pumpkin whoopie pies on a fall picnic

International orange is a deep, medium orange hue used by the aerospace industry to differentiate certain objects from their backgrounds, surroundings or other objects. It’s the colour of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco to increase its visibility in fog.

If you’ve ever wondered why some street lights have an orange tinge, it’s because of the type of bulb. Most street lights are high-pressure sodium vapour (HPS), which give off a warmer light that I, for one, find soothing on the eyes. However, studies have shown that whiter lights give drivers better peripheral vision, leading to  improved braking speeds. Sodium vapour lights are more efficient than the other bulb options, like incandescent, and have a much longer lifespan.

In colour psychology, orange is considered optimistic, energetic, dynamic and stimulating. It attracts attention without being too aggressive. It symbolizes adventure (probably another reason I love it 😉), spontaneity and creativity, although for some it represents exhibitionism and insincerity.

For me, orange represents all kinds of good things – the warmth of a wood fire in chilly weather, pumpkins (as in pies and jack o’lanterns during my favourite time of year), autumn leaves (after the green chlorophyll wanes) and sunsets.

Blazing orange and purple sunset (another pleasing combination), Africa

I also like sweet potatoes (as in fries with spicy aioli dip), and carrots (such a useful and healthy vegetable), although before the 18th century, carrots from Asia were usually purple, while European carrots were either white or red. It was Dutch farmers who bred an orange variety, possibly as a tribute to William of Orange, ancestor of the monarchy of the Netherlands).

The orange colour in the Flag of Ireland represents the minority Protestants who were supporters of William of Orange

In nature, orange colours can represent toxicity, or just indicate the presence of a gorgeous Monarch butterfly.

Orange has become synonymous with Halloween, especially in combination with black, which it complements wonderfully.

A blazing orange octopus carved from pumpkins at Pumpkinferno, Upper Canada Village, Ontario

If you haven’t been a fan of the colour orange, I hope it may now start to tickle your fancy. There are so many shades to love, and its appearance on trees signifies arguably the most beautiful, sensual season in the year — the season of cozy sweaters, wood smoke on a cool day, celebrating the spookiest date of the year with a big helping of goofiness (and treats), the warmth of a Thanksgiving table surrounded by friends and family … and pumpkin spice lattes!

Autumn on an Ontario golf course
Fishing ginger cats, island of Mauritius
Orange chrysanthemums look spectacular in a flower bed with white flowers and brown grass plumes
Jack o’lanterns warding off Halloween spirits that have crossed the Veil

All photos are by me unless otherwise specified, and all rights are reserved by me. E. Jurus

Symbology of numbers

Butterflies in the genus Diaethria all appear to have a number tattooed on their wings – photo by E. Jurus, all rights reserved

Today I was moving the little magnet on my decorative Halloween wall calendar, and noticed that it’s now only 40 days until Oct 31, aka Halloween — woohoo! (Hopefully that’s not too triggering for you, like the people who want to drive you crazy by counting down the number of shopping days left until Christmas.)

We have many methods of marking the passage of time, and certain dates hold special significance. Some dates float, as in Thanksgiving ; others are fixed, whether as a birthdate, a chosen commemorative day, or a date that may live on in notoriety. On September 10, 2002, who would have ever thought that the very next day would become infamous from then on? (Other than the perpetrators of the attacks.)

Throughout history, certain numbers have taken on more mystical qualities.

The number 13 has become so associated with bad luck that hotels won’t even list a 13th floor, and hostesses have refused to have thirteen people at a dinner party. Fear of the number even has a name: triskaidekaphobia.

Theories abound as to why people link 13 to bad things – in Norse mythology, Loki the trickster god showed up uninvited to a banquet as the 13th guest and tricked a blind god into shooting an arrow at another god, killing him; Judas, the disciple who betrayed Jesus to the Romans, was supposedly the 13th man to sit at the Last Supper; King Philip IV of France ordered the arrest (and killing) of all the Knights Templar on Friday 13, 1307; and so on. In some minds, the superstition was probably reinforced in mid-20th century America by the nearly-disastrous Apollo 13 moon mission.

But there are cultures who believe that 13 is a lucky number, and in Asia, a different number is considered extremely bad: 4. It’s a homonym for the word ‘death’ in some Asian languages. According to an article in the Harvard Business Review, Bad-Luck Numbers that Scare Off Customers, most companies in that part of the world avoid using the number entirely (such as in a company phone number), and potential business partners would be wise to do the same.

The number 40, which gave me the idea for this post, was used over and over again in the Bible. The rain of the Great Flood fell for that many days and nights, Noah waited for 40 days after the rains stopped to send a bird out to look for land, Moses stayed on Mount Sinai for that length of time, the wandering Hebrews took 40 years to reach the Promised Land, the season of Lent lasts for 40 days.

Even today, 40 can be found throughout many cultures. The practice of isolation to prevent the spread of disease has traditionally been 40 days, and in fact that’s where the name ‘quarantine’ comes from. Maybe we need a special word for the 10 days of isolation following a Covid diagnosis 😉. A full week of work in North America is traditionally 40 hours, and 40 ounces is a standard size of bottle for liquors. And who decided that the term ‘catching forty winks’ represents having a short sleep?

Of course, once our brains decide that a certain number must have significance, we tend to see it everywhere.

The number 23 has attracted a dedicated following. There’s a Facebook group of people who believe that 23 follows them through life, called the 23rdians, as well as a group on Twitter. While that number, like all numbers, has mathematical properties, people looking for what’s been called the 23 Enigma will recite ‘statistics’ such as adding up the four digits of the year performer Kurt Cobain was born, and was died (1967, and 1994), which with each year comes out to 23, and the fact that criminals Bonnie and Clyde died on May 23, 1934 (I’d have been more impressed if they’d died in 1923). I’m sure that if you could widely research birth and death records, you’d find a lot of people who entered or left the world on that date, just as you’d find plenty on the 24th of the month, or the 4th, or the 31st.

What is one to make of animals that appear to have numbers printed on them? Does it mean something? Hubby and I spotted one ourselves, a Diaethria butterfly, in the Amazon jungle. It’s a pretty white butterfly with a splash of red on the wings, and what looks like the number 88, 89, or 98 outlined in black. It’s even called the ‘89’98 butterfly’. If I were a superstitious sort, I’d probably think it was a lucky sighting, since in Chinese culture the number 88 is considered a symbol of good fortune. But enough things went wrong after that trip that I’d have to say it didn’t bring us any luck.

Humans have a built-in predilection to look for patterns — Survival 101. Patterns are one of the ways we learn, either to repeat actions that are beneficial, or avoid those that aren’t (although for some reason it took me over 40 years – there’s that number again – to learn to stop sticking my head in a hot oven as soon as I opened the door to check a roast or a cake). Patterns are legitimate, but sometimes people let pattern-spotting get out of hand, and will begin finding coincidences that validate their pet theory. That’s how conspiracy theories get started.

For writers, pattern-spotting and superstition are rich mines for motivating their characters, or even entire civilizations. Entire movie franchises have been built around it.

Tomorrow will mark 40 days to the start of this year’s annual National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). What that means for you, if you’ve always wanted to write a novel, is that you have essentially the length of the Biblical Flood to build your ark.

A couple of years ago, the NaNoWriMo organization surveyed winners as to what contributed to their success, and one common theme was advance preparation. You could start with not much of an idea and just dip your toes in the water, but I don’t think you’ll find the experience very satisfying.

If you’re serious about starting a novel this year, get your ducks in a row: basic plot outline, a good sense of your protagonist, her/his/their goal, obstacles to achieving that goal, where and when the story will take place. And my suggestion: where the story will start, and where it will end (then you just need to fill in the steps to take your protagonist from beginning to finale). You won’t need to finish your novel by November 30th, but if you reach the 50,000 word goal, you’ll be well on your way.

To help you, NaNoWriMo is offering a five-week course, NaNo Prep 101. It’s self-paced, so you can work on the contents whenever you’re able. From their website, this is the course outline:

  1. Develop a Story Idea (September 19-25)
  2. Create Complex Characters (September 26-October 2)
  3. Construct a Detailed Plot or Outline (October 3-9)
  4. Build a Strong World (October 10-16)
  5. Organize Your Life for Writing! (October 17-23)
  6. Find and Manage Your Time (October 24-30)

Each week’s module includes numerous resources as well. You can find all the details and start the course here.

I’ve had so many people, when they find out I’ve written a novel (and am working on books 2 & 3 in the series), tell me that they’ve always dreamed of doing the same. If you have the same dream, this could be your year!

A Truly Historic Event

Buckingham Palace in London from a bridge in St. James’s Park

The years since the turnover to our current millennium have been filled with globally historic events. There have been other world-shaking events in the past, but with instantaneous news transmission, we now get to watch them play out as they transpire.

It’s a sign of the charisma of the British monarchy that millions of people around the world are affected by the death of its longest-reigning monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. The late queen was such an iconic symbol of an iconic institution that her passing is momentous, whether you’re a fan of the monarchy or not.

If you’ve ever been to London, you’ll understand how deeply the presence of a living monarchy runs through British culture.

Main gates at Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace dominates the central part of the city. Its ornate, imposing gates look just as they should for what was once the most powerful institution in the world. In the early 20th century, the British Empire, including all of its far-flung territories, dominions and outposts, covered almost one-quarter of the globe, all overseen by that small island off the coast of Europe and Scandinavia.

By contrast, my hubby and I were in Vienna a number of years ago and visited the Hofburg Palace, a magnificent building that’s now only a museum piece. You can visit remnants of Austria’s monarchy all over the country, from hunting lodges in the mountains to cafes where all the court gossip that was worth hearing could be had for the price of a cup of rich kaffee and a luscious pastry. But it’s all slowly becoming an annotated archive, whereas in England the monarchy lives, goes about its daily duties and celebrates milestones with flair.

The modern London Eye overlooks centuries of history on the Thames River

London itself is one of the great crossroads cities of the world, with a historical reputation to match. But even though modern touches can be seen throughout, London inevitably brings to mind grand architecture, atmospheric pubs, beautiful parks, and so many other things that are steeped in tradition.

For writers, the progression of events surrounding Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral are a study in the pomp and formality of a form of government that’s 1200 years old and still thriving. If you doubt that, look at all the attention the royal family still receives.

On top of that, the ripple effects of a change in monarch are widespread. So much speculation about the new King and how he’ll handle the many challenges still embroiling the royal family, how soon official portraits will be changed, how many foreign dignitaries will travel to London for the funeral, how many British-ruled territories will decide to become independent, and all the many other people and places impacted by the royal family in some way.

I can’t believe how many articles I’ve seen in Canadian news about our currency that has the late Queen’s image on it. Personally, I can’t see the Bank of Canada reprinting all of the millions of pieces of currency in circulation just to change the images. I’d expect to see new bills and coins slowly start to appear with King Charles III on them, and the old ones to disappear as they start to wear out. Likely there will be some commemorative pieces that are issued for avid collectors.

How long will the British monarchy survive? Only time itself will sort that out, but for now, the passing of the torch from the Queen to the new King is something worth watching. We’ll never see a transition of this magnitude again in our lifetime.

You can follow more of the historic event on the royal website, and if you’re curious as to how Canada is handling all of this, visit the “Commemoration for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II” section of the Government of Canada’s website.

The Changing of the Guard in front of Buckingham Palace

All photos are by me unless otherwise specified, and all rights are reserved. E. Jurus

In love with reading

“Books are like imprisoned souls until someone takes them down from a shelf and frees them.” – Samuel Butler

Today is National Read a Book Day. Readers are why authors exist, and from what I’ve seen over the years, all novelists started out as avid readers, developing a love for storytelling and the power of words. How evocative this opening is to The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde:

“The studio was filled with the rich odour of roses, and when the light summer wind stirred amidst the trees of the garden, there came through the open door the heavy scent of the lilac, or the more delicate perfume of the pink-flowering thorn.”

My parents read to me all the time when I was very little, and once I learned how to read, trips to the local library were some of the highlights of my childhood and teen years. When I was fourteen, my boyfriend introduced me to the Lord of the Rings saga, which I read in three days over the Christmas break, closeted in my room apart from bathroom breaks and the odd meal. I was heartbroken when the book ended, the story had been so vivid and captivating. (On the other hand, my hubby, when I introduced it to him, found it far too wordy, but in all fairness high fantasy is not his genre.)

I learned a lot of my vocabulary from books, enough to impress my high school English teachers anyway. Hubby and I have discussed many times how the average English curriculum (at least in our day) would have done much better to introduce students to enthralling books instead of the heavy ‘classics’ we were required to read. To this day, I think The Mayor of Casterbridge is one of the dreariest books I’ve ever come across. I did love Shakespeare, though, and was lucky enough to be able to see all of his comedies performed live at the Stratford Festival in Stratford, Ontario.

Books have helped me get through some of the toughest times in my life by offering a much-needed escape from reality for a while. Armchair travel with a great travel guide has brightened many a grey and chilly winter day over the years (the gorgeously-illustrated DK Eyewitness Guides are my favourite). A cup of tea and my favourite spot on the sofa, mystery/mayhem/adventure, characters that leap off the page and stories that I want to read again and again – tickets to another world that I can live in for a while. What’s not to love?

In the immortal words of the Brothers Grimm, “Once upon a time…” (Grimm’s Fairy Tales)

All photos are by me unless otherwise specified, and all rights are reserved. E. Jurus

Writing prompt: what’s in the swamp

It’s been an intense week doing final edits on Book 1, so this week’s blog is an exploration into the swamps that haunt our forests. The photo was taken in a provincial park in southwestern Ontario, just as leaves were starting to put on their colours. We came upon this weed-strewn marsh where nothing seemed to be moving or making any sound.

Now there are those of you who might see this image as a pretty artifact of the woods, something to enjoy on a pleasant walk through nature in the early autumn, and of course it can be taken that way.

But there are some of us who see the eerie possibilities in how well this would work as a fantasy or horror setting.

The mire appears to stretch endlessly, dark murky pools drowning the roots of lifeless trees. What are they? Is there anything that crawls through the waters, perhaps only coming out at night, when it won’t be seen as it slowly stalks its prey? Perhaps something seeks refuge in an abandoned tree, making its home inside a hollow trunk, hidden amid the remote woods where no one or nothing will think to look for it. Or could it be the trees themselves that are the unsuspected menace?

It’s up to your imagination to spin the tale of what goes on in the swamp when no one’s around to see it.

All photos are by me unless otherwise specified, and all rights are reserved. E. Jurus

(P.S. My hubby and I escaped alive — or did we?)

Cut/Snip/Tweak

I’ve always admired great editing in films, when the timing, pace and impact of a scene create something truly memorable.

There’s so much that goes into a scene, whether it’s on a screen or a page. Even though the director or novelist have something planned out to take the plot from introduction to finale, everything that first emerges is what Hollywood calls ‘raw footage’. Sometimes (often for me) inspiration strikes along the way and takes the plot in a direction that wasn’t exactly in the original plan.

I think of it rather like a brain dump. As I’m writing a scene, I’m watching it play out in my imagination and transcribing it onto my electronic page as best I can so that my eventual readers will see it the same way in their imagination. That means I have to:

  • portray the setting well enough to make it vivid but not bog my readers down in extraneous details
  • describe the characters as neatly as possible
  • let them act authentically, even if that means changing how I first saw the scene playing out
  • make the action memorable and important to the plot – even though my reader may not see exactly where it’s going, or whether it might be a clue, a red herring or the buildup to a twist
  • not stretch the rubber bands of credulity and tension too far
  • stop the scene at the best point: not so short that it doesn’t flow, or so long that it dribbles off ineffectively

But some of that can be tweaked in the editing phase. I’m not sure how other writers do it, but while I’m writing the first draft I describe everything in great detail so that I can see it play out fully. Making the scene better – tighter, more impactful – comes in the edit, where I might trim it, restructure it, move it in the plot, or perhaps even decide that I want to discard it altogether.

To date, having finished two of the three books in my series, I haven’t discarded an entire scene. As I write, I’m very much aware of making sure everything has a point.

In the editing phases, I look for things that should be cut. I’m also a very visual writer, so it’s important to me that my words paint pictures well.

Every scene has a mood – optimistic, ominous, edgy, suspenseful, comforting, romantic, mouth-watering… Every character has their own nuances – the way they look, move, speak, react.

And then there’s the entire book all assembled, carrying the characters from first impression to a finale that resonates, stuns, answers questions or asks more.

I follow the standard guideline to put the first draft aside for a while once you’ve finished it, then return to it after a month or so and re-read it with fresher eyes.

After celebrating the official keyboarding of “The End” on my first novel with glasses of champagne, I tried to ignore the manuscript, to not even muddle it around in my head for several weeks. It wasn’t easy. Finally, it was time to dive into the edit with eyes wide open. Some of it impressed me – great turns of phrase that had sprung spontaneously out of my head. Other parts I looked at as critically as possible.

The next phase was to give it to my crew of beta readers. As much as I needed to know what was wrong with the book – what wasn’t working in their minds – what I needed even more was to know if they even liked the thing.

You have a tale that’s been living in your head for years, and you think it’s pretty cool, but others might think it’s awful, or boring. So you nervously place your baby into their hands and wait for feedback.

I did a fair bit of research on what to ask beta readers to look for and comment on. I gave them a one-month timeline, although a couple of them took a bit longer. My hubby read it first, and, despite it not being his preferred genre, liked it so much that he finished it in a week. Then, as I apprehensively opened each successive ‘book report’, I realized that I had a viable story.

My beta readers gave me a wide variety of opinions. They were a perfect cross-section of people that might pick up my book in a store or online, and their comments were really interesting. A lot of commonalities, a few illuminating disparities.

All of them said they’d definitely want to read Book 2 and 3 to find out what happens. Hallelujah! They’re all waiting eagerly for Book 2, which is having a rest on my external drive while I go back and do the final edit of Book 1.

This edit is the big one, the one that readers in the wider world will see, hopefully like enough to buy, and then fall in love with enough to recommend to all their friends. This is where I’m scrutinizing for grammatical errors and, like an overgrown garden, trimming away weak, weedy leaves to let the flowers and healthy leaves shine. I’m also propagating the shoots of next year’s garden and making sure there’s continuity from one season to the next (one of the reasons I wanted to complete Book 2 before doing the final edit of Book 1).

My family and friends are pumped for publication and the launch party. I’ll be nervous, but also relishing the fact that I finally achieved a long-time dream. So wish me luck, and I’ll keep you posted on the progress!

Book 2 is finished!

Entrance to the Currents sound-and-light show, Niagara Parks Power Station. Photo by E. Jurus

I typed “The End” after fifty-five chapters and about 192,000 words of the second book in my ‘Chaos Roads’ trilogy. The future is clouded for my heroine and all the people in her life, like the fog screen at the Niagara Parks Power Station in Niagara Falls, Ontario, that precedes their Currents sound-and-light show (which my hubby and I enjoyed a few days ago).

What a journey this second novel has been! The protagonist barely survived the events of the first book, and has to deal with the profound changes in her life as a result, heading towards an inevitable transformation she’s not sure she wants.

The first completed draft is four chapters longer than Book 1, which surprised me, but the story must be told in the way that it wants to unfold. I don’t have complete control over it — let’s just say that it developed a few twists and turns I didn’t see coming. That’s a large part of the fun of writing for me, that I get to look forward to the adventure as much as my readers do.

All thoroughly backed up onto an external drive, Book 2 will now rest easy for a few weeks, simmering like a stew, while I complete the final edit of Book 1 and get it ready for publication. The official title will be “Through the Monster-glass”; I’ll post a preview and other information as I get it finalized.

I belong to an business-women’s entrepreneurial group, and at this month’s meeting we were all asked to share what we love the most about our chosen vocation. My answer was both easy and complex:

  • I love the process of writing, of capturing a scene in words that will make it come alive for my readers
  • I love the surprises along the way, as I’ve already mentioned
  • I love making my brain work: doing the plotting, the research, the wordsmithing
  • The sense of accomplishment is profound, to do something you’ve dreamt your whole life of doing. Even if it doesn’t sell (but of course I hope it does, and my beta readers all loved it), I’ve still achieved something remarkable.
  • I love that my journey is inspiring others to follow their dream

It took a great leap of faith on my part to embark on this journey. Throughout high school I received great marks on my creative writing, but there’s still a huge divide between those short stories and putting an entire book together. I wanted to write something that would live on in my readers’ imaginations long after they finish the final chapters, and I had no idea if I could actually do that.

You start off with the rudiments of an idea, and maybe the main plot points, but there’s still an awful lot that has to come out of your head after that. My genre, fantasy/sci-fi, typically runs between 100,000 to 150,000 words, maybe longer, which is frighteningly intimidating. My second blog post on this site, “Do you have a book inside you?“, shares more details of how I got started. Finishing the first book a year ago at the end of July was one of the shining milestones of my life.

Book 2 has highs, lows, profound questions, and lots of action. The third book will challenge my heroine in ways she never expected, answer many questions and open up many more. I hope it will be a thrilling, satisfying wrap-up of the amazing journey she’s been on — but that’s to be determined when I start writing it during the 2022 session of National Novel Writing Month this November. I look forward to taking all the notes on my very-detailed, multi-page spreadsheet and transforming them into the final part of the story, and I know I’ll be sad when I type the third and final “The End” next summer.

In the meantime, there’s the final, extra-scrutinizing edit of Book 1 to finish, then formatting it for publishing, working out a cover design, uploading it to Kindle, and holding the Launch Party (all details to follow on this site, and the Facebook page I’ll be creating). Lots to do, and a busy few months ahead.

You can find me on the NaNoWriMo site as AdvGal. If you sign up for the event, look me up — I’d be delighted to keep in touch and provide encouragement!

Celebrating National Book Lovers Day

Bookstacks at the Trinity College Library, Dublin, Ireland

North of New York City, along the edge of the Hudson River, there is a small estate lying between the railroad tracks of Metro North and the broad expanse of the river.

Chapter One, Ghostlight, by Marion Zimmer Bradley

One October, I made a pilgrimage, with hubby as chauffeur and adventure partner, to the Hudson River Valley in New York State, just on the strength of one New Age/Occult book that I’d read. It was the book that made me fall in love with the genre of urban fantasy, because it told the kind of story I’ve always hoped could be true: that our world holds more in it than our humdrum everyday lives.

The author, Marion Zimmer Bradley, led a very controversial life, but she was a damn fine storyteller. I loved her style – very readable but incredibly evocative, even poetic in spots. The story in Ghostlight is fascinating, but what hooked me even more was the setting, which was so well-portrayed that it was almost a character in itself.

So that year, my hubby and I decided to do a road trip, and I suggested the Hudson River Valley. You might be more familiar with this part of New York State as the eerie locale for The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Its author, Washington Irving, built his own house there in the town of Sunnyside. He was basically a superstar in the region, and to this day you can see his influence all over the valley.

One of the many things named in honour of the Hudson River Valley’s favourite celebrity

Irving found great inspiration in the mysterious atmosphere of the Catskill Mountains, and when autumn rolls around the entire area takes inspiration from his stories to create one of the best places to go for Halloween-themed travel.

Farm markets abound in the Hudson River Valley
Bumper sticker spotted at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, town of Sleepy Hollow, New York State

Great books live on in our psyche long after we’ve finished reading them, and this week’s blog is a celebration of National Book Lovers Day, celebrated in both Canada and the U.S. It’s not an official holiday, just an acknowledgement of all the enrichment books have brought to countless lives ever since they were first created.

Storytelling became an art long before the written word, through the generations of cultures who passed along knowledge, both practical and spiritual, to those who came after them. Even early rock art told stories.

Tribal rock art, Botswana, Africa

Stories began to be inscribed on stone and clay tablets. And not just stories – records of things, from inventories of goods to spells and curses (as in the Egyptian Book of the Dead) to lists of kings and other important historical facts.

Stories were created to explain how the world works. Cultures like the ancient Egyptians and Celts and Greeks had elaborate tales about the supernatural forces they believed were the cause of things that went wrong.

As science was developed, books were written about discoveries. But others were written just to entertain – to thrill, to haunt, to tell tales of love and romance and chivalry.

My parents loved to read to me, and I developed a love of books from all those wonderful imaginary journeys. I fell in love with the stories of HP Lovecraft and Edgar Allen Poe at an early age, and when I was fourteen, an ex-boyfriend introduced me to The Lord of the Rings, which I read non-stop during my Christmas holiday break. Oh how I wanted to visit Middle Earth, to see dragons and elves and magical silver. (When we travelled to New Zealand a few years ago, one of the great highlights was a visit to the Hobbiton movie set, including mugs of hobbit ale at the Green Dragon Inn.)

The gate to Bilbo & Frodo Baggins’ house, Hobbiton

That’s the power of books, that they can make a place or a story come so alive for us that we don’t want to leave.

I still love to hold a good book in my hands, curled up with a cup of tea, but I’m also quite happy to download ebooks to my laptop when I can’t get them in our local bookstore. My hubby and I have lately been downloading the Nero Wolfe mystery/crime series of novels by author Rex Stout. These novels capture the atmosphere of the 1950s, from gumshoes to slinky dames, through the eyes of quirky genius Nero Wolfe, who rarely leaves his brownstone in New York City, solving crimes with his remarkable brain while his assistant, debonair and smart-mouthed Archie Goodwin, does all the legwork and his chef Fritz cooks remarkable gourmet meals. We’ve read most of them before, but are now revisiting an old friend and adding the substantial canon (40+ books) to our collection, all compactly stored on our laptops.

Writers also learn to become better by reading great books, and it doesn’t have to be a ‘classic’. Not everyone’s into the works of Tolstoy, or even J.R.R. Tolkien. Whatever genre you like to read, enjoy the experience, escape with it, learn from it, let it fire your imagination.

In future posts, I may start doing book reviews, and I’m also thinking about creating a book club for budding writers, to discuss books we like (or hate), what we loved (or didn’t) between their pages. We’d ready any genre, because I think a good writer can learn something from all of them, and because a diversity of writers would make a great book club. If you’re a new writer and would be interested in joining such a club, let me know!

“If you don’t like to read, you haven’t found the right book.” JK Rowling

Deception – a risk/reward strategy

Spider well-camouflaged on tree trunk in the Amazon jungle – by E. Jurus

Should I tell you that I had some amazing reason for not posting yesterday as usual? I could try, but it’s not in my nature to dissemble. The truth is that my body is still fighting off this prolonged summer cold and I forgot. (Adding reminders in my phone calendar as we speak.)

Lots of people lie; I try not to hang around them. Starting a relationship with someone implies an inherent trust that neither of you will jerk each other around, and if one of you does, the feeling of betrayal is profound.

So why do people do it? That question has always mystified me. If the perpetrator gets some temporary jollies out of it, will they then, at the end of their life, have only this to reflect: “I spent my life behaving like an asshole and I’m so proud of it”? Perhaps they lie to themselves about their own motives, because I don’t see how anyone can feel good about damaging someone else.

Of course, these types of people are the scoundrels that populate all the great mystery novels and thrillers. After all, if no one ever did anything bad, what would we write about?

As a writer, we have to try and understand the motivations of the scoundrels so we can write them believably. Why do they do what they do? None of us are born as despicable people, so what happened in a scoundrel’s life to set them on their path of destruction?

If you happen to know a person like that well enough to track their journey, you’ve got a head start. But there’s lots of published material out there as well. The article I’m highlighting this week takes a look at famous imposters in history — the ultimate con, to convince quite a few people that you’re someone or something other than what you seem.

The impostor must always believe in their mind that there’s some great benefit to trying to pull off such a swindle. It happens all the time in the natural world; prey species often camouflage themselves to either hide from predators or look like something much more threatening than they really are. Predators camouflage themselves to look harmless — like the spider on the tree above, in the Amazon jungle. It blended so well into the bark of the tree that if I hadn’t been looking straight at it I’d never have noticed its presence. I can only imagine how many insects wandered unwittingly past, only to be snatched up for dinner.

For this week’s reading, I suggest you check out Body Double, in the JSTOR Daily newsletter. It’s a fascinating overview of several famous swindles over the centuries. They’ve inspired many well-known authors, and maybe they’ll give you some great ideas to use in your own novel.

And for all those lying, cheating scoundrels out there, remember: karma’s a bitch!

Beautiful writing — a short story contest & the winner

I’m a little under-the-weather this week — a cold that’s keeping me busy trying to cough up a lung (COVID test negative, thank goodness) — so I thought I’d introduce you to a short story contest that might interest you. It’s run by Reedsy, a writer’s resource I follow regularly, and anyone can enter. There’s a different theme and writing prompts each week; the winner receives $250 through PayPal, and their story posted on the Reedsy site. For all writers, the more you write, the better you get, so this contest would be a great way to build your skills. If you’re interested, you can find more information on the contest page. Be sure to read the submissions rules.

I also encourage you to check out the winning entry for Contest #154, Moonlight and Madness, submitted by Suma Jayachandar. The writing prompt was “Write a story — romantic or not — about two characters who can’t find the right timing.” Suma’s entry is a beautifully-written look into a couple forced to separate during the 1947 partitioning of British India into two separate countries, India and Pakistan. The partitioning was by all accounts a massively traumatic event for all the citizens involved; you can read more about it on Wikipedia for background to the emotions of the two people involved in the short story, who knew they’d never see each other again.

Good writers read other writers’ work, and this short story is a great example, so I’ll leave you with this recommendation for my weekly blog. I hope you enjoy!

All photos are by me unless otherwise specified, and all rights are reserved. E. Jurus