Monday, August 16, 2010

How Repairing a LaFlamme Window Is Theraputic

One of the many distracting things about owning a house is the ongoing need to fix something.
Fixing is all the more important when you are trying to sell this house, as Shirley and I are. Ergo the distractions of fixing are a frequent draw away from my 'other work', which my or may not be welcomed, depending on how well the writing is going.
Some distractions are always annoying. Some are necessary but brief. Some seem to lure you away from the computer with the siren call of 'this won't take a minute...' and you answer the enchantress at your peril.
That happened a few days ago. I was in Adrian's vacant room. Shirley wanted me to remove the screen and check out the windows, which I did. There was something wrong with his window, she said. I looked proudly at the LaFlamme wood frame double-glazed windows which we had ordered all the way from Quebec when the house was built 21 years ago.
I looked closer.
There was an insidious intruder - rot.
The bottom of the wood frame of the window had a significant darkening of the wood grain right at the join. When I cranked the window open, it separated slightly at the tongue-and-groove joint at the corner.
No problem! thought the former shop-teacher.
Tomorrow, maybe, I'll remove the window - to ensure a good job - and use some long robertson screws and outdoor grade carpenter's glue and firm up the window. I planned it in my head.
Back to the computer.
A few days later I looked at it again. No problemo. Within an hour I can remove it, have it glued, then I'll let it dry overnight and then BOFFO! I'll reinstall it in the morning.
I visualized the finished window and that gave me comfort as I went back to Top Ten, the latest adventures of Sydney Kowalski.
The next day I planned a two hour break to attack (wrong word, - solve) the window dilemma. But it was not to be. We removed the window and brought it down to the workbench and found the bottom edge of the window was so far gone it fell apart when I tried to work on it.

The rotted wood

That left two choices a) to order another window from LaFlamme in Quebec, hoping they are still in business, have the same size, match, style, wood mouldings, and a decent delivery cost
or b) I build a new bottom edge to the window.
Now I own a table saw, various saw blades, sanders, skill saw, portable jig saw, stationary scroll saw, a lathe, two routers, hand tools, lots of sandpaper, and many good steel rulers and squares. Even so it was tempting not to do the work myself.
I am not particularly patient at the best of times, and though I have been known to do careful work, I really have to try at it. And to do this job would require all my patience.
My two hour job was already more than two hours spent. I had to buy some straight-grain cedar, high quality stuff, and cut it about a dozen times in various places and angles to duplicate the rotted piece. I measured twice for every one cut, just like I taught the kids years ago. I measured to the nearest millimeter and cut to the very edge of the line. I even watched for parallax error! The result was actually surprising. A good fit. Four hours of disassembly, cutting, sanding and assembly, 2 hours staining and varathaning, 10 hours drying time...
But then, seeing the window actually look like it should, seeing the hardware track along in the way it should and feeling the finish of the wood frame being the same as the rest of the window was satisfying. Almost as satisfying as getting a positive letter from an editor.
(I'd better check that email account again!)

The finished product

Sunday, August 15, 2010

I'm such a Duh

I'm such a 'Duh' sometimes.
I've been working on this novel Top Ten, for what? months? over a year? And it's only when I'm this far into it that I realize what it has needed from the very beginning.

Here's a story about a kid who loves to sing. He sings everywhere he goes when he is a kid and later on in life his singing gets him recognition, fame, fortune (and trouble!). So I'm making it longer and now I finally realize that what it needs, and what will make it much more readable for kids, is song lyrics...

Of course! Song lyrics all the way through it - they will illustrate moods he is in, reveal through the words hidden fears and feelings, & they will add humour to the story which is otherwise fairly serious in places.
So it's about a kid who is very short. Somewhere early on he will hear the "Short People" song by Randy Newman and be really offended about it; until someone points out that it is a not-so-subtle attack on prejudice.

I mean, check out the lyrics:

Short people got no reason
Short people got no reason
Short people got no reason
To live

They got little hands
Little eyes
They walk around
Tellin' great big lies
They got little noses
And tiny little teeth
They wear platform shoes
On their nasty little feet
Well, I don't want no short people
Don't want no short people
Don't want no short people
`Round here
(copyright Randy Newman 1978)
or catch Randy doing his thing on Youtube.

Another song which came to mind to use at a critical heartbreaking point of the story was the R&B song 'Return of the Mack' by Mark Morrison. The Internet is great, because as I was searching for this song, the only part of it I could remember was the refrain "You lied to Me" repeated over and over. Typing that on the search engine got me my results in less than a second and I found out (after listening to the same song on Youtube to be sure it was the right one) that he keeps saying "Return of the Mack" when I always thought he said "Return unto me"

Now I defy anyone to listen to the song and hear him saying "Return of the Mack". Go ahead and try it. (I'll wait right here for you. Here's the link.)

Now do you agree with me?
Anyway the internet is SO GOOD at finding little bits of things like song lyrics. Instantly.
How cool is that?

Monday, August 9, 2010

Back to the Grindstone

Good news! The Canadian Children's Book Centre has nominated Leaving Fletchville as one of their Best Books for Kids and Teens for 2010. As well, I am now an official author/presenter on their website. Hoping this will lead to some more school visits through their website contacts.
The weather is hot and humid and just right for staying indoors and working away on some new projects. I have gone back to rewriting Top Ten (the novel about the small-sized 'National IDOL' contestant) and the story seems to be coming easier this time. At first I was writing it for a very small niche market: mature-interest level (high school and above) with a low reading ability, and about 15 000 words. When I sent it off the editors thought the story line was overly complex for readers of that level of ability. I had too much happening and the span of time was much longer than the typical stories of that type. Succcessful books for that age/reading ability, such as what Monique Polak has been writing, typically take place over a few hours or days.

The grindstone...

So I am re-writing this as a higher reading level novel, with the same maturity level (high school). It also has to become almost twice as long as it is now. Top Ten deals with the lure of personal ambition, sexual abuse, thoughts of suicide, with drug/alcohol excesses thrown in. This plot goes way beyond any problems I had growing up (I am thankful for a good home!) and I am travelling deep into the world of my imagination about other people's nightmares. Years spent driving a taxi, teaching school, listening and trying to understand people and the troubles they told me has given me a number of stories and situations which need writing out.
Typically our 'Republican' side cynically sees most unfortunates as victims of their own wrong choices. I often judge this way myself. But wait! There are genuine victims in this world. 'Sid', in this story is someone born in a very small body who never develops the way a 'regular' boy would. His social abuse is typical of the teasing and nasty treatment which happens to those who are different. His personality is modified into a 'survival' mode by these forces - he is initially suspicious of anyone wanting to be kind to him.
Luckily the ending is positive.
I like to write in such a way as to give somebody who is stuck in abusive relationships a way out.
And I hope I never tire of positive endings.

Monday, August 2, 2010

SERVE 2010

My church does something called SERVE every summer. High school age youth travel to distant places, meet other youth, camp out in a church or school and do service projects in the community. It gives me a lift because the kids who go on these trips are always so positive and likable and happy to help others. Every day there is also some from of worship as well as water fights, pranks, small groups study, more pranks and lots of food.
(That's me on the right side of the photo)

This year we went to upstate Michigan, to a small town called Howard City. Canadians were in the majority; being about two thirds of the population of 55 kids and adults. The church was friendly, with a large staff of volunteers providing food and snacks at all hours of the day. Our American hosts all seemed to be Republicans and there was much said against the 'Obama Health Care Plan' and it was assumed, I found out, that Canadians hate their national health care. Big surprise to us, but even the teens were quick to straighten them out on this.
Two of the SERVE team help a disabled child learn to ride a horse

The days began at 6:30 (for me) and usually lasted until 11:30 or midnight with nary a break in between. Needless to say no writing (or even thinking about writing) got done. Sleep was found in the brief intervals between the snores of one of our volunteers and the noise of the malevolent ice-making machine which the church people didn't want us to unplug. They use their ice a lot, I guess, and unplugging it got its timer all mixed up, but its grinding and crashing of newly hatched ice-cubes continued all day, all night, at 20 minute intervals. Every time the noise ended you would be lulled to sleep by the silence (if somebody wasn't snoring) and then as soon as you got into R.E.M. sleep the sudden cacophony yanked you out of your reverie like a snagged line pulls you out of a speeding motorboat. I needed more pots of coffee every day to make up for it.
The Youth Pastor finds his car Saran-Wrapped

By the last night we drivers slept in the church, which was better. The drive back to Ontario was eventful. Gladys failed me! Well, actually we failed each other... I was lead car in a 5 vehicle caravan and seriously sleep deprived, though I didn't know how bad until I missed a critical exit in Grand Rapids, then the next alternate exit was under construction and couldn't be used. The third led us downtown to a tight corner where the truck & trailer behind me couldn't turn off. If we stopped just anywhere, one of the five car caravan would have been sitting across an intersection... Head spinning, I rejected Gladys's suggestions, which were changing every few seconds, and chose to go ahead. Somewhere. Anywhere! Drive on! my mind screamed. Kids in the car shouted "Turn right!" "Gladys says go right!" Somehow the brain froze and it was all I could do to drive the vehicle. After a few blocks I pulled over and insisted someone else take the lead. Linda, bless her heart, listened to 'Serena', (her GPS) and gradually we got ourselves out of the fix I had created. Nasty end for the male ego! The rest of the drive had fewer delays and mistakes, but it was still a 12 hour drive time before we arrived home.
Safe and sound.
Sound asleep...