Monthly Archives: June 2015

Sue Harrison’s “Writing the Third Dimension”, part 29: “Are We There Yet?”

Welcome back! For the rest of this year we invite you to return here, specifically on the fourth Thursday of each month for the newest installment of Sue Harrison’s teaching: Writing The Third Dimension. You can read and learn from all the fabulous segments from 2013-2015 by clicking on the page title WRITING THE THIRD DIMENSION, found under Writers’ Helps & Workshops on my drop-down menu. Please feel free to ask questions and leave comments for Sue. Now for the topic for month twenty-nine:


“Writing the Third Dimension” – part 29: Are We There Yet?

So I’ve sent my novel out to my beta readers, who are struggling through the manuscript, bless their hearts. While I wait for their opinions, I work on my fifth draft. For this draft, I work from a printed copy, not the computer screen, because during the fifth draft I’m adding in extra research information and checking out every little fact. I have a tendency to trash my office during this time, piling research books, papers, articles, artifacts, and notes on every available surface.

IMG_1878A copy of the Vocedol Dove from the Eneolithic culture that once flourished near present day Vukovar, Croatia. This copy graces one of the bookshelves in my office.

Here’s an example of how I attack my manuscript during the research-revisions phase. The following segment is the current opening paragraph in my novel-in-progress BONE FIRE, which is set in Eastern Europe, 5800 B.C.

The size of an eight-winter child, that old man, smaller even than Awna. Since the earth was frozen less than a hand-length down, Awna used only half a morning to chop away the soil and the tree roots to carve out his grave. With the wide, flat blade of her digging stone, she pried up pads of moss under the oak trees that spread their winter-broken leaves against the sky. Webbed with the night’s meager snowfall, the moss carried the heavy scent of rich, wet earth, a smell the old man had loved, so Awna layered it as a bed at the bottom of his grave. She pulled his body to the hole, her fingers cupped gently over his brittle bones. She let his feet ease in first, and after, the rest of him. Then she crouched on the edge of the grave, as if she might slide down and claim space for herself.

1. The size of an eight-winter child, that old man… The old man in BONE FIRE is a primordial dwarf. I will check out my notes and sources to be sure this size is accurate. Yes, I’ve already checked this, but I will check it again.

2. Since the earth was frozen less than a hand-length down… This period in Eastern Europe was warmer than the current climate. I need to consult temperature charts and find information about how quickly the  the ground freezes in winter. I also will need to double check soil types. All this I’ll find on the Internet, but I’ll also talk to my dad about it. He holds a master’s degree in Soils.

3. …only half a morning to chop away the soil and tree roots… I’ll use a couple of resources for this segment — my husband who has dug a lot of post holes in his life, and our friend who is a mortician and has supervised the digging of graves.

4. …wide, flat blade of her digging stone… I’ll be sorting through artifact photographs my husband and I took at a museum visit during our recent trip to Eastern Europe.

5. …moss under the oak trees… For this, I’ll resort once again to my very handy The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Trees of the World book by Tony Russell, Catherine Cutler, and Martin Walters. I’ll also do a bit more research on moss. Does it grow under oak trees? What types of moss are native to Eastern Europe?

6. …the night’s meager snowfall… Back to Internet resources and climate data.

Even if you aren’t writing historical fiction, you’ll still need to check out some of the facts you present in your novel, because one misstep can make readers –  at least a few of them — close your book and never come back to it. If you’re using some controversial happenings or opinions as fact, don’t be afraid to mention that in your author’s notes. Readers will forgive educated guesses, even if they disagree with your conclusions. However, it’s difficult to overlook those blatantly wrong statements presented as fact.

Remember, readers are a novelist’s life blood. When you complete a book and release it into the world, you are in effect making a contract with your readers. They give up one of their most precious commodities — time — to read your book. In return, you, the writer, should give them your very best effort, which includes accurate research.

Novels which require extensive research will have mistakes. No matter how hard you try to uncover the facts, you’re going to miss something. It’s not the end of the world. If a reader calls you on it, apologize and thank them.

So, that’s my fifth draft. For some writers, a research draft will take no more than a few days. For me, it’s usually a couple of months, but it’s a fun couple of months, the culmination of all the research travel, reading, and gathering I’ve done over the year or two it takes me to write the novel. In the case of BONE FIRE, I’ve invested nearly a decade into the research. The same for my Alaska books. But that’s one of my quirks. I love research.

My question for you: Do you love to do research, or do you consider it just a necessary evil?

Strength to your pen!


 *Writing the Third Dimension, copyright, 2010 Sue Harrison*

Sue HarrisonBestselling author, Sue Harrison, has written two bestselling Alaska trilogies: The Ivory Carver Trilogy and The Storyteller Trilogy – all of which went digital in May 2013. She also wrote a middle readers’ book SISU. Prior to the publication of her novels, Harrison was employed at Lake Superior State University as a writer and acting director of the Public Relations Department and as an adjunct instructor in creative writing and advanced creative writing. For more information, click here. To inquire about booking Sue for workshops or speaking engagements this year, click here.

Thanks for joining us! Please feel free to leave your questions and comments. We invite you to come back July 23, 2015, for part 30.


Another sad good-bye

It has been a stressful, sad time of late. 

My dearly loved father-in-law passed peacefully from this life in the wee hours of June 10 with many of us, his family, near. It was a special, quiet, reverent time, although very difficult until his pain could be brought to a manageable level again. Breakthrough cancer pain is horrible. The minister came to pray with him and us, which brought assurance to his soul, and a last broad smile to his face.

Preparations have been completed … the service and reception scheduled for Sunday afternoon, June 14.

I will miss my father-in-law tremendously. He was a constant in my life for 39 years, and has been a wonderful role model for my husband and children. (My beloved looks so much like his dad and is very similar to him – and that’s a good thing.)

Now you know why I have not posted much lately. My energy and focus have been mostly elsewhere. I will get back to some sort of posting schedule as soon as I can.

Thank you for understanding.

Please check out the following information. We had known about asbestosis but had never heard of mesothelioma until my dad-in-law’s diagnosis. It is, and will be, affecting far more people than even, as yet, realize it exists – until it surfaces.

Thanks for reading, and … Creative Musings!  🙂

What a winter was 2014-2015! Let me tell you my story

As goes life, 2015 is proving to be another year of challenges and concerns. I was going to share a little with you months ago; however, the way things have been going I am so very late starting it. It’s amazing to me how quickly we are almost half way through 2015! Perhaps you won’t mind indulging me anyway?

It seems there is always one grief or stress to deal with, hardly is one behind us then another is on the horizon, besides the ongoing ones. A cousin of my mum passed away during the winter; however, because of the tremendous amount of snow we were getting, and the storms that seemed never-ending for awhile, the funeral service was not held until May when family could get together again. Of course, the next day Dad didn’t remember anything about it.

In January our daughter in Alberta asked for our advice. She’d decided it was time to move home and had a job offer here in NS! After six years of being away it was a major life change for her, an exciting one for all of us. Once the plan was settled I got busy on this end of the country. Online shopping can be fun when looking for good secondhand furniture on Kijiji. After I found an apartment that way, located a few minutes from her new job, we also were able to get a washer, a dryer, and a table and chairs set for her. Our main concern, though, was that she was determined to drive home, about 3000 miles or about 5000 kilometers – in her jeep, with all her belongings – including her two adult cats. Alone. In the dead of winter.   um… NO!   We bought a ticket for my husband who flew out to Alberta the first of February to drive home with her. That was the beginning of a crazy week.

After arriving there and getting a good night’s sleep, the next day he and she packed her belongings into a U-haul rental trailer – so full he said they couldn’t have wedged in a box of kleenex. They drove farther north to briefly visit her friend from NS who has lived out there longer than she, then started their long journey home. Since the plan was to take turns – one sleeping when needing to while the other was driving and then switching roles – and with the cats in their enclosure taking up the back seat, there was only room to sleep sitting up in the front passenger seat … as comfortably as could be arranged.

Remember, this was in the worst of our unpredictable Canadian winter. Coming across the middle of the country they experienced frigid minus-degree temperatures and bitterly cold winds in which no one should be out in the elements in miles/kilometers of nothing but dangerous weather. Nevertheless, they passed a hitchhiker daring to do just that! The jeep was crammed so full they had no room for an extra passenger, so when they stopped at a little diner they told a police officer. The officer picked up the hitchhiker to find a place for him to stay the night; otherwise, that person very possibly would have succumbed to the elements. 

 Meanwhile …

It was my week at home (instead of at my dad’s), so I was trying to keep the house and myself warm. The challenge for me was our outdoor wood furnace which I had never loaded or maintained because my husband always took care of it. I just didn’t want to. Usually, most of the wood my husband lifts into it is very heavy, way beyond what I can lift. It’s actually whole tree trunks cut into three-foot lengths or so, much of it not even split as it’s not necessary because it burns well as it is. It was only split if it was not possible for him to lift whole. Fortunately, last winter’s stash of wood had more small-sized sticks available than usual, many of a size I could handle without injury – if I were careful in how I lifted, didn’t slip in the very deep snow, and could propel the wood into the furnace to properly load it for efficient airflow. 

Now, the wood my husband can load in is so big the furnace has to be reloaded only twice a day, morning and evening. The wood I could manage was much smaller, therefore it had to be replenished much more often as it burned quicker. Let me tell you, I got more exercise than I wanted!

Because …

Unfortunately, soon after my husband and daughter started their journey eastward, here in NS we were hit with a wild blizzard that dumped a few feet of snow on us. When that settled I found, because of how the ‘white stuff’ had drifted, I could still make my way through a path in the snow to keep the furnace stoked. Then, hardly had a way been cleared in this province when we were hit with a snowstorm. A huge one. With loads more snow. By the time that one ended I had so much snow I couldn’t get out my back door so had to battle my way out the front and around the house to the now buried path to the furnace. Did I say buried? There was no longer a path beside the truck which was half buried. (see top right photo below) I have never spent so much effort and energy repeatedly struggling through such deep snow, bitter cold, and biting wind – quite an experience for little me. It had to be done. I couldn’t let the fire die out, but the snow was so high and dense I couldn’t struggle through it anymore. I wasn’t sure how I was going to do it but I was determined not to ask for help for as long as I could hold out.

snow halfway up our back doorMORE snow, truck half buried

can't get in this way our back door from the outside





That’s when my dear father-in-law came to my rescue. That morning he arrived on his tractor equipped with snowplow and blower, after I’d been shovelling in an attempt to clear snow off my deck so I could open the door and also begin a new path to the furnace. If you look at the above photos, the bottom right one, my path was along the front of the deck railing on the right, across what was our lawn and up a rise.The snow was very heavy and packed solid, so by that time I was so depleted of energy I’d given up for awhile and gone inside to warm up and gain some energy back. I told my dad-in-law I would finish the deck, just had to stop awhile because I was so exhausted, but I would do it. He insisted on doing it for me. Bless his heart. I knew he was not feeling well, either, but he still insisted despite my objections. He got it done much quicker than I could have, for sure. I certainly appreciate him, he’s a good man.

Dad D clearing deck for meDad D plowing for me








As for the travellers …

My husband and daughter stayed in a hotel one night – a place that allowed her cats – because it was a long stretch of nothing they were on, getting on for dark, with no idea what they might encounter since it was blustery and very, very cold. I’m sure they slept better that night; the rest of the time they slept on route.

In less than five days they made it home and I was so excited to get my arms around them! I’d prayed much for their safe travels. Interestingly,  they missed all the storms since it began storming in Alberta after they left so the bad weather heading east was always behind them, and the worst happened in Nova Scotia before they arrived. 🙂  Granted, there was a lot of snow clearing for my beloved to undertake once he got back, and he felt sorry I’d been stuck with so much to handle while he was away, but I survived!  🙂  (And now he knows I can load that darn furnace if the wood is small enough. ah well.)

In this photo (left), with more snow coming down, I was leaning on a snowbank under which was our lawn swinging-chairs set. Somewhere.
I am happy to say there is NO SNOW now. 🙂  How I do love Spring and Summer!

too much snow!I'm leaning on a snowbank




The last thing I’ll say for now is this …

My dad – who will be 90 in a few days – is getting worse (wretched Alzheimer’s, and weak heart) but is still spunky and usually cheerful; and another dear family member has been recently diagnosed with Mesothelioma (incurable cancer) with not much time left with us. Some days life’s stresses feel so heavy on me, but then I remember the Lord is my Strength and the Song and Light in my heart. If God is for me, who can be against me?

I wish you each a sweet song in your heart.

What has been going on in your life? How do you cope? What joys do you have to share with us?

Thanks for reading, and … Creative Musings!  🙂