The Fine Art of Seeing and How to Improve It

As we go through life our brain filters what we “see”.  It’s a necessary part of coping with eyes that would otherwise provide information overload.  But as a writer I need to “see” things that others may not.  Why?  Because I’ve got to describe them in my books.  It might be how a a woman’s blouse creases below the bust line, or the shape a man’s worn-out shoe.  I might need to describe how a car tire succumbs to weight as it sits on pavement, or the way asphalt grays as it ages.

It’s said, though, that it is the artists that really “see” and I envy envied them.  Now that I’ve spent a couple months being an artist, though, I feel that artists don’t see differently.  Rather they simply stop to see what we can all see if we take the time.  Instead of looking at a glass bottle, seeing the symbol of a glass bottle our brain has cataloged away, artists actually look at the bottle, seeing not only its outline but also the reflections within it; the way the light bounces off some surfaces and not others, how the surface curves and how the colors of the glass vary according to its thickness.

I know, I know…you don’t have the talent to be an artist.  I’ve spent six decades saying that same thing of myself.  Most of us are taught this ‘fact’ early in our lives.  But, did you know, there are actually people who don’t believe that?  Danny Gregory is one such person.  He’s written several books on the subject but the one that takes this subject head on is The Creative License: Giving Yourself Permission To Be The Artist You Truly Are. Danny believes that anyone can and should enjoy and create art.   His contention is that being creative improves the quality of our lives. Here’s one example of how Danny makes his case:

“They say that when someone is sick and dying, with a heightened awareness that their days are numbered and few, they develop a new appreciation of little things.  Things intensify and become special and precious.  That view out the window, that snowflake, that conversation, that kiss – each one could be your last.

The trick is to incorporate this perspective into your healthy – though challenging – life.  Drawing does that; you pay attention in a way you normally wouldn’t.”

What Danny Gregory points out is that our problem isn’t a lack of talent.   Talent doesn’t matter.  What matters is our definition of art.  He suggests, and my two months of being an artist supports the view, that art isn’t defined by the finished product.  It’s about the process.  When you draw something, success isn’t defined by how well it resembles the object being drawn but rather, “Did you express yourself? Did you have fun?  Did you learn something?  Did you see?”  One doesn’t have to be Monet to achieve these goals but the process allows us to enjoy being creative.

I’ve only been drawing for a couple months, now and I’m not very good at it.  But everything has become interesting and fun to me.  I sat in a doctor’s office a couple weeks ago, a situation that normally would bore me to tears.  But I was looking at the people, their clothes, and noticing how pants wrinkle around the knees when a person is seated, how the colors changed between light and shadow.  I watched as a guy’s arm articulated while he was hanging up his coat.

And when I was raking leaves I noticed the many shades of yellow and red, and how many leaves had the equivalent of rust spots on them.  And have you ever looked at a potato peeler?  I mean really looked?  Confucius was right, “Everything has its beauty” and I’m beginning to see it.

A building here in Quebec City (pen/watercolor, 3"x5")

 

Cheers — Larry

 

 

 

 

 

Increase your NaNoWriMo Word Count: Leave Words Out

This is NaNoWriMo month and we’ve reached the half-way point of our attempt to write 50,000 words in one month.  This is the time when many start worrying about whether they will “succeed” in that process.  NaNo forums buzz with “How can I increase my word counts? questions and “I’m way behind and I need help” calls.  I thought some might benefit from a technique I (and others) use to maintain the momentum when I’m drafting any document.

Those who get it

But first, I want to save some of you the trouble of reading this.  NaNoWriMo participants fall into two groups – those who get it and those who do not.  Those who get it understand that NaNoWriMo provides motivation to keep your butt in the chair long enough every day to write a complete novel.  They understand that while there is a 50k word goal, it’s about writing a story, not simply writing 50,000 words.

You can write 50,000 words by typing the dictionary into a document file.  It’s not about the words, it’s about the story.  You can tell the difference between those who get it and the rest by the fact that those who get it are talking about how their story is/isn’t flowing.  They talk about scenes and about what their characters are doing. The rest discuss how to increase their word count by having characters sing songs, recite poetry, or how much it helps to give each character three names.  What follows will only be useful to those who get it.  Those who do not shouldn’t waste any more time here.  Move on…nothing to see.

Maintaining the Momentum

When drafting a novel we all bump into the need for descriptions of this or that.  We need character and place names, maybe a snappy quote, or possibly the name of a famous clothing designer.  The list here is endless adn it can stop us in our tracks as we draft our novels.   These things form the color of our stories.  They are important, very important to whether the story will be enjoyable to readers.

BUT, most of them fall into two categories from the author’s perspective:

  • Necessary and author knows details
  • Necessary but author doesn’t know details
  • Unnecessary but adds color and authors wants them in story

What you do when these needs arise affect how well you will achieve the goal of having a complete story draft sitting on your desk.  If you head off to the Internet or walk away “to think”, it’s possible that you will derail the process completely, or at the very least you will disrupt the ‘butt in the chair’ ideal.

Combating Momentum Stoppers

I want to write drafts quickly.  If feel the immediacy of moving from scene to scene without interruption is important to my story-telling.  Further, once I have a completed draft I feel I’m on firm footing to turn that story into a complete, full-fledged novel without having to second guess the beginning, middle or end.  To facilitate this approach, I simply to leave stuff out of my draft, knowing that I will added it during revisions.  By doing so, writing 50k words in a month becomes easy.  Here’s how I make my decisions:

1) Necessary for story but the author knows the details

Generally, if you know all the details, you might was well write them.  But suppose your protagonist is rushing to meet someone and you’re really on a roll with the plot.  He/she gets to the location and you need to write a description of the location.  Doing so will slow your momentum as you can’t just jump into the meeting which is the point of the scene.  Instead, just add “[description of XYZ Pub here]” and move on.  You know the necessary details (eg – bar down the left side, protag sits with back to the wall, etc.) and so those details can be used even though they will be described later when you write the description.

More often than not, descriptions cause a loss of momentum because the author knows most of the details except for some aspect they want to include, but a name or some other detail is lacking.  For instance, “The bad guy slid the AR-15 from its case and brought it to his shoulder.  He put the protag in the crosshairs of its [type of scope] scope and pulled the trigger.”  In spite of this horrific prose, you can see how stopping to look up the brand name for the scope would slow you down and disrupt your train of thought.

2) Necessary but author doesn’t know details

Maybe you’re writing a Steampunk novel and your protagonist is in downtown London in the 1890s.  The protagonist is looking for a landmark that is well-known to all and you want to accurately depict its location to ground the scene.  But, you don’t know the names of the streets or you don’t know what they called those carriages that Brits used as taxis.  You could stop, fire up Google Earth, find a map of 19th Century London, or any number of things.  You’ll have to do that eventually.  but right now you’re drafting a novel.  And so you write “Madam Protagonist motioned to a [name of taxi carriages] and headed towards [street in front of the Savoy].”  Nothing is lost in this substitution and much is gained.

3) Unnecessary but adds color to the story

Here is where most of the momentum stoppers lie and if you’re goal is to complete a story, this is the stuff you can easily leave out without denting the plot or characters even a little bit.  Snappy quotes, names of books, references to art, famous people, places, or even food add a lot to stories.  They ground character and place like nothing else.  But often they do not affect plot.  Consider the sleuth quoting something when confronting the bad guy, or the lover quoting a line of poetry.  Maybe you have the engineer of a space ship talking about wormhole generation and you want him to quote Steven Hawking.  It doesn’t matter.  These things make or break many novels, but they are often not necessary to move the plot forward.  “Captain, our [wormhole generation device] must recharge.  As Hawking used to say, [Hawking quote].  We can’t jump until we hit 72% or more.”

By avoiding the stoppages caused by searches for this information you gain considerably in my opinion.  First, you retain the momentum of your story.  Your characters are moving through scenes more quickly, in a more realistic fashion.  As an author this impacts how you view those characters and scenes and, in my opinion, they become more real because of it.  Also, it keeps you writing and, by leaving these words out of your draft, you actually increase the number of words you write.  Most important of all is that leaving these things out, rather than spending time searching the Internet, you’ll end up with a complete story that you can then revise into the great novel you want it to be.  Notice that I use brackets and red font to make these omissions easy to find.  They are the first things I tackle when I start doing revisions.  Good luck in the NaNo challenge.  See you at the finish line.

Cheers — Larry

What’s an Eye-dropper Pen?

Several people have asked, in response to my post titled My Ideal Idea Book: What’s Yours post, what an eye-dropper pen was and how to make one.  I dropped the reference into that post without realizing that I was talking to people who don’t hang out in the fountain pen world and I apologize for not providing a more complete explanation.

The typical, modern fountain pen uses an ink cartridge.  These are convenient, but they do have a few drawbacks.  They contain very little ink, typically half a milliliter or less.  You are also limited by the colors and kinds of ink available in cartridge form.  Cartridges are also the most expensive way to feed a fountain pen.

So, many people replace the cartridge with a converter that allows you to suck up ink from a bottle and so your choices improve and your costs drop considerably.

What is not solved by this approach is the amount of ink stored in the pen.  But, what if you could fill up the entire barrel of the pen with ink?  A $3-4 Preppy pen barrel will hold 4-4.5 milliliters, or about nine times as much ink as is contained in a cartridge.

And so the “eyedropper pen” is born, taking its name from the way you fill the barrel of the pen – with an eyedropper.  Here is my editing pen.  Everyone knows that editors use a lot of red ink so it’s a natural for eyedropper pen conversion.

To do the conversion you need several things:

1) A pen that has no holes in its barrel.

The popular Lamy Safari is an example of a pen that won’t work without modification as there are large holes so you can see how much ink is left in your cartridge.

2) small rubber washers

You can buy these at Home Depot but what they have available are thicker than is generally desireable.  While they will work, they create an unsightly lump along the body of the pen.  I bought a bunch of proper-size washers from Goulet Pens for a buck.  These are very thin and don’t protrude once you close up the pen.

3) silicone grease

Some say you don’t need this.  When it comes to ink I want everything I can get  between it and my fingers.  This grease comes from Goulet Pens as well.  Might cost $1.50 for a lifetime supply of the stuff.

4) a few seconds of your time

I mention this only to emphasize how easy it is.  Here’s what you do:

1) open up the pen, discarding the cartridge

2) slide a washer onto the threaded portion of the pen, seating it where the barrel and pen head come together.

3) coat the threads with a small amount of silicone grease.  Less is more in this case.

4) fill the barrel with your favorite ink.

5) Put the pen down so you don’t poke yourself when you pat yourself on the back.

It’s quite likely that you’ll have to wait a bit for the ink to find its way up the feed and to the nib.  If you need to write immediately you can just dip the nib into the ink bottle to get things started.

 

NaNoWriMo: A Writing Opportunity

It’s that time of year again, when there’s lots of buzz about the upcoming NaNoWriMo event.  If you’re a writer, or a wannabe writer who hasn’t heard of it, National Novel Writing Month happens every November.  It an oft-misunderstood event by those who have never done it and a cherished experience by those who have.

The obvious goal of NaNoWriMo is what it takes to win – write 50,000 words in one month.  Winning, though, means getting a certificate that says you did it and as great as the feeling that comes from receiving it, the small size of this token of “winning”  should underscore the importance and value of this aspect of NaNoWriMo.  If “winning” on this level were the only goal, you could copy the first 50,000 words from a dictionary and submit it.  You would “win” but that’s hardly the point.

What is the point is skills acquisition – a specific skill.  Fiction writers need talent and imagination.  Writers need to understand grammar, and other writerly stuff.  But a person with perfect grammar and great imagination can never complete a novel without one other skill, a skill that most wannabe writers lack.  It’s the ability to put your butt in the chair to write on a regular basis.

We all mean well.  We plan, we think, we “have the story in our head.”  But we also have excuses for why it doesn’t get written.  Our “muse” isn’t cooperating.  We’re too busy.  Some even use “I’m such a procrastinator” as though this were some genetic disposition that explains it all.  The excuses don’t matter.  In the end, most well-intentioned people never complete even a first draft of a novel.

The truth is, writing regularly, and with purpose is an acquired skill, just like any other.  It must be acquired and doing it alone is difficult.  It must become a habit.  That’s where NaNoWriMo comes in.  Starting November 1st, tens of thousands of writers, like yourself, will launch themselves into an intense writing month, requiring a word production of 1667 words per day if you want to meet the 50k goal by November 31st.  Support is provided in many forms and with so many people in the same boat, doing the same thing, it is easier somehow.  NaNoWriMo lets you experience being a productive writer and, if you perservere, it will cause you to get that story that’s “in your head” down on paper.  It won’t be a polished novel at that point but it can be with some subsequent effort on your part.  Once the draft is written, the rest is much easier.  Many NaNoWriMo novels have been published and many more will be.  Maybe yours.

Sign up for NaNoWriMo.  It’s free, it’s fun.  And add me to your buddy list.  My NaNo name is larrym.

 

Cheers — Larry

 

What Can Antiques Road Show Teach Traditional Publishing?

I was watching the Antiques Road Show last week.  I love that show as there are so many stories presented in association with the antiques being discussed.  This night there was a guy who had some beautiful, old ledger books.  He’d fished them out of a dumpster simply because they were leather-bound, very large, and very cool.   Their exteriors suggested they belonged in a medieval monastery. These ledgers were from a company that manufactured buggy parts and dated to the early 1900s.  The books were, what’s the word?  KEWL!

But as nice as they looked on the outside, it was the inside that held the true gems.  Inside were hand-written entries of sales and delivery numbers for the various parts produced by the company.  The hand-writing was crisp and clear.  John Hancock would have been proud.  Sadly, we’ve lost hand-writing as a well-practiced art form.

What was interesting about the entries is that as you flipped through the books you saw that the company had transitioned from making buggy-parts to making car parts.  As I watched this I wondered how much grumbling went on within that company over the introduction of cars and the demise of an industry in which they were so heavily invested.  I envisioned dart boards with Henry Ford’s face.  The bottom line, however, was that not only had the company transitioned from one set of products to another, this company was still in business, throwing out their old ledger books of a century ago.  The major book publishers should have been watching Antiques Road Show.

Why?  I’m glad you asked.

The book industry is in the middle of same sort of shift that the transportation industry experienced when cars replaced the horse and buggy.  It’s moving from a high-cost print-based product to a lower-cost eBook product.  On its face this should be easy for publishing companies as only the container for their product (i.e. – words) has changed.  In the process they can quickly eliminate many of their printing, distribution and returns costs from the red side of their ledgers.

The problem, however, is that the companies who should be leading this industry change, the big publishing companies, aren’t.  In fact, they’re more concerned with protecting their shrinking legacy industry than participating in the newer eBook industry in spite of now reporting that 20-25% of their revenues are coming from eBooks while also reporting large declines in paperback and hardcover sales.

It should be Random House and Macmillan competing to see who has the best eReader, not Barnes & Noble and Amazon.  But the large publishers are not only not in the eReader business yet, they are pricing their eBooks in ways that limit sales of their books to consumers who do own eReaders, iPads, iPhones, etc.

Harper-Collins should be inventing innovative ways for libraries to use and distribute eBooks.  Instead they have produced a limited lifespan model that is completely unworkable given the modern ways in which libraries interchange books with one another to serve the public.

And so the Internet debate lines have been drawn and we are constantly bombarded by indie vs traditional model blog posts.  eBook advocates call traditional publishers names, some becoming justified by the very actions traditional publishers, agents, etc. are taking in attempts to retain their jobs and their way of doing business.  Those on the traditional side of the debate are firing back, largely embarrassing themselves as they twist reality into a pretzel as they voice their denial that anything has changed.   Much of this denial, I believe, comes from the fact that the large publishers have never viewed readers as their customers and they’re having a hard time coming to grips with that.  They’ve always viewed bookstores as their customers.

In the end, however, readers are learning a whole new way to books, without the “big six” being involved.  Readers are learning how limited their choices have been, caused largely by the large publishers wanting to make more and more money from the sales of fewer and fewer book titles.  Readers are learning more about small publishers than ever before.  Independent authors are selling lots of books.

Authors are happy because they are more free to express themselves and because they’re making more money than ever before.  They’re able to make their older works available, works that were largely abandoned by the large publishers after a 60-90 day run in bookstores.  Readers are happy because the selection is great and generally prices are lower.

And while this is happening the buggy-makers haven’t figured out that they need to start making car parts.

My Ideal Idea Book – What’s Yours?

Most writers have some method for recording ideas, making location notes, or maybe even sketching out a scene.  What’s yours? Mine must be portable as I never know when a good idea will start rattling around in my head.  I go for walks and just think about my current project.  Scene ideas will pop into my head, a whole new story idea might come up, or maybe I’ll have a great dialog idea.  I’ve got to write it down.

For most, the tools are a notebook and ball-point pen, though I’m not alone in being particular about my writing utensils.  What makes me anguish a bit more than most over this idea is that in addition to being a writer, I’ve got a fountain pen fetish.  If I’m going to put ink to paper; it’s got to be done with a fountain pen.

Fountain pens generate special challenges.  Those of us afflicted refer to the perfect triad of paper, pen and ink as though it were some magic potion, and I suppose it is, as a great pen only writes well with the proper ink on the proper paper and finding this combination is much of the fun of writing with fountain pens.

I’ve tried many combinations and I’ve found the ideal combination for my needs.  The goal is actually more complicated than just finding pen, ink, and paper that work together as I’m a guy.  I have no purse.  Some might say I have no brain.  So in addition to the general need for pen/ink/paper compatibility, I need:

1) The pen needs to be cheap because I’m prone to losing them.

2) The notebook must be small enough to fit in my back pocket.

3) The ink needs to dry quickly as I need to be able to make notes and shove the notebook back in my pocket without smearing.

Here’s my solution.  All of this stuff, except for the Moleskine notebook, is available from my favorite fountain pen store, Goulet Pens.   Nicest people on the planet and they provide a fantastic online shopping experience.

Cheap Pen & Quick-Drying Ink

Platinum Preppy pens are simply the best bargain ever.  With a street price around four bucks, they provide a smooth-writing pen and a natural for a portable, cheap pen system.   If you lose one it’s not a burden to replace it.

Platinum cartridges have a small ball inside them that help to keep ink flow even when the pen hangs out in my pockets for long periods of time.  The problem is the ink, which isn’t bad, but I’m fussy about my ink.  Goulet Pens has a tutorial that talks about converting a Preppy to an eye-dropper pen (you fill the entire barrel with ink) and I’ve done that.  While I’ve never had one leak, I don’t like the idea of carrying them in my pants pocket and elimination of the cartridges also means elimination of the small ball in the cartridge.

But it’s easy enough to use a syringe to fill any cartridge and that’s the approach I use.  My ink of choice for portability is Noodler’s Bernanke Blue (also comes in black).  It flows well from Preppies and it dries almost as quickly as I can lay it down.

Small Notebook size

The critical dimension for my portable notebook is that it must fit in my back pocket.  Thus, Levis determines my notebook size.  I use a Moleskine notebook as it fits well.  I have tried a Rhodia Webnotebook as the paper is superior but it’s just enough larger that it’s uncomfortable to carry on my butt.  If that’s not a problem for you, I highly recommend this notebook.  So, for me, Moleskine it is and my ideas are captured and I get to enjoy writing with a fountain pen.  What do you use to record your thoughts?

 

 

 

 

Coexist by Julie Crane

Consider this writing task.  Write a young adult novel with a cast of young girls and the occasional hunky guy.  Have them live in a modern computer world, interacting with each other on Facebook.  Oh, and don’t forget to include an elf war.

How would you do that?  I’d give Julia Crane a call.  She’s got more experience with this than the rest of us and she does an amazing thing: she makes it believable.

Coexist starts with Keegan, an teenage elf and her family who are, not surprisingly, also elves.  Elves have their mates chosen for them and she’s thinking about him, whoever he is.  But elves coexist with normal humans, beings without the powers of elves.  And thus the story begins.

Crane weaves a tale of Keegan’s balancing act between living the life of a human teenager while hiding her elfen heritage, her destiny, and her brother’s destiny, which is to have a role in resolving the impending elven war between the light and dark elves.

I’d like to tell you more but that wouldn’t be fair, would it?  If you enjoy young adult fantasy, get this book.  Read it.  You won’t be disappointed.

I’m An Author – I Make Stuff Up

One of the great things about being a fiction author is that you get to make stuff up, or as Lawrence Block put it, “you get to lie for a living.”  We create worlds, or recreate existing worlds, sculpt characters and provide them situations.  We’re limited only by our imagination.

As authors we’re told to “write what you know” but I write mysteries without having murdered anyone, or even been near a murderer.  I doubt that those writing about knights fighting dragons have experienced their words either.  We make stuff up.

But occasionally this comes back to bite an author.  Sometimes readers believe that we “write what we know.”  And such was the case when my brother and his wife Kathie came to visit (see here for some coverage of that event).  They had both read Her Book of Shadows which made their visit particularly fun.  The setting for my mystery series is Quebec City so as we wandered the town, seeing the sights, I could point out the various scene locations of the book.

Then it happened.  We were walking along my river, the St. Charles River and the topic of cooking came up.  Kathie said, “I need to get your recipe for broccoli chicken.”  Because I’m old and have a hard time remembering my birthday, it took me a few beats to figure out what she was talking about.  Then the light went on.  She was referring to this passage from Her Book of Shadows.

 

From Chapter Seventeen: I chopped the broccoli into small bits, using only the tops of the flower heads. I threw them into a bowl, grated Parmesan into it, added bread crumbs, lemon juice and some olive oil, creating a broccoli paste. I poured myself a glass of wine and added some to my mixture, adding more bread crumbs to maintain the paste consistency.

I sliced into one side of each chicken breast and filled the slot with broccoli paste, closing up the slot and holding it together with a couple toothpicks. I basted the exteriors with a bit of olive oil, sprinkling them with tarragon and a bit of pepper and I set the oven at 350F.

My protagonist, Scott Riker is making dinner for his family and one of the minor themes of the book is that he’s a decent cook.  The problem here is that this “recipe” was a figment of my imagination.  It wasn’t following that advice to “write what you know.”  I was “making stuff up.”  And so I was a bit embarrassed to admit that I’d never made stuffed broccoli chicken, though I was inwardly thrilled that it had seemed so believable.

But I like Kathie a lot.  She likes broccoli and so do I.  So, here’s how to make Riker’s famous Broccoli-stuffed Chicken.  And while I never measure anything when I cook, I did so in this case to provide some quantities:

Ingredients

chicken breasts (3-4)

broccoli (1 cup of broccoli buds)
parmesan cheese (2 tablespoons)
bread crumbs (1 tablespoon)
lemon juice (1 tablespoon)
olive oil (enough to turn the rest into a loose paste)
* I also mixed bread crumbs, parmesan and tarragon for use in coating the exterior of the chicken

The Process

I mixed the broccoli paste in a small bowl.  It doesn’t become a tight paste because of the broccoli but this result can be spooned into chicken breasts that have had a pocket sliced into them.  I apologize that my kitchen isn’t set up for high-quality photography but here’s a photo of the paste to give you an idea of its consistency.

I spooned the paste into the pockets and  basted the chicken breasts with olive oil.  I sprinkled the bread crumb coating* on top.  The chicken was transferred to a lined baking sheet that I’d painted with olive oil so they wouldn’t stick.  This is how they looked as I  stuffed them into a 375F oven.

About 45-minutes later, this is what they looked like.  Within half an hour they had disappeared and my family was all smiles.

I admit that I do cook, so maybe when I’m making stuff up about Scott Riker cooking, I’m also “writing what I know.”

 

Beautiful Quebec And Family Visits

It’s been a week since I’ve posted but finally I have a good excuse.  All those other times I was just goofing off.  My brother and his lovely wife came to town.

This might not seem like much to those of you who actually get to see their families on a regular basis but for me, it was a special treat.  As much as I love Quebec City, it’s roughly 3000 miles from my “home”, which is (was?) in Arizona.  Most of my family still resides there and it’s been a very long time since I’ve seen my brother.  While I won’t waste your time with details of our visit, I thought I’d share a few of the snapshots I took as we wandered parts of Quebec City.

We started on the Plains of Abraham.  This is a very large park that used to be a farmer’s field, Mr. Abraham’s field to be precise.  But then the British climbed the cliffs, the French came out of the walled city.  They both brought guns.  Now, Mr. Abraham’s field commemorates the battle that saw the British take control of Quebec City.  Unless you’re a historian, all of the battles that preceded this 22 minute interaction, and the months of bombardment, are lost in the pages of history books.

What is not lost is the beauty of the place.  Not only are there rolling hills and tall trees, there is an extraordinary garden, called…wait for it…the Battlefield Park Garden. For reasons unknown to me, a statue of Jean d’Arc looks down upon it.  It’s a copper statue much like the Statue of Liberty so I’m guessing it was a gift from France at some point.  Ignorance am me.

From there we headed to Rue Cartier, a wonderful street filled with small shops and restaurants.  We were foraging.  The photo is of my brother, his wife and my daughter.  They’re smiling because the food is on its way and hopeful that this will be the last time I have them pose for a photo.

After lunch we visited the Citadel. Quebec City is, or was a very strategic location, the walled city sits on a point, high above the St. Lawrence and this is the place where the Gulf of St. Lawrence shrinks down into what is to become the St. Lawrence Seaway.  This access point is very narrow and so anyone with a pop-gun could defend it against invading ships, which is one of the reasons it was so hard for the British to invade in the first place.

But invade they did and when those rebels in the US started shooting at Red Coats and dumping tea in Boston Harbor, the British in Canada got worried.  When those same infidels tried to invade Canada, they were even more convinced.  They used a French fort design and constructed a great fort to defend against American invasion. 

This fort is now the home of a French-Canadian regiment, the 22nd, which has a long and illustrious history.  The fort has never been attacked, at least not by a military.  Annually, however, tourists invade to tour the place, see the museum displays and to buy pieces of wood, plastic and paper.  These “souvenirs” are smuggled from the country, to rot in closests around the world.  It’s really amazing but very good for the Quebec economy.  Last weekend, we were part of the invasion force.

No visit to Quebec is complete without enjoying the fabulous architecture.  The “castle” as most call it is actually the Chateau Frontenac, a huge luxury hotel built long ago.

It’s currently having the upper roof replaced and not wanting the view disrupted too badly, they wrapped the area with large canvases painted to resemble the hotel behind them.  From a distance, it was surprisingly effective.

We saw statues…lots of statues.  This one is of Sam Champlain.  While French folks were living in the Quebec City area long before he showed up, he was an organizer… a doer.  He is considered the founder of the city so he gets a big statue.

In front of the Chateau Frontenac is a long promenade that is absolutely delightful.  There are a number of reasons for this, not the least being that you can buy ice cream cones there.  I guess, though, that most people go there to look down on the St. Lawrence which is a couple hundred feet below.  It’s quite a sight.

This is a photo of my wife and I, in our go-to-market clothes.  You’d think we could get dressed up to show family around but we’re a casual lot here in Quebec.

I’m sad to say that while we went other places, I seemed to run out of motivation to take photos so there are no more.  I’ll try to take others before the snow flies.

Cheers — Larry

Blooming Quebec, Why Doesn’t Everyone Live Here?

Winters are hard in Quebec City.  It sits at the mouth of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and the wind blows and the snow falls sideways.  During winter we have only eight hours of daylight.  Many of my friends wonder why anyone would want to live here and, along with fellow Quebecers, so do I when February rolls around.

But when summer arrives, we get the answer.  Sometimes it’s unbearably hot with high temperatures (winter temps by the standards of this Arizona-raised boy) and humidity readings that match them.  But most of summer is idyllic.  It’s time to sit outdoors, stand outdoors, and for the adventurous, move around outdoors.

I’m a walker, myself and this is the time I enjoy my river, the Riviere St. Charles.  The province has created what they refer to as a linear park along some 32 kilometers of the river.  There are walking trails that wind their way along the river, sometimes through forests, sometimes along more urban trails, skirted with well-maintained gardens.  And there are the flowers….oh my goodness, what flowers.