Mennonite Summer

Journal of novel-in-progress.

Stuck In The Middle

From Writers Digest I received a most wonderful guide on structuring the entire novel. It says to order the novel into three acts, then what to put into each. The mid-point should go between:

  • the point of no return when things will never be the same, and
  • the major decision point at the end of Act 2.

The article then describes what should go into the “mid-point” part of the novel. Very interesting! I never saw anything on this. See the article at


Organizing Scenes

This is fun–going back through stuff written three years ago and choosing which scenes I want to keep and discard, how to organize the next step of my book. For the past few years I’ve been working on backstory. Now I can see how it will really enhance the old scenes that come later. And that is so satisfying. I can’t wait to get it all polished and written up.


In the last month or so my writing has rounded a bend in the road. Via word of mouth–if I remember correctly, it was something someone said on Quora–I found Scribophile. That’s a website/forum complex where writers can post their works for critiques and general feedback. It’s exactly what I need at this point to get back into writing. Last winter was so hectic, what with my personal life and the life of a friend who needed help, that I had to let go of anything not directly related to my own survival or that of my dog or friend. This spring when things settled down I was unable to get back into writing until I found Scrib.

It’s at Before you can post your own work, you have to do a lot of critiques of others’ work to earn “points.” One crit earns around 1 point, depending how many words you use. The baseline is 125 words, and anything over earn .001 points a word. Posting one work of two to three thousand words cost five of those points. This ensures that everyone who posts works also does their share of critiquing. There is also a system for evaluating those critiques, though some people still write mainly to gain their word count. Other crits are really good and I’ve learned a lot from both sides of the line.

Google: the Writer’s Friend

If your childhood homelife was not lived in English and you’re trying to write a novel about it for a mainstream English-speaking society, how do you translate all of those comfy homey terms into something meaningful to your audience? Better yet, if you’re setting your story twenty years before your own time, illustrating farming practices that were disappearing about the time you were born, how do you portray these meaningfully to a mainstream English-speaking urban audience?

Google has proved to be my friend. For many purposes, I use Google Images: antique household items and furniture, vintage fashions of pretty much anything mainstream for any given decade of the twentieth century especially when it comes to dressing and hairstyling my mainstream characters. From Images, there are always links to ‘Visit this page.’ Many images are taken from Pinterest sites but all I need is a label or basic English description for the article or garment. This gives me language, as well as a visual impression, to describe what I want my readers to see.

As for farming practices and manufacturing of the first half of the twentieth century, Google Books has found me entries in old farming guides and other books with details of practice and experience I could never have come up with on my own. And again, it’s in English, providing me with the necessary English vocabulary to say what I need to say. If there is a doubt regarding correct item or definition, I can always use Google Images and my newly-acquired English vocabulary to double-check in online dictionaries.

Google is truly this writer’s friend.

Jean Little’s “Willow and Twig”

Canadian author Jean Little’s children book Willow and Twig is set locally and also mentions Kitchener and Toronto, just like I do in Mennonite Summer. The children move from Vancouver to Elora via Toronto Airport. The deaf little boy goes to school in Kitchener, but if he were profoundly deaf he would have to go to Milton. That is exactly the way things work in real life in this area. Like me, Jean Little sets fictitious characters and events in real places and it happens to be in the next county over from where I’ve lived all my life. She lives on a farm near the small town of Elora, a place I’ve seen, and her story takes place on a farm near Elora. I lived on various farms near the somewhat larger town of Elmira and my story takes place there. For both of us, as with everyone in this general area , the major culture centre is Kitchener but the connection with the larger world is Toronto, especially the airport.

Cream Separators

Cream Separators were a common form of milk processing used from their invention in the late 1800s into the 1970s.

Lizbet and Christina would have used a cream separator similar to the one shown here. Please note: The images below were retrieved Feb. 21 2016; links may no longer work.


Dennis Nickerson has his hand on the crank that drove this 1930s Montgomery Ward & Co. cream separator. Raw milk was poured into the large bowl, the crank turned, and eventually cream came out of one spout and skim milk out of the other. FROM:

Diagram and Description of Cream Separator, taken from The machine is on the left, and the bowl on the right. Description below diagram is direct quote from the International Livestock Research Institute’s website.


The centrifugal separator was invented in 1897. By the turn of the century it had altered the dairy industry by making centralised dairy processing possible for the first time.

It also allowed removal of cream and recovery of the skim milk in a fresh state.

The separation of cream from milk in the centrifugal separator is based on the fact that when liquids of different specific gravities revolve around the same centre at the same distance with the same angular velocity, a greater centrifugal force is exerted on the heavier liquid than on the lighter one. Milk can be regarded as two liquids of different specific gravities, the serum and the fat.

Milk enters the rapidly revolving bowl at the top, the middle or the bottom of the bowl (Figure 13). When the bowl is revolving rapidly the force of gravity is overcome by the centrifugal force, which is 5000 to 10 000 times greater than gravitational force. Every particle in the rotating vessel is subjected to a force which is determined by the distance of the particle from the axis of rotation and its angular velocity.


Base and Bowl Shell

Base and Outer Shell for Separator Bowl_grassfood.me_2013_05_23...assembling-the-cream-separator

Disks for Separator Bowl

Disks for Separator Bowl grassfood.me_2013_05_23 assembling-the-cream-separator

IMAGES FROM See the website for assembly photos and instructions.

Research Bibliography, Incomplete

Here are some resources I used to research and write Mennonite Summer:

Alternative Service in the Second World War: Conscientious Objectors in Canada: 1939-1945

Coroner’s journal : stalking death in Louisiana, by Louis Cataldie, Penguin Group, 2006

Cultural Anthropology, 6th edition, by Marvin Harris and Orna Johnson, 2003

Dictionary of Canadian Biography: Richard Beasley

Dictionary of Canadian Biography: Samuel D. Betzner

Foundations of policing in Canada, by Paul F. McKenna, Prentice Hall Canada Career & Technology,1998

From bloody beginnings : Richard Beasley’s Upper Canada, by David Richard Beasley, Davus Publishing, 2008

Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online

In Search Of Promised Lands: A Religious History Of Mennonites In Ontario, by Samuel J. Steiner, 2015

Mennonites in Canada, 1939-1970: A People Transformed, by T.D. Regehr, University of Toronto Press, 1996

Origin and Doctrine of the Mennonites, published by the Markham Waterloo Mennonite Conference, 2008

Police Procedure and Investigation: A Guide for Writers, by Lee Lofland, Writer’s Digest Books, 2007

Vice cop : my twenty-year battle with New York’s dark side, by Bill McCarthy and Mike Mallowe, 1991

Witness [DVD] / Paramount Pictures ; directed by Peter Weir ; produced by Edward S. Feldman ; screenplay by Earl W. Wallace & William Kelley, 1999

Who Are The Mennonites?

Yanomamo: Case Studies in Cultural Anthropology, 5th edition, by Napoleon A. Chagnon, 1997

Who Are The Mennonites

Cultural Insight

I’m watching “Old Colony” Mennonite videos in which the Mennonites are being interviewed and it’s in Spanish. I don’t understand the words these men are saying to the reporters but I feel like I’m getting everything else. I can almost tell what they’re talking about just by the feelings they express with shrugs, tone of voice, and body language. I used to think Russian/Mexican, i.e. Old Colony, Mennonites are a different breed from us Swiss Mennonites in North America but I’m no longer sure about that. Culture, apparently, runs seriously deep so that neither centuries of separation nor continents and oceans of distance can erase these basics of human expression when the heart and soul of both peoples is a religious commitment to retain the old ways.



This dance step looks familiar to me, like something that was used when I went to the singings as a young person. We didn’t have this big a dance floor and I would say things were livelier in the space we had but the step looks really familiar.

Theme of Mennonite Summer

When Constable Malcolm Crowley’s best friend’s truck is used as a suicide weapon by a Mennonite man, Malcolm sets out to discover why the man targeted a stranger’s truck.

Though this plot is fictional, along with the characters, it brings together my two cultures–the Mennonites and contemporary North American society. This is my first novel and on this blog I will document the main mile stones of progress–which will probably include regress because that is the way life works. Much of life is one step forward and two steps back, though once in a while we manage five steps forward and one back. Otherwise, obviously, we’d never get anywhere. Right?

At the moment, I’ve got the first draft more or less written and am in the process of polishing it up. Chapter 1 is polished and now I’m working on Chapter 2. I guess real authors know when they start where they’re going–what the story is they want to tell. All I knew was that I wanted to write a story to show my two cultures. Yeah right! Something’s gotta happen. Otherwise, nobody’s going to read it because there’s no story. Not to worry. Malcolm is biting off more than he can eat, getting himself into tight corners and culture clashes–all the while thinking he’s the big guy who knows it all.

I *think* that’s the classical set-up for a suspenseful story. Ideas are welcome. Anecdotes of cross-cultural experiences and clashes are most helpful, especially how a big-city cop might see horse and buggy people.