Survival by Barbara Trendos – Book Review

Survival-new-picStalag Luft III was a WWII German POW camp for officers, made famous by the 1960s movie, The Great Escape, starring Steve McQueen.

I met Canadian author, Barbara Trendos, in 2010 at Sabino Springs Writers’ Retreat in Arizona. She has since written and published her book about her father’s war experience with the RCAF and incarceration as a POW in Stalag Luft III, titled, Survival: My Father’s War as an Air Force Gunner and POW, published by Stone’s Throw Publication.

Trendos’ book reminds us that the newly trained fliers from Canada’s RCAF training schools were merely boys, some in their late teens, but most in their early 20s, eventually flying under Royal Air Force Command in Britain. Training was diverse, quick and intense. They were green, away from home and eager to do their bit for king and country. And at times, they were afraid.

Imagine your plane being strafed, going down over enemy territory. Never before jumping from a plane by parachute, you poise on the edge of an open, burning plane, mustering your nerve to throw yourself into complete darkness at 12,000 feet. Famously the Air Force lost many of their young fliers in that frightening situation.

Barb’s father, Albert Wallace, is 96-years old now. Like many of his luckier flying buddies who survived the drop, he was captured in Germany and held with thousands of other POWs for 2 years in Stalag Luft III. The men lived with daily shortages, overcrowding, boredom, cold, heat, deprivations and punishments at the mercy of German command. (Wallace made a lifelong commitment to the Red Cross for the life-saving packages that helped him and others survive their ordeal.) For a while, he bunked in the room at the same time the planners of the great escape furiously dug the entry to the famous tunnel, a daring escape ending in the death of over 50 men.

After 2 years, as rumours of German capitulation circulated in the camp, the prisoners were force-marched long distances in bitter January weather to other locations to avoid Russian liberators, hundreds dying enroute from exposure, illness and starvation.

Barbara elected to tell the story in her father’s voice in Log Book form. It’s an effective technique to write in a young man’s voice of the era, the reader noticing how the boy’s maturation under difficult circumstances brought decisions that likely saved his life.

For WWII Air Force buffs the book is a valuable source of information about early days of training in Canada, the Air Force assemblage in Britain, and insights into the conditions of German POW camps that did not abide by the Geneva Convention for decent standards of treatment of prisoners.

Barbara Trendos travelled a great deal for her research. She tapped into other prisoners’ log books, contacted children of POWs and investigated military records. The thoroughness of information told to us in this short diary is captivating.

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The Jesuit Letter by Dean Hamilton – Review

the-jesuit-letter-cover1The Jesuit Letter

Dean Hamilton

365 pages

Published by TyburnTree Publishing, 2014

ISBN 9780993917400

The Historical Novel Society recently selected The Jesuit Letter as Editor’s Choice for their winter issue, and long-listed the book for the Historical Novel Society Indie Award.

Author Dean Hamilton’s book, The Jesuit Letter, set in summer 1575, is the first book in a series about Englishman Christopher Tyburn. We learn from back story that four years earlier as a young scholar, Tyburn left Cambridge University to join Queen Elizabeth’s army in support of Protestant rebels in the Netherlands. The rebels were in bloody religious warfare with their Catholic Spanish masters. Tyburn survived the cruel conflict by his wits and his sword, barely cheating death.

The story begins with Tyburn returned from war and working as a player with a troupe of entertainers travelling by caravan from London to Strafford, Warwickshire. Late at night the rowdy thespians discover a fellow-player’s murdered body on a dark road. Around the dead man’s shoulders is the handsome cloak he’d loaned to Tyburn earlier that day; and in his hand, a waxy Papist amulet. Thugs had spied Tyburn wearing his friend’s borrowed cloak while intercepting a coded letter between a Jesuit priest and an unknown correspondent. Tyburn realizes the hideous roadside death that killed his friend was meant for him. How can he right this injustice?

Tyburn is known by his fellows as a gripper, an Elizabethan term for someone who is curious and tenacious. While those around him don’t always understand his motives, Hamilton shows the reader a flawed protagonist with underlying decency and sense of fair play.

img_1492It helps to know a little background. Although avarice among wealthy landowners underscored the 1558 – 1603 reign of Queen Elizabeth I, the Elizabethan period was one of England’s most glorious eras, an age of discovery and exploration. Central to Hamilton’s theme in The Jesuit Letter, is Elizabeth’s establishment of the dominant Protestant Church of England.

In her sister’s earlier reign, Catholic Queen Mary established the Catholic Church’s supremacy, which led to the persecution and execution of resistant Protestants, considered heretics and disloyal to the Crown. When religious supremacy reversed with Elizabeth’s Protestant ascendancy, Elizabeth chose tolerance for practicing Catholics, insisting only on their loyalty to her, and discretion in their worship. That leniency would change over the years.

Hamilton’s prologue introduces us to the secretive behavior of wealthy Catholic landowner, Edward Arden. He hires and acts as protector to a Catholic priest, Hugh Hall. The priest conducts secret masses at Arden’s manor home. Prominent Protestant neighbours resent Arden. They in turn hire thugs to intercept his letters to a Jesuit priest, to prove to Queen Elizabeth that Arden’s clandestine actions are disloyal to his oath to the Crown, and therefore treasonous and punishable by death. Providing evidence of Catholicism (often obtained unlawfully) could lead to the Crown confiscating Arden’s family lands and removing his titles. A grateful Queen was known to award those same lands to conniving and snitching neighbours.

Thrown into this cauldron is a writ issued by Pope Pius sanctioning the right of Catholics in England to deprive Elizabeth of her throne. The Pope sends undercover Jesuit priests throughout England to expand Catholic influence. Finally, Elizabeth orders all Jesuits and Catholic priests be driven from the kingdom.

img_1494It’s at this point of history that the story in The Jesuit Letter begins, narrowing larger themes of religion and persecution to the affected lives of players, townspeople, minor officials and ruffians in Warwickshire. A whiff of suspicion about a Jesuit priest’s correspondence between wealthy Arden and the Pope’s emissaries unleashes an evil plot.

Hamilton cleverly includes characters that lived in that era: 11-year old William Shakespeare; prominent landowner, Edward Arden, and his hired priest, Hugh Hall, who is thinly disguised as a gardener; and despicable Richard Topcliffe, a sadistic aristocrat who relishes the hunt for Catholic sympathizers. The Earl of Leicester, known advisor of Queen Elizabeth (and lover) appears, too.

We wonder why this well-educated but impoverished returning soldier is a player with the Earl of Worcester’s Men travelling troupe. It isn’t until the last few pages that we discover the depth of the plot. Suffice to say that performing troupes had far-ranging mobility in Elizabethan times. Wealthy patrons arranged for troupes’ flags, liveries, letters and writs to protect them from Bailiffs and Puritans. The rich hired players to entertain in manor houses, and the poor clustered in local inn yards, enthralled by costume and song. Tyburn’s early education and steady demeanour allow him to pass comfortably between wealthy and poor alike. Although players are poorly regarded in a laboring society, they offer lively diversions with political songs, Morrish dances and playacting at a time when very few can read or write.

Hamilton’s plotting is masterful. Through flashbacks and third person perspectives he leads the reader through intrigue and near impossible situations. Minor characters, often thugs and thieves play roles to advance the story. Wealthy aristocrats plot devious schemes, hiring unscrupulous back alley ruffians to carry out dirty deeds for a few sovereigns. We peek into the contrasts between arduous workaday merchants, tanners and farmers toiling for bread, severely limited by the whims of the prosperous and privileged. The poor are hopelessly poor, the merchants hold tightly to emerging powers, and Puritans add severity to morality.

img_1496Much of the action takes place in the market town of Stratford situated on the Avon River. Hamilton introduces a distinct Elizabethan atmosphere with colourful settings in cobbled inn yards and dingy public houses where patrons complain the ale tastes more like piss. The players’ caravan traverses moonlit, rutted roads through pastoral fields. Thugs populate filthy back alleys. Merchants and councilmen ensure successful markets by tightening their strict codes. Rich and powerful disdain all.

Eleven-year old Will Shakespeare plays an important companion role in Tyburn’s path to discover the truth behind the plot of the greedy, grasping deBrage family and salacious Richard Topcliffe. Balancing many characters of varying backgrounds is a talent Hamilton writes convincingly. He feeds the reader just enough information in twenty-one chapters to make us eager to read on. Tension builds in each chapter, making readers fear there is no resolution to desperate escapes and maltreatment of innocent victims. There is a thread of romance for Tyburn in this story, which at times seems impossible to fulfill.

The climax of the story is well crafted. Hamilton keeps the reader on the edge in a final showdown between good and evil. I want to shout: Don’t go in there, for a nail-biting scene I feared would turn the tables on our hero.

Hamilton has a gift for capturing the language of the Elizabethan period. Only dedicated research could make believable old terms (with explanatory footnotes). Whether through curses, pleadings, teasing or descriptive passages, this even-handed sprinkling never gets in the way, only enhances.

img_1495Sir Thomas Lucy:

“The infernal machinations of the Papists and their anti-Christ Pius are legion. They would overthrow our Blessed Sovereign and place a reign of terror and devil-worship in her place. They would burn the righteous and lift high the traitors that lurk amongst us. They would,” he spat, “ place a Spaniard or that bitch-queen Mary on England’s throne.” Later … “Despite our exquisite queen’s expressions of tolerance for their heresies, or more like because of it, English Papists are growing in numbers. Clemency! Hah! It’s a fool’s policy. They breed treason like whores breed bastards. Show me a Papist and I will show you one with a liar’s visage, deformed of countenance and of evil manner. Vipers breed vipers, and we must ferret out this particular nest and expunge it”.

Tyburn is a likeable character: taciturn, discreet, principled and loyal. He brings out these qualities in his accomplices. He drives himself to unravel mysteries and expose plotters implicating him in their dark schemes. We root for him. We want him to get the girl in the end. We want him to protect children and the wronged. The Jesuit Letter is a satisfying read.

A 5-page sneak preview of Hamilton’s 2016 book that continues Tyburn’s exploits, titled, Thieves Castle, and named for a fictional London gang, presents at the end of the book. I’m curious about the troubles Hamilton imagines for Tyburn in the second of this series of historical fiction.

13995045Interview with Dean Hamilton

How did you publish your book?

TyburnTree Publishing is my own publishing name. I decided to create a self-publishing identity. The basic process you follow in any self-publishing endeavor is: Write. Edit. Rewrite. Edit again. Edit again. Edit again (and so on) until you reach the point where you think you have a viable book. Where that point lies is dependent on the author.

With self-publishing you own the entirety of the process. The end results, along with the mistakes, are dependent on you. How much work a self-published author puts into ensuring the quality of the end result may vary considerably. In my case, I made the decision to self-publish after sending out about 35 – 40 agent queries on my finished work. I found the lack of response disheartening, so rather than continue to reduce my own morale and confidence in my writing, I decided to move forward and self-publish.

Why did you choose Kickstarter for your project?

Crowd-funding projects offer many different sites, but the two most prominent were Kickstarter and IndieGo-Go. The key difference between them is that Kickstarter forced me to set a specific fiscal goal. If I failed to meet the set budgeted goal, I would receive nothing. I felt the discipline of a set goal would force me to develop the project and focus on my work. With IndieGo-go you keep whatever funds you raise. Running a crowdsourcing campaign of any type is a tremendous amount of work in a very short time frame.

I used the raised funds for hiring a professional editor and a professional graphic designer to develop the cover. At the end of the day I raised just over $3000 from about 45 backers, all of whom invested in the development of the book. It was important to me that the book should be of the highest possible quality, to ensure readers received the best possible reading experience for their money. At the end of the day, self-publishing is a huge amount of work but intensely gratifying when you can hold your book in your hand.

What about the Elizabethan period appeals to you as a writer?

The Elizabethan era sits at the cusp of what could be considered the rise of the modern era at the end of the medieval world. The New World was being discovered. There were new schools of thought in art, literature and science. The Renaissance exploded across Europe, and in particular England, with the rise of the early theatre and Shakespeare. This environment spoke of tremendous cultural and societal flux.

As a writer, there is an endless fascination with the colour, ambiance and well-documented characters that sprang forth in the Elizabethan era. One of the things I’ve tried to do in my work is reflect a world outside the court and the nobility. Most fiction embedded in the Elizabethan era tends to be bodice-ripping tales of Court intrigue, set amidst the silken splendor of palaces. Mine tends to hang about in ale-soaked taverns, muddy streets and fetid back-alleys where cold steel by lantern light offers redemption or grim death.

What is your method for plotting the story?

The seeds of the Jesuit Letter sprang out of reading Stephen Greenblatt’s Will in the World, a biography of William Shakespeare. I ran across some of the questions related to how much exposure Shakespeare had as a child to the many travelling theatre troupes that rolled through Stratford; coupled with the notes about the sudden reversal of his father, John Shakespeare’s economic position after 1575 and linkages to his supposed Catholicism. That led me to pulling various threads together including the timely arrival of a theatre troupe along with a heinous murder. The more intricate aspects of the plot were threaded together over a three-year period of intensive research about the era.

Your use Elizabethan language very effectively. How did you go about researching for The Jesuit Letter?

My research involved a great deal of reading of original source documents, plus the creation of a fairly extensive glossary, along with pulling from existing works. I ended up with an extensive library on my shelves at home and a large annotated vocabulary spreadsheet.

Dean Hamilton works as a marketing professional in Toronto, Ontario. He is married with a son. His novella Black Dog won second place in Inkitt’s “Reclaim Time” story competition. The Historical Novel Society recently chose The Jesuit Letter as their Editor’s Choice selection for their winter issue and currently long-listed the book for the Historical Novel Society Indie Award. He is currently working on the second in the Christopher Tyburn series, Thieves Castle due in 2016.

See his Elizabethan blog: http://www.tyburntree.blogspot.com

Twitter: Tyburn__Tree

The Jesuit Letter available:

Amazon.com (or Amazon.ca , UK etc.)

Print Version: http://amzn.to/1LTtQOe

Kindle: http://amzn.to/1PqYlNS

Chapters /Indigo /Kobo

Sanctuary Sundays with Author Sue Reynolds

My personal sanctuary on retreat
My personal sanctuary on retreat

Author, Sue Reynolds identifies with writers’ needs to regenerate writing skills in a safe and quiet place. Her Sanctuary Sundays give new meaning to the word refuge.

From beginners to advanced level writers, a day with Sue at her country retreat is a peaceful environment for practising writing, or working on existing projects. Sue, an experienced facilitator and writing teacher, guides morning exercises in a large-windowed room overlooking woods and water.

If Ontario delivers spectacular September days, my day at the retreat was just that. I elected to spend 2 hours of private writing time in a zippered mesh gazebo on a grassy meadow beside the house.

Blue Jays squabbled at the bird feeder, adding to the hum of a late summer afternoon. Cloistered in a gazebo-tent, perfectly appointed with a single table and chair, I dedicated a focused effort that often eludes me at home. The time was a gift.

Other writers settled on the dock beside the pond, strolled the paths and trails, or nestled into cosy nooks with desks and plug-ins. There is only one rule for private time: silence. No one interrupts anyone else. Imagine that, my writer friends.

At a late-day gathering, participants shared their prose and poetry, uplifting on so many levels. A break-through on a difficult concept in my writing I’d avoided for a long time felt satisfying. This is an ongoing program with Sue Reynolds. I recommend to writers in the GTA to consider the high value of the boost they will enjoy from the experience.

 

How The Light Gets In by Pat Schnieder – Book Review

how-the-lightI’d heard about Pat Schneider from friends who attended her workshops in Canada. Pat is American, and known as a sensitive writing instructor.

I read her latest book How the Light Gets In. Unlike some books on writing, Pat’s approach, termed Writing as a Spiritual Practice, reveals much of her troubled early life and how to write  memoir based on a long life of contemplation.

A few quotes:

I feel my own smallness, but I feel that I too belong. If I am open to the possibility, I sense that I am seen; I am known: I am held in the attention of the mystery.

I hold suffering and secrets as sources of what may be our deepest and greatest potential, both as writers and as human beings just trying to make sense of our lives.

Darkness and light are inextricably bound together.

Writing is often a struggle between the personal and the universal …

What we mean is usually a mix of memory, knowledge and imagination. Myth is woven of those three.

Secrets more than anything else, are the stones that make up writer’s block.

That first voice, the voice of home, is the one that writers must protect from the contempt, disdain or disregard of any critic.

Hurt hangs on and you can’t pry its fingers loose.

Story can be the clothing that makes the mystery visible. Story kept us alive when food failed, when water dried up, when the body itself began to fail.

To be here now near the end of life, here with  love or the memory of love – along with the memory of stars and galaxies and the intimate roads of home – is to know how transient, how precious, the now is. And that knowing becomes more intense, more infused with joy every day.

Blue Heron Books in Uxbridge hosted Schneider’s Canadian book launch in October 2013. See a review and what people say about this remarkable woman who has devoted her life work to helping writers.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – Book Review

19063I’m late to the game for this 2005 book, The Book Thief, a New York Times #1 Bestseller written by Markus Zusak. It’s a fictional story of a 9-year old girl fostered in a home near Munich, Germany in the late 30s – 1943, a bleak time of food shortages, Nazism, basement bomb shelters, Hitler Youth and Jewish prisoners.  Zusak’s point of view and figurative writing style deserve an investigation.

Narrator:

Zusak chose Death, the collector of souls, as narrator of the story, which at first seemed peculiar to me. But the perspective grew on me. He explains in the notes at the end of the book.

Here’s a book set during war. Everyone says war and death are best friends.

Death is ever-present during war. Zusak portrayed Death as exhausted by its eternal existence and endless collection of souls. It was afraid of humans – because it has seen the obliteration we’ve perpetrated on each other throughout the ages – and it tells the story of Liesel Meminger, a 9-year old girl, to prove that humans are actually worth it.

Example of Death’s POV: an early encounter with Hans Hubermann, Liesel’s foster-father in the heat of battle in WW I

The first time we were in the vicinity of each other, Hans was twenty-two years old, fighting in France. The majority of young men in his platoon were eager to fight. Hans wasn’t so sure. I had taken a few of them along the way, but you could say I never even came close to touching Hans Hubermann. He was either too lucky, or he deserved to live, or there was a good reason for him to live. In the army, he didn’t stick out at either end. He ran in the middle, climbed in the middle, and he could shoot straight enough so as not to affront his superiors. Nor did he excel enough to be one of the first chosen to run straight to me.

Perspective:

I hope that readers of any age will seen another side of Nazi Germany, where certain people did hide their Jewish friends to save their lives (at the risk of their own). I wanted them to see people who were unwilling to fly the Nazi flag, and boys and girls who thought the Hitler Youth was boring and ridiculous. If nothing else there’s another side that lives beneath the propaganda reels that are still so effective decades later. Those were the pockets I was interested in.

Example of Perspective: Liesel’s foster-father, Hans Hubermann comforts a Jewish prisoner on a march through their town

It happened so quickly.

The hand that held firmly to Liesel’s let it drop to her side as the man came struggling by. … Papa reached into his paint cart and pulled something out. He made his way through the people, onto the road.

The Jew stood before him, expecting another handful of derision, but he watched with everyone else as Hans Hubermann held his hand out and presented a piece of bread, like magic.

When it changed hands, the Jew slid down. He fell to his knees and held Papa’s shins. He buried his face between them and thanked him. …

Wading through a soldier was soon on the scene of the crime. He studied the kneeling man and Papa, and looked at the crowd. … The Jew was whipped six times. On his back, his head, and his legs. “You filth! You swine!” …

Then is was Papa’s turn. … The sound sickened her and she expected cracks to appear on her papa’s body. He was struck four times before he, too, hit the ground. … Only as they walked away did they notice the bread sitting rejected on the street. 

Figurative Language

I like the idea that every page in every book can have a gem on it. It’s probably what I love most about writing – that words can be used in a way that’s like a child playing in a sandpit, rearranging things, swapping them around.

Examples of Figurative Language:

Liesel’s Reaction to losing her mother’s client:

She was suddenly aware of how empty her feet felt inside her shoes. Something ridiculed her throat. She trembled. When finally she reached out and took possession of the letter, she noticed the sound of the clock in the library. Grimly, she realized that clocks don’t make a sound that even remotely resembles ticking, tocking. It was the sound of a hammer, upside down, hacking methodically at the earth. It was the sound of a grave. If only mine was ready now she thought – because Liesel Meminger, at that moment, wanted to die.

Papa playing the accordion:

Papa’s bread and jam would be half eaten on his plate, curled into the shape of bite marks, and the music would look Liesel in the face. I know it sounds strange, but that’s how it felt to her. Papa’s right hand strolled the tooth-coloured keys. His left hit the buttons. (She especially loved to see him hit the silver, sparkled button – the C major.) The accordion’s scratched yet shiny black exterior came back and forth as his arms squeezed the dusty bellows, making it suck in the air and throw it back out. In the kitchen on those mornings, Papa made the accordion live. I guess it makes sense, when you really think about it.

How do we tell if something’s alive?

You check for breathing.

Liesel recognizing her Jewish friend in a parade of prisoners:

From the inside, the stream of Jews was a murky disaster of arms and legs. Ragged uniforms. No soldier had seen her yet, and Max gave her a warning. “You have to let go of me, Liesel.” He even tried to push her away, but the girl was too strong. Max’s starving arms could not sway her, and she walked on, between the filth, the hunger and confusion.

After a long line of steps, the first soldier noticed.

“Hey!” he called in. He pointed with his whip. “Hey, girl, what are you doing? Get out of there.”

When she ignored him completely, the soldier used his arm to separate the stickiness of people. He shoved them aside and made his way through. He loomed above her as Liesel struggled on and noticed the strangled expression on Max Vandenburg’s face. She had seen him afraid, but never like this.

The soldier took her.

His hands manhandled her clothes. She could feel the bones in his fingers and the ball of each knuckle. They tore at her skin. “I said get out!” he ordered her, and now he dragged the girl to the side and flung her into the wall of on looking Germans. It was getting warmer. The sun burned her face. The girl had landed sprawling with pain, but now she stood again. She recovered and waited. She reentered.

This time Liesel made her way through from the back.

Ahead, she could just see the distinct twigs of hair and walked again toward them. This time she did not reach out – she stopped. … He stood absolutely still as the others swerved morosely around him, leaving him completely alone. His eyes staggered, and it was so simple. … Hot tears fought for room in her eyes as she would not let them out. Better to stand resolute and proud. … He did not drop to his knees. People and Jews and clouds all stopped. They watched.

As he stood, Max looked first at the girl and then stared directly into the sky who was wide and blue and magnificent. There were heavy beams – planks of sun – falling randomly, wonderfully to the road. Clouds arched their backs to look behind as they started again to move on. “It’s such a beautiful day,” he said, and his voice was in many pieces. A great day to die. A great day to die, like this. … Standing, he was whipped.

Alissa York and Terry Fallis

I attended Writers’ Community of Durham Region and Writers’ Community of York Region meetings and listened to two exceptional Canadian writers speak about their process.

Author Alissa York
Author Alissa York

ALISSA YORK published bestselling novels, Fauna (shortlisted for the Toronto Book Award), Effigy (shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize) and Mercy; stories from her short fiction collection Any Given Power have won both the Journey Prize and the Bronwen Wallace Award. She is 2013 (Feb – May) Writer in Residence for the Toronto Library.

“Receptivity” was her topic for the WCDR meeting. Many people ask Alissa where she gets her ideas for her novels. Beyond the obvious – newspapers, popular culture – she is open to and welcomes new ideas outside of her knowledge, figures out what she must do to expand on them, and finds the courage to go forward to learn what she needs to know from various sources. She keeps a detailed filing system for her notes (and warns to beware the rabbit hole of research), writes scenes and arranges them by character, writes them on index cards, writes from each character’s point of view, cuts them up and puts them on the floor to arrange into a story. By dissecting her current book, Fauna, Alissa invited us into characters’ attributes and what forces affect their lives before she writes her story.

Author Terry Fallis
Author Terry Fallis

TERRY FALLIS  guest speaker at WCYR and author of The Best Laid Plans and its sequel, The High Road, satirical novels of Canadian politics. His first novel, originally self-published 2007 won the 2008 Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour. McClelland and Stewart published it in September 2008. The book won the Gold Medal in the Independent Publisher Book Awards in the Regional Fiction – Canada East category. In 2010, the Waterloo Region chose The Best Laid Plans as winner of the One Book-One Community. In February, 2011, The Best Laid Plans was winner of CBC Canada Reads as the essential Canadian Novel of the Decade. A six-part mini-series based on the book will appear on CBC-Television.

The High Road was a finalist for the 2011 Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour, 2011. Up and Down, Terry’s third novel appears in September 2012.

Terry’s self-deprecating humour about his naivety as an emerging writer (after a political career and current Public Relations business) is always appreciated on author tours. We’ve all been where Terry was: emotionally uncertain, dashed and hopeful on the road to becoming a writer. But under the humour is a serious writer. He makes it clear that his process is methodical start to finish. He likes to make fun of his logical and boring engineer’s mind, not given to skipping around on the page. He plots carefully in a notebook before he works on a manuscript. From the time of writing his first novel to his current novel, Terry continues an unusual marketing tool, podcasting his stories in instalments from his website. He believes podcasting contributes to his success.

Both writers are funny, relaxed, knowledgeable and approachable. The meetings are a great way to connect with successful writers who are happy to share their process and encourage writers.

Turquoise Waters Writers’ Retreat, Kawartha Region, Ontario

Mary McIntyre

Let’s get IMAGERY out of the way first, the focus of instruction at Kawartha Region Turquoise Waters Writers’ Retreat, Sandy Lake.

 

 

 

goat_1_mthImagery is the use of one or more of your senses (hearing, taste, touch, smell, sight), a word or phrase to stimulate a positive or negative memory of those senses, which contributes to the mood of the piece you are writing. It’s more complicated than that, but you get the idea. Example: as cantankerous as an old goat

7584387042_4185839de11Eight writers  at Turquoise Waters Writers’ Retreat: (left) Mary M, Mary W, Allyson, Linda, Gina, Janet, Sylvia, Christine & Rick (photo by Christine Barbetta)

The attendees had participated in one or two of Allyson Latta’s former Chilean Writers’ RetreatCosta Rican Writers’ Retreat and Arizona Writers’ Retreat

img_4488VIP Host: Janet Markham, arranged 8 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, 12 meals, answered hundreds of questions, hauled out kayaks, canoes, paddle-boats & life jackets, removed the hot-tub cover (aah), lugged gallons of drinking water to the kitchen cooler, chauffeured us to two galleries and kept up with writing exercises, all with quiet grace.

Only Male: Former Costa Rican attendee and writer, Rick, attended for only one afternoon and evening. Brave guy and great addition.

Now for the FUN (which started with Christine picking me up at my house on Monday morning and ended when she dropped me off again Friday afternoon).

7585147466_ccc7dff42e1You can’t bring together 8 women for 5 days without expecting silliness and irreverence. Fortunately Ms. Latta called us to order now and again. We’d free-write based on her lessons about imagery and the exercises that followed, sincerely trying to complete the assignments before 5:00 pm, the designated cocktail hour. It was a tough job to write exercises when soft breezes swayed the lounge swing where I stretched out overlooking the beautiful lake view.

img_46641At night, after mosquitoes chased us inside, Allyson conducted a reading salon. Each person read aloud based on the day’s lesson. The group offered gentle critique (with lots of laughter). By 11:00 pm, yawning started, probably from over-exposure to sun, swimming, paddle-boating, sightseeing and, of course, brain-baffling writing exercises before the wine bar opened.

 

img_45441

Allyson invited author, Michelle Berry to speak for an afternoon session. Michelle’s bubbly, forthright manner when talking about her writing experiences offered the group an insider’s perspective on the craft of writing, attaining an agent and the current state of the publishing industry in Canada.

Michelle Berry Books: How to Get There  from HereMargaret Lives in the Basement, I Still Don’t Even Know You (which won the 2011 Mary Scorer Award for Best Book Published by a Manitoba Publisher and shortlisted for the ReLit Award, 2011), as well as four novels, What We All Want; Blur, Blind Crescent; This Book Will Not Save Your Life (which won the 2010 Colophon Award and longlisted for the ReLit Award, 2011).

  1. More Literary Accomplishments: Her writing has been optioned for film and published in the U.K. She is also co-editor with Natalee Caple of The Notebooks: Interviews and New Fiction from Contemporary Writers, and has collaborated on an art book with Winnipeg artist, Andrew Valko, called, Postcard Fictions.
  2. Credentials: Taught creative writing at Ryerson University, Humber College and Trent University, was on the board of PEN Canada and the authors’ committee of the Writer’s Trust and served as Second Vice-Chair of The Writer’s Union. She presently teaches online for The University of Toronto/New York Times, and is a mentor at Humber College. She is a reviewer for The Globe and Mail.

img_4545Over five days I grew to admire each group member. They brought unique sets of life and writing skills to the table, as well as infectious enthusiasm for books and the reading salon. Janet’s home away from the city was big enough for everyone to have a bedroom to herself. That personal freedom encouraged book sharing before lights-out, often triggering early morning book reviews over coffee on the deck.

The  Sandy Lake property had many nooks for solitude when writing: the dock, the lounge swing, the Muskoka chairs, the hammock, the beach zone, the covered veranda …

img_4651Wildlife floated to our waterway. Loons and varieties of ducks and birds visited regularly. Nightly sunsets climaxed with spectacular light shows we photographed in spite of the mosquitoes. Two mornings I arose early for a solitary yoga routine on the dock, the opposite shore mirrored in glassy waters.

 

Allyson offered private one-on-one reviews for a piece of writing submitted before the retreat. The half hour together, seated beside the garden, discussing the weaknesses and strengths of our writing was invaluable. I came away with a new slant for my memoir, which has faltered without this guidance.

img_4768Turquoise Waters is my third writers’ retreat with facilitator Allyson Latta. And Allyson was my first memoir writing teacher through Ryerson’s Seniors’ Online Course — I stayed for three more sessions. I’ve participated in two of her workshops as well. There’s a good reason for my loyalty. She not only knows her “stuff,” but she has a knack for bringing out the best in everyone she teaches. I’ve met many outstanding people through my relationship with her, and the members of my writers’ group, Life Writers Ink, are alumni of Allyson’s Ryerson Workshops.

I am richer for this shared experience. Allyson and Janet intend to conduct another workshop next summer. I can’t wait.

Update June, 2016: In July 2016, our group celebrates their fifth retreat at Sandy Lake with Allyson Latta and Janet Markham.

 

Ontario Writers’ Conference, 2012

1086260419Did you seem them? The red high heels? The pretty woman with the slim ankles? I did, although I went to the 2012 Ontario Writers’ Conference to absorb writerly things like meet writers, authors and publishers. I can’t forget the red shoes. I had red high heels about 25 years ago, tiny silver studs dotted 4″ stilts, and  pointy toes. Nice memory: but May 5, I wore solid black leather comfy shoes with air-cushioned rubber soles and raised instep. You see it all at the OWC.

Sherry Hinman opened the day-long writers’ conference at Pickering’s Deer Creek Golf Club at 9:00 am, acknowledging a team of dedicated volunteers you can find here. Kudos to everyone for running the conference like a well-oiled steampunk gadget.

  1. Barbara Hunt–  Co-chair & Programming
  2. Sherry Hinman–  Co-chair & Treasurer
  3. Kevin Craig–  Registration & Festival of Authors Coordinator
  4. Deborah Rankine–  Venue Coordinator
  5. Janet Boccone–  Printed Materials & Blog
  6. Sandra Clarke–  Logistics Coordinator
  7. Cynthia Englert–  Sponsorship & Volunteer Coordinator
  8. Cathy Minz –  Website Liaison & PR
  9. Anne MacLachlan –  Secretary
Author Caroline Wissing
Author Caroline Wissing

What better way to encourage emerging writers than to feature the accomplishments of author Caroline Wissing, who read from her debut novel Voiceless. It takes courage to read to a conference room filled with authors, writers, readers, agents, publishers and women wearing red high heeled shoes.

 

 

 

Author, Teacher Gwynn Scheltema
Author, Teacher Gwynn Scheltema

Popular teacher Gwynn Scheltema facilitated my morning workshop, The Art of Pacing. Gwynn hides powerful messages behind a relaxed teaching style that focuses without fanfare. She leads a logical progression to reveal techniques that editors look for in assessing manuscripts. Hands on exercises helped to implant (imprint?) the concepts (and had me wondering if my manuscript has a saggy middle.)

 

Mark Lefebvre and Cynthia Good
Mark Lefebvre and Cynthia Good

Co-chair Barbara Hunt introduced Plenary Session speakers Cynthia Good, founder of the Creative Book Publishing Program at Humber College, and Mark Lefebvre, Director of Self-publishing and Author Relations at Kobo Inc. The topic Storytelling 360: Storytelling in a Digital Age helped us wade through the complexities of modern publishing and the impact of technology. Publishers have been reacting to change for years, and in most cases, forging ahead to accommodate the media choices authors face today. Here are a few buzz words: post a chapter, partner publishing, trans-media, interactive websites, apps, games, digital storytelling, ebooks/ereaders, feed subscriptions, Twitter, GPS location based, Kobo, gamefication. Be prepared for mesmerizing software and technologies that will require refining for the groundswell of transitions in the future.

Guest speaker, publisher and editor Douglas Gibson entertained with Stories of the Storytellers. In a long publishing industry career Gibson hobnobbed and duked out editing decisions with some of Canada’s best-known authors. From a collage of author caricatures, audience members yelled out favourite names, triggering Gibson to tell amusing insider stories that reflected on the author as only an insider relationship and trust would allow. Gibson was the man in the room (and the fly on the wall).

The Scotiabank Giller Prize is Canada’s most distinguished literary prize, awarding $50,000 annually to the author of the best Canadian novel or short story collection published in English. The award was established in 1994 by Toronto businessman Jack Rabinovitch in honour of his late wife Doris Giller, a former literary editor for the Toronto Star newspaper. OWC presented the Cornerstone Award to Jack Rabinovitch (accepted by his daughter in his stead).

Musician George Craig
Musician George Craig

This is the moment I first spotted the red high heels. I crouched to take a photo of guitarist George Craig, brother of author and poet Kevin Craig. George sang Block Buster, a song with music and lyrics written by author Adele Simmons. The girl in the red high heels turned her legs to reveal the flashy glitter and tiny painted toes peeking out. I refocused on George who next sang Word by Word, his musical composition with lyrics provided by Kevin Craig. The musical interlude was a thoughtful reminder of the crossover between exceptional musical talent and poetic writing.

I attended the afternoon workshop How Absurdity, Magical Realism and Steampunk Can Change Your Writing Life facilitated by author and actress Adrienne Kress. Did you know that absurdity is the conflict between meaning and life (The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams); that magical realism is where the inexplicable isn’t explained (One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez); and steampunk is techno fantasy where technology has no plausiblilty (The League of Extraordiary Gentlemen by Alan  Moore)? Me neither. But I think red high heeled shoes can be absurdist or magical realism, but not steampunk.

Facilitator Adrienne Kerr addressed Thriving in a Changing Market in my second afternoon workshop. Proof of changing times:  typewriters are no longer manufactured and the Britannia Encyclopedia is now available only in digital form. There is a sea change in how readers source content, and in today’s market we behave by using all forms of genre and technology to meet our needs. We have to question if new trends make us lazy, or overstimulated, or set up too-high expections. Will print on demand explode? Is it self-serving? Will publishers become obsolete? Are editors, fact-checkers and designers essential for quality?

Author, Teacher Wayson Choy
Author, Teacher Wayson Choy

As patron and closing speaker of OWC, Wayson Choy challenged writers to bring clarity to their work, and to look for a place for their writing. Focus and commit this year. Buy and study The Writers’ Market. So enchanted were we with his gentle voice.

I watched the red high heels leave the room. I hope the shoes walked the girl to a higher literary purpose.

Ontario Writers’ Conference Festival of Authors

overviewFestival of Authors banquet room at Pickering’s Al Dente Restaurant buzzed with authors, writers and readers at the kick-off event for the 5th Annual Ontario Writers’ Conference, May 4, 2012.

Authors’ read from their books after a mix-and-mingle with drinks and hors d’oeuvres. Books made available from Shelley MacBeth of Blue Heron Books.

Shelly MacBeth of Blue Heron Bookstore in Uxbridge and Author Wayson Choy, official patron of the Ontario Writers' Conference
Shelley MacBeth of Blue Heron Bookstore in Uxbridge and Author Wayson Choy, official patron of the Ontario Writers’ Conference

mc-herrara

 

 

 

 

MC for the weekend event is Durham Region Improv Artist, lively  Stephanie Herrara from Durham Improv, which offers workshops, fund-raising and corporate events.

 

Author/Poet Jonathan Bennett
Author/Poet Jonathan Bennett

Jonathan Bennett was the first reader, introducing five poems from his book of poems, Civil and Civic. Two other books are Entitlement and After Battersea Park. How amusing to hear how Jonathan and a writer friend challenge each other to write about things that at first glance appear unpoetical, stretching their skills with mischievous competition.

 

Author Eva Stachniak reading from The Winter Palace
Author Eva Stachniak reading from The Winter Palace

Eva Stachniak read from her book The Winter PalaceI recently read Eva’s book of Russia’s Catherine the Great and her court intrigues. It was a treat to listen to the author’s voice in the reading.

I had to leave the event before authors Marina Nemat and Brad Smith gave their readings. However I did attend an author event with Marina Nemat after the success of her book Prisoner of Tehran. She has since followed up with After Tehran: A Life Reclaimed. Brad Smith’s success with his books All Hat, One-Eyed Jacks, Busted Flush, Big Man Coming Down Road & Red Means Run gives me a list of reads for my growing Must Read file.

Volunteer committee members for the Ontario Writer’s Conference spend a year pulling together endless details to present a professional event for writers. The more I attend writing events, the more my knowledge about the discipline of writing expands. Relationships with fellow writers grows stronger with each reunion. My appreciation of OWC volunteers deepens. I’ll follow-up this post with my day, May 5 at the Ontario Writers’ Conference at Deer Creek Golf Club in Pickering.

The Occupied Garden by Kristen den Hartog – Book Review

img_1793Twice in four years Kristen den Hartog turned up in my life with timely messages about writing memoir.

Our first meeting was 2008, Kristen as guest speaker for Allyson Latta’s Memoir Short Story Awards Night and Alzheimer’s Fundraiser in Unionville, Ontario. Although before that time Kristen considered herself a fiction writer, she and her sister, Tracy Kasaboski, collaborated to write and publish an acclaimed family memoir The Occupied Garden. The story chronicles the emotional events affecting their paternal family under Nazi occupation in Holland during WW II. Kristen’s message in 2008, as was her message April 15, 2012, as guest speaker for the Writers’ Community of York Region (WCYR), is that detailed research will take up a lot of your early time with writing a book.

Memoir writers have a sense of family myth gleaned from passed down tales, retold to either strengthen or dilute judgments. For Kristen and Tracy, with little concrete information other than a handful of memories from their father and his siblings, the research process revealed a depth they didn’t believe existed before their curious journey into truth. The two women committed to writing only events that actually happened, although within the telling, they used a perhapsing technique to help the reader sort through hazy details, or project the likely reactions of the people involved with the events. Knowing the myths helped pinpoint the likely behaviours within situations their parents and grandparents experienced.

The sisters currently collaborate to write a second family memoir, but this time the WW I era, to include their maternal grandparents in England. When first considering a collaboration on a book, Kristen doubted her ability to switch from fiction to memoir. But once embraced, she found the process challenging and rewarding at the same time. She and her sister research and write by email, as they live far apart. Sharing the burden of research and the joyous eureka moments of discovery is fulfilling for them.

From Kristen I learned that involving interested family members in the writing process might be helpful to me as well. I haven’t shared much of my writing with my family because I don’t want to influence their memories of our post WW II decade, the era for my story. But I’m the youngest daughter of three, and more and more I feel I need my older sisters’ collaboration for shared memories, story direction and separating lore from truth.

Kristen was born in Deep River, Ontario: a town small enough to know your neighbours, shop at businesses on Main Street, worship at one of the denominational churches, belong to the community library and go to the only movie house. Her observations mirror some of my own while growing up in the Cliffside area of Scarborough, which in the 1950s was one of many separate neighbourhoods springing up along Kingston Road east of Toronto. Settings for Kristen’s books often rely on recollections of small town living and the interactions of residents in isolated communities. Tied closely to that theme is the development of family relationships: how we see ourselves in a neighbourhood, how we treat our neighbours, how we hide things from each other within a family, where the disillusions take dangerous turns.

Memorable Moments:

  1. Speaking about memoir, Kristen emphasizes writers don’t always know the true story until they research the threads. Family myth and recollections are often clarified and expanded after digging deeper into the history of events.
  2. Conduct detailed research first, develop the story second, and continue to research as you write. Second drafts are fun if you’ve done your early research well.
  3. To find the most effective point of view to tell a story you sometimes need to break some rules.
  4. Collaboration for family memoir with can be a challenging experience that requires trust and respect for each other’s skills.

and_me_among_them_3Kristen is soft-spoken and diminutive, a stark contrast to the main character in her recent book And Me Among Them. It’s a story of Ruth,  a child born with a genetic disorder that leads to giantism. We follow a family and the disturbing dynamics within a neighbourhood: cruel classmates, a backward doctor and conflict between Ruth’s parents. The parents’ conflict is a strong secondary plot that parallels their inability to protect Ruth as she outgrows her clothes, her shoes, her room and her friendships. Kristen’s chosen point of view breaks the rules, but is so masterfully done, we’re believers.

 

the-girl-giantKristen is in the unique (and enviable) position of publishing her book, And Me Among Them published in Canada with Freehand Books, and the same book published in the US titled The Giant Girl by Simon & Schuster. When asked if different covers and titles will cause confusion for her readership. In gentle Kristen fashion, she smiles and says she believes it is a positive marketing decision and embraces the experience.

Synesthesia, My Little Syndrome

k71628321I have synesthesia. Not something to keep me quivering in my house, or shrieking at the sight of spiders. You wouldn’t suspect I have this syndrome. Nothing obvious.

I learned I had it when I attended Toronto Teachers’ College. Mathematics Master, Mr Dick, (yes, we had to call them masters) conducted a quiz with our class to show how numbers relate to words.

images-3For instance, when he prompts with the word twelve, he asks what is the first thing that comes to mind? Most he points to say, “dozen.” He prompts with the number thirteen and some smarty pants says “baker’s dozen,” another says, “unlucky,” and so it went.

He prompted with the word two. Someone said, “couple.” Another said, “pair.” Then he points to me — and I say “yellow.” The gaming spirit in the room fizzles like stale champagne.

Mr. Dick’s eyebrows shoot up.

Why yellow as it relates to two?

I see numbers as colours, I say.

Sniggering ripples around me.

So what if I say five?

That’s red.

I didn’t explain it’s rusty-red, not fire engine red.

So if you add two plus five you get …?

Brown. Seven is brown.

Do the colours change over time?

No. I don’t think so.

images1But after that day, I kept my baffling synesthesia, a secret. I wasn’t sure I could trust it. Did the colours change? I still don’t think so, but I’m going to give it a few more decades.

Eventually I realized that I saw people’s names as colours, too. My sister Maeve is sun-ripened golden wheat, sister Barb is bubbling creek blue, brother Robert is reddish-brown, but his nickname, Bob, is light gold. My mother Vera’s name is an intense blue, but her nickname Viv is like Maeve.

Once, I told a woman named Judy her name appeared to me like the cover of a Moirs chocolate box (black with red details). I felt foolish after that because she and her husband, Jim, (pale blue) tested me a year later.

What brings me to this confession today is the article I read in the Globe and Mail newspaper: Smell a sound? Taste a sight?

Mark Fenske writes: [Synesthesia] … this notion may explain the link between synesthesia and creativity, and why artists and musicians are much more likely to have synesthesia than less creative types. It also runs in families, reflecting a potential genetic component.

I have a mild form of the syndrome. When living, my father’s variation allowed him to see music, which seemed ridiculous to me, a coloured-number-synesthesian. How can you SEE music? But then, how is it I see numbers and names as colours? Mostly I’m not conscious of it. If I take time to break it down, I see colour. This is a friendly syndrome that might be helpful to a writer.

Boomer Rant

Recent baby-boomer-bashings from a Gen-X source convinced me to enter a Word Weaver Newsletter Challenge: to write a 350-word letter to the editor. Chafed by criticism for my generation, I urge Generation X to improve the world many complain Boomers have ruined. To read my rant in the January Issue of Word Weaver, scroll to page 4. And while you’re there, read the entire newsletter. Editor Cathy Minz volunteers her services to make this publication a meaningful forum for writers. The Writers’ Community of Durham Region (WCDR) sponsors the newsletter.

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Reflections from Shadow by Malcolm Watts – Book Review

Membership in two writers’ organizations, WCDR & WCYR has benefits – like learning from published authors. Enviable few make a living by writing. And there are closet writers whose scribbles will never see the light of day. But in the middle are writers who create publishing opportunities, while holding down day jobs.

Meet author Malcolm Watts, one of a handful of founding members that launched the successful Writers’ Community of York Region in September 2011.

reflections-from-shadow
Reflections from Shadow by Malcolm Watts

Watts was the 5-minute reader (time designated at each meeting for a selected member to read his/her written work to the group) at the January 2012 WCYR meeting. Malcolm read from his published book, Reflections from Shadow, A Novel.

WCYR encourages published writers to show (and sell) their books at monthly meetings. I talked to Malcolm about his book, his decision in 2004 to self-publish with Trafford Publishing, his choice of cover art, the process of writing, his other books and how publishing has changed in the last decade. After listening to his 5-minute reading I knew I wanted to read Reflections from Shadow. Malcolm’s short reading introduced a likable protagonist, humour and tension. If all of that happened in 5 minutes, I needed to find out what will happen over 310 pages. I was not disappointed.

img_9209What struck me is Watt’s even pacing and concise language. He’s a master of dialogue, never dragging the reader into tedious setting details, but offering enough to satisfy the reader’s curiosity about time and place.

He transports us through the 1960s and 70s, all in the head of Jared, a troubled and confused child, teen and young man. Showing the reader an orphaned boy’s poor self-image, due to a birth scar on his face and the bullying that comes from it, Watts cautiously introduces us to sexual abuse and a Christian parent’s skewed philosophy that is physical abuse.

These and similar incidents shape Jared and his shameful descent into behaviour that leads to being a runaway. Jared is a loner, confused by troubled recurring dreams Watts hints at. The dreams become meaningful at the climax of the story.

The reader never loses sight of the idea that Jared could be anyone’s son, reacting to a confusing world. What would it have taken to save him from his journey into mental illness and desperation? Read the book to find out.

Goodreads Interview with Malcolm Watts – an excellent revelation about why Malcolm wrote this book, and why it took him 6 years to write about concepts that are worrisome for society today.

Amazon

Google Books

 

Summer on Fire by Kevin Craig (Review)

summer-on-fireAuthor Kevin Craig’s Young Adult novel Summer on Fire reminds me that fifteen-year old boys, like the three small-town boys Craig writes about in his book, have struggled with growing-up issues since time began. No longer children and not yet men, Craig’s three main characters, Zach, Jeff and Arnie face adult problems with adolescent reasoning skills. They aren’t always right, but they learn the repercussions of their actions born out of fear and panic, loyalty to friends, loyalty to family, respect for authority figures and disdain for bullying.

Craig tells the story from Zach’s point of view, a likeable boy with a stable family, although his older sister’s blatant sexuality is an issue for boys on the brink of discovering an interest in girls. It’s also the story of Zach’s handsome and cool best friend Jeff, whose father and brother are brutal bullies and troublemakers. Jeff’s mother shrinks into a shadow of her former self as the worrying mystery within the story unfolds. A third friend is overweight, whiny Arnie, who the two boys tolerate, and in truth, I never ascertained why. Arnie’s mother stuffs her son with junk food and fawns over his two friends, a situation which is a source of amusement between them. So why is Arnie a friend to them? Because they are nice guys and feel sorry for him? Because he lives nearby and they’ve known him all their lives? Because he advances the story?

Craig has studied the craft of storytelling. He hooks the reader’s interest immediately, building a strong foundation on which to follow the boys’ panicked actions after they mistakenly set a barn on fire. He confronts them with the news that a body is found in a house fire beside the barn, which they feel responsible for. Following is a series of events involving concerned parents, annoying siblings and curious neighbours – and just when the reader hopes the boys are in the clear, Craig throws us more plausible plot twists to ramp up the tension. In the end, there is heroism, redemption and punishment.

I’m unfamiliar with writing Young Adult stories, but since reading Summer On Fire I learned what I believe are essential basics for the genre.

  • A reader must relate to the characters and feel empathy for them (that goes for all writing)
  • Lots of action and plot twists that come out of action (youths love roller-coaster action)
  • Young adults won’t tolerate fussy descriptions of place or weather reports. They roll with believable, fast-paced dialogue.
  • Age appropriate language and action

Craig’s dialogue rings true. His ability to put his mind back to being an irreverent 15-year old boy, sharing the humour and sarcasm, frustration, fear and false bravado that young boys feel is believable. Through his characters we dread the bullies, laugh at the ridiculous, empathize with parents and root for the good guys.

I highly recommend Summer On Fire, published by MuseItUp Publishing to parents looking for a great book for a young teen. Available at Chapters.

Writers’ Community of York Region Inaugural Meeting

 

MC, Malcolm Watts
MC, Malcolm Watts

Congratulations to the committee that formed the Writers’ Community of York Region (WCYR). The organization launched its first meeting October 2, 2011. Volunteer, and author, Malcolm Watts, welcomed guests to the Red Gallery at the Aurora Cultural Centre, a lovely heritage building in downtown Aurora. Malcolm’s first order of business – to introduce Workshop Facilitator, Sue Lynn Reynolds.

Facilitator, Sue Lynn Reynolds
Workshop Facilitator Sue Lynn Reynolds

Award winning author Susan Lynn Reynolds, former President of the Writers’ Community of Durham Region (WCDR) and mentor to aspiring writers, has earned many awards and publishing credits. Among her talents of web design and the publishing business (Piquant Press), Susan teaches writing workshops. Her topic for this event:  Learn how to capture YOUR writer’s voice –  clear and vivid on the page. Banish writer’s block and unleash the writer within!

Forty-five workshoppers participated in valuable writing exercises designed to open minds to new ideas and drive pens across the page. Writers, Nancy and Robin, read their excellent 10-minute freefall writings. All workshoppers participated in a guided meditation led by Sue Lynn Reynolds. A calm mind slows down brain activity and opens writers to the flow of creativity. I know it works because I was one of the frantic scribblers unleashing my inner writer.

Nancy
Nancy
Robin
Robin

 

 

shelley1
Shelley MacBeth, Blue Heron Books

 

 

Author Tobin Elliott
Author Tobin Elliott

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shelley Macbeth, owner of Uxbridge independent bookstore, Blue Heron Books, brought a selection of popular new titles for readers to discuss and purchase.

During the break before lunch, published authors discussed their publishing experiences and sold books while networking in the lobby. My former Durham College Creative Writing teacher Tobin Elliott signed his new chapbook, Vanishing Hope.

Chef and Author Deb Rankine - "The Fridge Wisperer"
Chef and Author Deb Rankine – The Fridge Whisperer

We are fortunate to have national food writer, Deborah A. Rankine (a.k.a. The Fridge Whisperer), to be our luncheon caterer. Deborah published two cookbooks: Condiment Confidential and Lusciously Local. Guests enjoyed more lunchtime networking at tables decorated with seasonal flowers.

The Fridge Whisperer's Magic
The Fridge Whisperer’s Magic

 

 

 

 

 

 

WCYR Organizer Hyacinthe Miller
WCYR Organizer Hyacinthe Miller

 

Hyacinthe Miller spearheaded much of the organization for the day’s events. She welcomed 50 guests to the meeting and laid out plans for going forward. During lunch, members are invited to announce upcoming book launches, workshops, conferences – all things writerly. Every month there are raffle tickets sold for prizes and fundraising in support of WCYR activities. The purpose of the WCYR is to offer a dependable resource center and community support for writers of varying competency.

Christine Barbetta and Elaine Pierce - Raffle Organizers
Christine Barbetta and Elaine Pierce – Raffle Organizers

 

Published writers, Christine Barbetta and Elaine Pierce, part of the organizing committee have fun conducting a Raffle Draw.

 

 

 

 

jamesPresident of the successful parent organization WCDR (Durham Region), poet, and editor/owner of Piquant Press, James Dewar offered a message of encouragement and appreciation for the volunteer committee of WCYR.

Heather O'Connor
Heather O’Connor

 

 

 

 

Heather O’Connor announcing upcoming event for Writescape, a writers’ resource for learning and improving writing skills.

 

Mary E. McIntyre: 5-Minute Reader (Photo: Christine Barbetta)
Mary E. McIntyre: 5-Minute Reader (Photo: Christine Barbetta)

The launch committee invited me to be the first 5-minute reader. I read my story Love Letters from Saying Goodbye anthology (Dream of Things Press).

Going forward, volunteer writers may enter their names in a draw for a selection of a five-minute reader in the following month. As an emerging writer, I took the opportunity to encourage closet writers to send their works to a variety of contests, anthologies and magazines. By taking risks, you earn first publishing credits, which go a long way to help emerging writers gain confidence and credibility.

Story Editor and Writer, Allyson Latta
Freelance Editor and Writing Teacher, Allyson Latta

Freelance Editor and Creative Writing Teacher Allyson Latta introduced Guest Speaker Richard Scrimger, Author of Young Adult Books.

Guest Speaker and Teacher at Humber College, Richard Scrimger (Photo: Christine Barbetta)
Guest Speaker and Teacher at Humber College, Richard Scrimger (Photo: Christine Barbetta)

 

 

 

 

If Richard could be one card in a deck of 52, he would be the wild card. His delivery is casual, irreverent, interactive and hilarious. For an hour, Richard not only entertained participants, but shared valuable wisdom about the storytelling process. WCYR organizers couldn’t have chosen a livelier speaker to kick off their inaugural event.

After Malcolm Watts thanked new members and participants for supporting the new WCYR organization, an upbeat group of writers left the building knowing they are part of a new organization designed to support writers.

It’s now the responsibility of the membership to create a Board of Directors and enlist dependable volunteer helpers to relieve any one person from the burden of keeping an organization of this quality functioning.

Update: 2014 – The new location for the WCYR monthly meeting is now:

Newmarket Community Centre and Lions Hall
200 Doug Duncan Dr.
Newmarket, ON L3Y 3Y9

Closet Writers Unite (WCDR, WCYR, WCSR)

Roses are red ...
Roses are red …

I know you’re out there … scribbling imaginary book titles, writing plays, hiding poetic musings, creating business philosophies, writing how to books, cookbooks, textbooks, travel books … writing a memoir. I know you’re there because I was there, too.

The Writers’ Community of Durham Region (WCDR) contributed to the launch of two new writers’ organizations based on their successful model formed over 15 years ago. With 400 members, WCDR is one of the largest writing resource providers in Canada. Its members initiated the successful annual Ontario Writers’ Conference. Thanks to their generous volunteer support a new opportunity exists for writers to gather, share, promote, and support other regional writers beyond WCDR boundaries.

It was a dark and stormy night ...
It was a dark and stormy night …

Writers’ Community of Simcoe Region hosts its inaugural meeting, September 25, and Writers’ Community of York Region, October 2. Launch committees worked for months with WCDR members to organize and present meaningful programs for sharing writing information and encouragement. The missing ingredient at this stage is your support of the event and hopefully your membership.

 

 

images-22Please check out the new websites for WCYR and WCSC. Sign up for events online, or become a member online, receive email announcements, receive invitations to monthly meetings with informative speakers, explore opportunities to attend workshops and much more. Come out of the closet! Invest in yourself and your writing. If you’re an established, published writer, come and see the opportunities the organization can offer you. We strengthen with supportive inclusion.

Five Minute Reader
Five Minute Reader

WCYR invited me to read the WCYR’s first 5-minute reader session at their inaugural meeting, October 2. Going forward, all members may put their name into a draw for an opportunity to read one of their written pieces for 5 minutes at monthly meetings. Those shaky minutes at the microphone in front of your peers is a great confidence-builder.

If you value writing in any form, now is your chance to support an organization that recognizes and promotes writers. Please pass along this message to all the writers (closet or otherwise) you know who might benefit from becoming a member.

Standing Ovation for Canadian Author Ian Brown

Award -winning memoir, The Boy in the Moon by Dan Brown
Award-winning memoir, The Boy in the Moon by Ian Brown

WCDR hosted Canadian journalist and author Ian Brown at the September Breakfast Meeting in Ajax Ontario. My writing group Life Writers Ink attended.

Brown received a standing ovation for his talk about the 10-year process of writing his book The Boy In The Moon: A Father’s Search For His Disabled Son

To read my complete review as guest reviewer on Allyson Latta’s website.

Brown took us from irreverent laughter to heartbreaking sadness. There are only 150 children in the world with the genetic disorder that is his son’s severe disability. The initial care and understanding of their son’s disease occupied the parents in shifts for 24-hours-a-day. The story of coping with his son’s limitations and the pressures resulting from it, show the amazing lessons learned from a father’s compassion. The journey he and his family take every day to bring quality of life to their child is remarkable. The audience gave Brown a heartfelt standing ovation.

Ian Brown with Mary E. McIntyre
Ian Brown with Mary E. McIntyre

 

Tips from his talk about the writing process: 

  • Celebrate the individual in the face of doltish generalities
  • Confession is bad, candour is better

 

 

 

Ian Brown’s Bio:

Won the Charles Taylor Prize, a $25,000 prize which recognizes excellence in literary non-fiction

Writing Tips from a Caterpillar

img_6649caterpillar, unofficially named, Woolly Bear, inspired me last week. In September nature is frantic: grasshoppers, bumblebees, wasps, Canada Geese and an army, air force and navy of wild things prepare for winter. I photographed slow-moving Woolly Bear before it crawled away from the camera’s macro setting.

 

What drove this tiny critter to expose itself on a wide crushed-stone pathway?

It wasn’t until I downloaded the photo that I saw the terrain from Woolly Bear’s point of view. What to me were tiny pebbles, to it were boulders. With purpose, the Wooly Bear inched across the path plateau. It risked the perils.

What inspired me?

It am alone, as many writers are in their craft. It am risking, as many writers do when they enter contests, submit articles or stories. Woolly Bear doggedly skirted the boulders in its path, as writers do to produce and overcome setbacks. If it made it through the perils of the path to its greater goal, its reward is transformation — the hope of emerging writers.

Wild Words Book Launch & Reading

img_44911Giving voice to your written words at a microphone is like standing naked on a busy street corner. I’ve never done that, at least I don’t think I have, but I can imagine passersby pointing and laughing as I flee.

Last night the WCDR hosted the Wild Words Book Launch with 80 guests at the Azian Restaurant in Ajax. I didn’t think I was nervous about reading until about 1/2 hour before the event. Thankfully I had my buddies, Shirley and Liz for support and distraction, staving off performance anxiety.

The Anthology Contest Committee successfully launches books every year. So they know what they’re doing (and can’t say enough about the variety of delicious Thai finger-foods they provided). I was third on the reading roster. Good – anything but first or last – which is reserved for the first and second place winners of the contest – so I had nothing to worry about.

As WCDR President James Dewar announced my bio, my friend Shirley slipped me a note to tell me to hold my pages with two hands so they don’t shake. I found my feet and walked to the microphone. Nothing prepares you for the moment when all eyes are on you and you have to make your voice come out of your throat.

img_44951When I was about 10 years old, I performed Marilyn Monroe impressions for my family. It was a big hit. So I drew on my inner ham and launched my story. I’d like to say you could hear a pin drop as the audience leaned in to listen to every word. But in truth, I zoned in (or out) and couldn’t tell if the restaurant kitchen was on fire. I did get a few laughs in the right places, so I’m  assume things went according to plan.

The judge for the contest, author Susanna Kearsley (who gave my story an honourable mention), spoke positively to the contributors to the book. She also said that public reading doesn’t get any easier. Great. Hopefully my inner ham and I will have more opportunities to practice reading in public.

Want to buy the book?

More on the book and the winners

I thank my Life Writers Ink writing group members, Ruth Zaryski Jackson, Cheryl Andrews, Anahita Nepton Printer, Dace Mara Zacs-Koury for thoughtful critiques that raise the bar for each project.

 

Anne Lamott Wisdom for Writers

Anne Lamott’s 1994 best-selling book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (Pantheon Books/Random House), published in pre-internet days, narrows down the avalanche of online writing tips to a few pertinent basics.

Lamott, an irreverent and humourous writer, (and admitted reformed alcoholic), makes no secret of her bumpy writing life.

Tip #1: Apply this principle to an overwhelming writing project.

Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. [It] was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.’

Break down your story one scene, one memory, one exchange at a time. Bird by bird.

Tip #2: Writing First Drafts

I’d write a first draft that was maybe twice as long as it should be, with a self-indulgent and boring beginning, stupefying descriptions of the meal, lots of quotes from my black-humored friends, that made them sound more like the Manson girls than food lovers, and no ending to speak of. The whole thing would be so long and incoherent and hideous that for the rest of the day I’d obsess about getting creamed by a car before I could write a decent second draft. I’d worry that people would read what I’d written and believe that the accident had really been a suicide, that I had panicked because my talent was waning and my mind was shot.

Writing a first draft is very much like watching a Polaroid develop. You can’t–and, in fact, you’re not supposed to–know exactly what the picture is going to look like until it has finished developing.

Bloggers I Like

sweetblogawardI received The Irresistibly Sweet Blog Award from Tobin Elliott over at his blog. Check him out. He’s a funny guy. Neither one of us is sure we want this type of promotion, but …

There are rules about receiving blog awards. First, I tell you seven things about myself:

  1. Yesterday I took John Rember’s book MFA in a Box, A Why to Write Book outside to a sunny spot on the deck: the book, a yellow marker, blue pen, bookmark, a cup of tea and me basking in the mid-day sun. I expected to find the book like a homework assignment: something I have to read to write better, unlikely to keep my attention for long. Thanks to Rember’s partial-memoir as a writing teacher, and the thoughtful concepts presented in his book, I have sun-damaged skin on my arms and neck. I lost track of time!
  2. Tonight I’ll read part of my story Evil on Her Mind at the Wild Words Book Launch. I’m nervous. Why does putting yourself out there to read your own stuff feel like stripping naked on a street corner?
  3. I have four grandchildren from my first marriage and five more with the my hubby, melding two nice families. I discovered that if he disagrees with me I threaten to write about him on my blog under the heading Suburban Warfare.
  4. I no longer have grandparents or parents alive to talk to about all the things I forgot to ask. I hope I have enough of their quirky storytelling in my genes to write about their truths with respect.
  5. I’m socially bi-polar. By that I mean I love social occasions, dressing up, lots of chit-chat and fun: but I also love when I’m reclusive, study writing, read books and write. I’m a Gemini, which might explain me better than I can.
  6. I take my camera with me everywhere. Lately I’ve been scaring local red-winged blackbirds nesting near the ponds in my area. They won’t sit still for me, so I tramp around trying to sneak up on them. I’m distracted by photographing Canada Geese landing on rooftops, wildflowers, pussy-willows, dead bulrushes, bark patterns, dew on plant leaves, old farmhouses, railway tracks …
  7. I believe that your passion for creativity (in any form) is like an itch that won’t go away.

Now to the amazing people/blogs I am going to send this Award to because they made me think, made me laugh, or made me write…

Memoir Writers World: Ruth Zaryski Jackson, published writer and poet’s thoughtful essay-style approach to a memoir writer’s journey … digging for truth, learning the past from geneology

Cheryl Andrews: Artist, photographer, poet and published writer encourages new writers, offers book reviews and publishing industry updates …

Moe In Afghanistan: Maureen McGarrity’s observations as a retired teacher on a 2-month stint teaching adults in Afghanistan: the people, the system, culture, customs and conflict

Lady Boomers: Bette Hodgin’s writer’s perspectives on life at a certain age, travel observations in India, her Canadian kayaking adventures, and all that makes women interesting …

Already awarded, but great site to check out again:

Allyson Latta’s website and newsletter

Canadian Authors at Wyndance Golf Club

Ontario’s Blue Heron Books hosts Wine and Cheese Night with Exceptional Canadian Authors at Wyndance Golf Club, May 9, 2011

It’s no surprise to locals that Blue Heron Books in Durham Region, Ontario, was short-listed for the 2011 Canadian Booksellers Award. Booksellers vying for the CBA Libris Award 2011 include trade, specialty and campus bookstores from all over Canada. Congratulations Shelley! Looking forward to the June announcement of winners.

Shelley MacBeth, owner of Blue Heron books, asked writer, creative writing teacher and therapeutic counsellor, Sue Reynolds, to act as the evening’s Master of Ceremonies. Sue introduced three women authors, each reading a short excerpt from her book. Sue asked questions about the responsibilities of writers, and opened the floor to questions.

Authors Camilla Gibb, Suzanne Desrochers and Susanna Kearsley
Authors Camilla Gibb, Suzanne Desrochers and Susanna Kearsley

Camilla Gibb:

Camilla’s recent project was to select the best Canadian literary memoirs for an anthology The Penguin Book of Memoir. Her book Sweetness in the Belly was the April choice for the Writers’ Community of Durham Region Reading as Writers book discussion group. She is the guest speaker for the WCDR June Breakfast Meeting.

 

 

Suzanne Desrochers:

Suzanne’s first novel is Bride of New France. Suzanne has a French, Irish and English heritage, that stretches back 400 years in Canada. She felt drawn to write about the early period of New France in Canada. Very little is known of women’s stories in the period and Suzanne delved into the records to research facts she expanded to an interesting adventure story.

Susanna Kearsley:

Susanna’s recent book is The Rose Garden. Her love of writing historical fiction (particularly  the Jacobean period) has attracted Susanna a strong fan base and the Catharine Cookson Award among others. She generously gave her time to judge the Writing Community of Durham Region’s 2011 Short Story contest Wild Words.

The three writers, for periods in their lives, lived outside of Canada, or travelled extensively. All agreed (emphatically) that a broad multi-cultural acceptance of Canadian writers enriches and challenges a narrow Canadian identity. All Canadians lend a voice to global perspectives.

M.C. Sue Reynolds, Camilla Gibb, Suzanne Desrochers, Susanna Kearsley

Sue Reynold’s first question, how important is truth in writing? opened up a thoughtful dialogue.

I will not attribute quotes to a particular writer, but here are a few items I jotted down that the three discussed and agreed upon.

 

  • Readers want to read truth and will not accept less (especially in memoir)
  • Writers bring their own experiences and interests to a story
  • Writers have an ethical responsibility to research and interpret researched material responsibly
  • Because stories are character driven, writing stories of historical periods are effective if written through the eyes of the characters and their limitations of  knowledge
  • Writers lend a voice to the unheard, portrayed with empathy and respect

These women are passionate about writing. Recognition for their books came to them because they wanted to get it right. Each is curious about the human experience, whether it be through historical romance or current storytelling. They believe that readers are intelligent interpreters. They know from writing influential and credible books, they work from truth, and responsible writing.

Wayson Choy, Patron, Ontario Writers’ Conference

Respected, award-winning author, Wayson Choy –  Ontario Writers’ Conference Honourary Chair and Patron

Author Wayson Choy (Photo John Beebe)
Author Wayson Choy (Photo John Beebe)

Wayson Choy’s spoken words in his lecture Risky Business soothe a hushed audience lulled by his gentle spell. He talks about his writing life, and he talks honestly and humourously about life itself. My notes don’t do Choy justice, but a new outlook based on his teachings is lasting.

Wisdom from Choy’s lecture at OWC, April 30, 2011

  • Say, “I write” (with aplomb to reduce your doubts)
  • Life has a theme which you identify, and it may guide your writing (In his family Choy was “the lucky one.”)
  • You can make a difference because reality is in perception
  • Pay attention to “signs” in your life … a pattern of signs (good and bad) is your destiny
  • Old age rounds off the corners
  • Telling your story tells that you had a meaningful life
  • By sharing your story you are saying to readers, “Read this. You are not alone. We belong somewhere to someone and here is a story.”
  • Give yourself permission to write your story privately and out of sight. It is a draft which can be altered. In book form write it in code, or change names. But write it.
  • Readers connect to what is essentially true; all memoir is fiction (creative nonfiction)
  • Ground the doubt in a fact
  • Telling well in a narrative voice is what publishers look for
  • Books need narrative drive – moving (and can be emotional moving) – interesting, what happens next
  • Overwriting can destroy narrative drive because a reader (whom you must respect) co-writes the book with their intelligence, interpretation, past experiences and bonding
  • Exploring your life exposes your life
  • Risk: What are you carrying that you need to put down? Understand your survival, forgive, empathize, show compassion
  • My life is worth telling.

Choy, a Chinese Canadian born in 1939, and graduate of creative writing at UBC, moved to Toronto in 1962, teaching at Humber College from 1967 to 2004. He is the author of the novel The Jade Peony which won the Trillium Book Award and the City of Vancouver Book Award. In 2010, it was selected as one of 5 books for the CBC’s annual Canada Reads competition.

Choy’s memoir Paper Shadows: A Chinatown Childhood won the Edna Staebler Award for Creative Nonfiction and was nominated for the Governor General’s Award.

All That Matters is Choy’s latest novel and was nominated for the Scotiabank Giller Prize. He was named a member of the Order of Canada in 2005.

Gwynn Scheltema, Ontario Writers’ Conference 2011

Stoked by coffee and carrot muffins, I head into Landscaping: Perspective and Place.
 The workshop facilitated by Gwynn Scheltema is the first event for me at the Ontario Writers’ Conference 2011. I’m buzzed and keen.

Gwynn Scheltema is an award-winning fiction writer and poet, a professional editor, teacher, co-founder of Writescape and respected member of the Writers’ Community of Durham Region.

My memoir about Washburn Island needs perspective and place, and Gwynn explains the techniques for the concept. By analyzing examples, and free-writing under Gwynn’s direction, it’s not long before I see how story settings are opportunities to advance stories, and to keep readers curious to know what will happen next.

Here is a bland sentence (although not one I worked on in the workshop):

The girl walks to the water’s edge and looks down at the sand. (Yawn, close the book)

With a little effort (well a lot of effort), the setting is transformed (and exaggerated) for our purpose:

Stepping on the wharf Mary covers her nose with the frayed hem of her t-shirt. Suffocating smoke sickens her stomach. She watches for the noisy air tanker that skims the lake and gulps water the firemen need to douse a wildfire crackling up the north face of Mount Washburn. She no longer cares about the sixteenth birthday party Grandma has planned for her tonight. Grandpa’s trap line is on the north side of the mountain, and so was Grandpa when the smell of gray smoke awakened her family this morning. She jumps off the wharf at the shoreline. Pacing barefoot on the cold sand, a frigid wave stuns her ankles. She wonders who will save Grandpa?

Gwynn’s challenging techniques appear oversimplified by my example, but I think you catch the drift. Animate your setting, engage the reader emotionally, spice up your setting with a little suspense, and maybe, just maybe readers will hang in there with you to see where your story is going.

The Paper Garden by Molly Peacock – Book Review

9335839My sister, a Canadian Botanical Artist recommended I read Molly Peacock’s biographical tribute to 18th Century gentlewoman, Mary Grenville Pendarves Delany  (1700 – 1788). Vaults in London’s British Museum protect Delany’s astounding late-life creation of 985 floral paper collages (mosaiks) and artistic treasures.

Through family letters passed down for generations, Peacock reveals the strong character of a woman from a minor branch of an influential family tree in Britain. At a young age, her uncle, the powerful and famous Lord Landsdowne, forces her into a loveless marriage with a titled but drunken older squire (Pendarves). She is sixteen, powerless and miserable.

When after nine years Pendarves dies, leaving her with her youth and a pitiful inheritance, Mary Granville Pendarves plots for an appointment to the Georgian court as a Lady-in-Waiting. She waits in vain. The imaginative and industrious woman patiently develops her needlework skills, spurns potential suitors, writes letters to a beloved sister and develops a passion for the natural world and the beginnings of artistic talents.

In mid-life, the self-sufficient widow meets, falls in love with and marries her second husband, an Irish clergyman of modest means (Delaney). She blossoms with the freedom to love and be loved. Their relationship flourishes with their combined obsession for gardening. Among her influential acquaintances she meets in her long and fruitful life: Jonathan Swift, John Wesley, Lord Baltimore and George Frederic Handel. Her second married life is nomadic at times, crossing the rough Irish Sea to connect with family and friends in England. Sadly after 23 years, Mr. Delany dies. At age seventy-two, the widow picks up her scissors and pastes thousands of pieces of colored paper to black backgrounds, a floral culmination of her life’s work.

As an acclaimed Canadian/American poet, Peacock’s prose is poetic. Effective romantic and sensual floral imagery portrays the bitter truths about love, marriage, grief, childlessness, and inspiration, explaining the satisfying burst of exceptional late-life accomplishments for this woman and the author herself as a writer in our present century.

The book is a window through which we view feminine roles in the 18th century, and how family values affected women. Peacock introduces just enough political maneuvering, fashion, philosophy and hints of lively gossip to portray a fascinating period before the Industrial Revolution changed the world forever.

Each chapter begins with a reproduction of one of Mrs. Delany’s botanical paper mosaiks, which Molly Peacock correlates to events in the woman’s life. The quality of the book jacket and the paper quality for the pages is superior, as Peacock intended to honor the woman and the art.

Peacock’s video about Mrs. Delany’s craft can be found here. If like me, you will be all-thumbs just watching Peacock’s 21st Century process. Three hundred years ago, Mrs. Delany perfected the art form when she had to hand-dye her own paper, utilize simple unrefined tools, and depend on natural lighting as her vision diminished.

Nonfiction published by McClelland and Stewart.

To read a more detailed review accepted for publishing by University of Toronto Creative Writing Teacher and Story Editor for Random House Canada, Allyson Latta, view here.

Charles Foran – Canadian Charles Taylor Prize

charles-foran-winner-of-charles-taylor-prize-for-nonfictionOn the heels of his exciting win of the Canadian Charles Taylor Nonfiction Prize ($25,000) for his book Mordechai, The Life and Times, the Writers’ Community of Durham Region (WCDR) presented Charles Foran as our Guest Speaker, March 12, 2011

Mordecai, The Life and Times, (Knopf Canada) took Foran four years to write. Capturing the distinct voices of Richler, a controversial Canadian literary giant, was the focus of his informative and entertaining talk. In essence, the message that came through to me is: If your writing voice is not similar to your speaking voice, or storytelling voice, your writing voice will likely fall flat. Foran cited four examples of the speaking and writing voices of Mordechai Richler to illustrate his point.

wcdr-charles-foranForan graciously sat through the announcements for the finalists and prize winners for the WCDR Wild Words short story contest — and I didn’t see him yawn once. Probably because memories of his own early writing struggles are what bonds dedicated scribblers in the writing community. I’ve said it before, Writers are a generous bunch.

I purchased Foran’s book Join the Revolution, Comrade, Journeys and Essays. Foran is a man whose observations as a foreign journalist give him the qualifications to contemplate and interpret world hot spots (and I don’t mean dance clubs).

Foran is no newcomer to the literary world. He met deadlines for fiction writing, nonfiction, essays and journalism for years.

FILE: YORK’S DAILY BULLETIN

Foran Wins Charles Taylor Prize for Nonfiction

Daily Motion 5 Minute Media

In 2004, my mentor, Allyson Latta, interviewed Foran about his novel, The Last House of Ulster

2011 Five Finalists for Charles Taylor Nonfiction Prize

Stevie Cameron for On the Farm: Robert William Pickton and the Tragic Story of Vancouver’s Missing Women, published by Alfred A. Knopf Canada

Charles Foran for Mordecai: The Life & Times, published by Alfred A. Knopf Canada. 
published by Knopf Canada.

Ross King for Defiant Spirits: The Modernist Revolution of the Group of Seven published by Douglas & McIntyre / McMichael Canadian Art Collection

George Sipos for The Geography of Arrival: A Memoir published by Gaspereau Press

Merrily Weisbord for The Love Queen of Malabar: Memoir of a Friendship with Kamala Das published by McGill-Queen’s University Press

Honourable Mention – Evil on Her Mind

Wild-Words-Cover-240-pixels-wide-e1456848791943Evil On Her Mind awarded Honourable Mention for Anthology Wild Words

Ten finalists fidgeted through breakfast (tomato halves topped with chopped mushrooms, and serrated hard-boiled eggs stuffed with seasoned minced yolks).

New York Times Bestselling author, Susanna Kearsley, complimented us on the range and quality of our stories, thanked the exceptional judges for their work,  and credited WCDR for their valuable sponsorship role. I perked up when I heard my name announced for one of three Honourable Mentions.

Earlier, hearing my story, Evil on Her Mind, was a top-ten finalist for the Writers’ Community of Durham Region’s upcoming anthology Wild Words, I imagined winning one of the top prizes ($700, $500, $250) at the WCDR breakfast meeting at the Ajax Convention Center.

Since November, without knowing the writers’ names, judges read and reread entries, gradually narrowing the field to 25 semi-finalists, which will appear in the anthology. Second-tier judges whittled the competitors down to 10 finalists. Guest judge and author, Susanna Kearsley deliberated over the ten finalists’ stories to choose three top prizes and three honourable mentions.

While the announcement knocks me out the money and relegates me to an Honourable Mention, I contain a joyful whoop in time to hear Kearsley’s critique of my skills:

You have a good eye for character and a good sense of how to convey it in moments like the one in which the young narrator notices the “evil woman” is taking care not to step on the sidewalk cracks.You have several characters speaking and interacting in the space of a few short pages, and I could see and hear each one distinctly.

I’m thrilled by my standing in the contest. Membership for the Writers’ Community of Durham Region is now over 380 writers. Their annual anthology contest attracts international writers and offers generous prize money, and a small honorarium for all writers published in the book.

Winners and Honourable Mentions:

First Place – $750 – Heather Tucker, “She’’s Stunningly Unpredictable”

Second Place – $500 – Heather Tucker,  “A Windowed Wall”

Third Place – $250 – Connie Di Pietro-Sparacino, “Reflected Pane”

Honourable Mention –Patrick Meade, “No More Dances”

Honourable Mention – Celine Boutin, “Pilgrims”

Honourable Mention – Mary McIntyre, “Evil On Her Mind”

It’ has been a profitable month for Ms. Tucker. The WCDR wins come immediately after her $2500 First Prize award (and paired with an Honourable Mention) in the Writers’’ Union of Canada short story contest.

At the Wild Words launch, May 26th, come to listen to many pieces read by their writers. Details found at Writers’ Community of Durham Region. Wild Words anthology, published by Piquant Press is available June 2011.

I thank my Life Writers Ink writing group members, Ruth Zaryski Jackson, Cheryl Andrews, Anahita Nepton Printer, Dace Mara Zacs-Koury for thoughtful critiques that raise the bar for each project.

The Golden Mean by Annabel Lyon – Book Review

9780307356208_012009 Rogers Writers’ Trust fiction prize, a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Governor General’s Award

How does author, Annabel Lyon, write an acclaimed book about the famous philosopher, Aristotle and his arrogant young student, Alexander the Great, without actually detailing their physical environment?

Perhaps I learned a simple lesson from this book: credit the reader with imagination enough to remember ancient Macedonia from history lessons learned in school. We already know in our imaginations what an ancient town, an ancient castle, an ancient market and an ancient war was like. Lyon doesn’t beat us up with exotic details. She saves details for character development.

What does the golden mean (associated with mathematics) mean to Lyon’s story?

Porter tasks Aristotle with educating a rebellious and high-strung young Alexander. By today’s standards Aristotle would likely seem nerdy and unsociable. But his interest to curb Alexander’s impetuosity, and to balance youthful aggression against weightier knowledge, caution, negotiation and fairness — concepts Aristotle developed through observation over years of study. Form and balance. This may sound like a typical teacher/student relationship, but Macedonia in 356 BC thrives in crude and brutal times. Loftier ideals such as democracy and fairness do not easily co-exist with threatened borders and disrupted trade routes. Kings and princes, queens and princesses kill each other for crowns.

To brush up on Alexander the Great and Aristotle, have a look at what wikipedia has to say.

Lyon’s setting is Pella Macedonia from 356 Bc to 352, when Alexander’s father, a powerful warring king enlists his former boyhood friend, Aristotle, to cultivate his son’s knowledge of science and philosophy. Along the way we are privy to the domesticity and relationship between the scholar and his wife, the birth of a daughter, a second wife, and a son.

There are intriguing segments where Aristotle, an expert in anatomy for all living creatures, teaches his students popular and accepted diagnosis for a range of human ailments, physical and mental. I wanted to shout, Don’t believe it. It’s not like that. But it will be many centuries before new beliefs in the humours improve medicine for mankind.

Porter chooses to have Aristotle narrates this tale of thwarted ambitions, domestic disappointments, fears for country, passion for learning and passion for war.

The Bard of Tucson

dan-gilmoreGuest author, Dan Gilmore, writer of fiction and poetry, wins us over. The twinkling in Gilmore’s eyes is for good reason. As guest speaker at the Tucson Writers’ Retreat facilitated by Allyson Latta and coordinated by Gail Rudyk at Sabino Springs, Tucson, the local writer entertained us with his irreverence, good humour and talent.

Gail’s neighbour, Deborah Toland, generously invited ten writers from our retreat into her beautiful home for a Tucson-style dinner party. Her husband J.B. blended pitchers of pink Howling Coyotes. If that wasn’t enough, he filled a large tin tub with ice and wine and other drinks. All the makings of a great party.

sylvia-allyson-dan-img_3667Debbie’s menu included shrimp, tomales (spiced cornmeal paste wrapped in corn husks and steamed), thinly rolled and baked enchiladas, taco and salsa, guacamole, bean/corn/rice salad, fruit salad and many more tempting dishes, dips and deserts that 10 writers ate and analyzed as if writing food columns. After dinner and socializing the women turned their attention to poet and fiction writer, Dan Gilmore.

Dan’s bio indicates what we were in for:
Dan Gilmore has been a fry cook, a jazz musician, a draft dodger, a soldier, an actor, a minister in a Reno wedding chapel, a psychologist, a single parent of Jennifer and Danny, a college professor, a dean, and a consultant to business. A Howl for Mayflower is his first novel. As a poet and writer, he received awards from Sandscript, the Raymond Carver Fiction Contest, and the Martindale Fiction Contest.

Here are a few of Gilmore’s serious tips for emerging writers:

  • Juxtaposition within a scene is crucial to capture a reader’s attention & provides an opportunity for tension
  • Tell secrets – delight and surprise – in your own voice
  • Be selective in your reading choices and look for authors who resonate your own voice
  • Take out your darlings (scenes you believe are your best writing segments – but do nothing for your story) & prepare to revise, revise, revise
  • Read poet Rainer Maria Rilke
  • Give proper attention to the mundane – the way you present the mundane can enhance a story
  • Memoir – memory is inaccurate, so memory is myth and anthology
  • Climb into a character’s point of view – not your own
  • Get out of your way and answers start flowing

For three hours we discussed writing and listened to Dan’s humourous anecdotes. He answered questions to our satisfaction and we happily rewarded him by purchasing his latest novel, A Howl for Mayflower.

Dan answered our questions.
One of my questions was, How does a writer get away with spilling the beans on family (as Dan does in his poetry)?

You don’t, he said. He’d lost contact with a couple of more distant family members because of his honesty.

He recalled my question when signing a copy of his book and wrote, Mary – a deep bow to your future of pissing people off, Dan. I’m not likely to take that advice, but the spirit in which he offered it amused me.

Dan Gilmore’s Books:
Season Tickets – Poems and Stories,published by Pima Press
Love Takes a Bow – New and collected poems, published by Imago Press
A Howl for Mayflower – A Novel, published by Imago Press

A Howl for Mayflower by Dan Gilmore – Review

 

61666293Humorous, and darkly honest, Dan Gilmore’s bittersweet fiction tracks ordinary people coping with life’s curve balls. Who would choose loneliness? or painful self-recognition of Alzheimer’s? or the magnetic pull towards suicide? or the limited prospects of pregnancy at seventeen? Thrown together by circumstances, the four main characters in Howl for Mayflower face difficult choices at The Coronado Apartments in a shabby Tucson neighbourhood in Arizona.

See post at reading with Dan Gilmore

Lonely and demoralized, protagonist Tobias Seltzer philosophizes: Ordinariness is a great social force. Its power to leach vitality from the human soul is at least equal to the black plague.

Tobias’ decisive early steps out of ordinariness begin with a decision to find a low-risk male friend without having to change much about himself:

At the Cornonado, I decided there were three male candidates – the Hindu upstairs, Bennie what-his-ananda, who triggered in me a mild case of xenophobia; Randall Pruitt from down the hall, who had tried to shoot himself through the head after returning from Vietnam and succeeded only in turning himself into a harmless moron; and a man named Howard Gardener, who had recently moved into the late Abigail Kaufman’s apartment across the hall – Abigail, who died in her bathtub and soaked for a week before anyone smelled her.

But it is Tobias’ relationship with his quirky neighbour, Mayflower, a passionate woman desperate to experience life again before Alzheimer’s takes it away from her. She awakens Tobias to the unexplored potential of his early life. By caring for another, and by fighting for what is right, Tobias emerges from the mundane.

Thrown into this emergence is a 17-year old belligerent and pregnant girl, Naomi. Tobias champions her and Mayflower. He does not give up on the two women whom it would be easier to shut out of his life by losing himself in the books he loves. By participating in their lives he suffers bumps and bruises along the way.

Gilmore (who I met in Tucson in January 2011 when he was guest author at Sabino Springs Writers’ Retreat), through his books of poetry and prose, relishes writing quirky with an edge. His blunt view of truth resonates with readers, even when we squirm. He captures the characters’ dysfunctions and their attempts to recover.

Tobias Seltzer character:
I had never been a touchy person. I didn’t know what to do when someone hugged me. I felt repelled, almost painfully so, and at the same time wanted more of it.

Next evening I discovered that, once started, ending relationships was about as easy as kissing your elbow.

I willed myself to let go and run, but something in me was enraged. I wanted to do harm to this wasted piece of humanity.

I didn’t like myself. My life was falling apart. My experiment with relationships had been a bust. I wanted my old life back, the life of the contemplative scholar.

Mayflower character:
I thought I was the most desirable woman alive. Charles spent the whole evening cracking his knuckles. Afterwards, I insisted we go somewhere to dance. He had absolutely no sense of rhythm.

Obsessively organized men almost never have a sense of rhythm.

We need people who have answers even if they’re pretenders. Otherwise, we’d all go mad.

That’s what we have flesh for, dear, to keep us from breaking our bones when we love each other.

Naomi character:
It’s boring here. This place is dark and smells like Lysol. It’s like being dead or something. Don’t you get bored?

You know that minister I told you about? It never happened. I seduced him. Seducing someone that fat and that holy was easy. I liked seeing him swear he’d never see me again, the come begging like a worm. I like making people hate me. I like it that you hate me.

Some day, I’ll see the ocean. I’ll own a car, have long fingernails and paint them purple. I’ll use buckets of mascara and wear those hight platform sandals. I want to be young. I don’t think I’ve ever been young. I’m never going to get married or have another baby.

And then there is sassy Mrs. Choy, a Chinese coffee shop owner, and handsome Caravelo, the one-armed juggler, and Randall Pruitt, an unlikely hero. The book is fast-paced and loaded with believable dialogue interspersed with Tobias’ reflections that at times hold him back and at other times propel him forward.

If there is one disappointment, it is the handling of the character Howard late in the book. Once his purpose to the story is over, Harold disappears on his own life quest. I feel the unfinished business of character development in that decision.

I enjoyed this book.

Published by Imago Press

Tucson’s “Howling Coyotes”

howling-coyotesHowling Coyotes, I learned, are pink drinks whipped in a blender with crushed ice – a favourite at Tucson Sabino Springs Writers’ Retreat. Host Gail Rudyk pulverized an icy batch for sampling on the first night ten writers met with Facilitator, Allyson Latta to discuss plans for the next five days.

Howling Coyotes Recipe:

1.5 oz tequila, 4.5 oz margarita mix, dash of prickly pear syrup for sweetness & colour, half cup or more of crushed ice, a little triple sec: whip in blender to enjoy frozen. Serve in salt rimmed glass with a slice of lime.

What do 10 women writers from Canada, Chile and the USA have in common? A passion to explore and write memoir.

Jayne, Mary and Gail
Jayne, Mary and Gail

Allyson  coached us to read a memoir of our choice (not a celebrity memoir) and read it critically as writers before arriving. We freewrote for ten minutes on five prompts, which varied as much as chalk and cheese. We brought along books on writing and maintained a small library for the writers during the retreat.

 

 

Our skills varied: a Columbia writing grad, English and Writing Craft teachers, published writers, a journalist and a lawyer.

Barb, Adriana, Monique
Barb, Adriana, Monique

Freewriting loosened up memories – digging deeply into subjects after we first thought we were out of ideas. We mapped the topography of places where we’d grown up, and participated in group discussions of the happy and sad remembrances that come with graphic reminders. Clustering exercises from word prompts extended our memories by associations.

 

 

Sylvia, Julie and Ann
Sylvia, Julie and Ann

We developed about 25 freewrite sessions on various memories over five days. No one revealed their personal writing unless they were comfortable with sharing at the Reading Salon on the last night of the retreat.

Ars Medica Delivered by Canada Post

mcintyre-family-2010-l-ars-medica2010 ended with an exceptional treat for me. On Dec 30 Canada Post delivered a copy of ARS MEDICA, a journal which features my submission The Day After.

What is ARS MEDICA?

It’s a biannual literary journal that explores the interface between the arts and medicine, and examines what makes medicine an art. ARS MEDICA allows a place for dialogue, meaning making, and the representation of experiences of the body, health, wellness, and encounters with the medical system. Content includes narratives from patients and health care workers, medical history, fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, and visual art.

Since the inaugural edition in October 2004,  ARS MEDICA remains the only medical literary journal of its kind in Canada, and one of only a handful of such journals in the world, in the rapidly developing international field of the medical humanities.

Participation Through Dialogue

In Canada, our healthcare system often mystifies us. We complain about wait times in emergency rooms, too few specialists to meet healthcare demands, costly medical procedures, one-two-and-three tier options… . We feel powerless to be heard by policy-makers who struggle to reduce costs and offer Canadians high standards for medical treatments across this country.

Ars Medica offers healthcare professionals and the public an opportunity to participate in a dialogue through written and visual disciplines. Know that your voice  may impact policy, or impact practitioners’ attitudes and procedural choices. Medicine and art DO mix thanks to this little journal that speaks for everyone who has a story to tell.

What every writer/artist knows

Getting work published is difficult. Start ups for journals are difficult. Funding for the arts is difficult. Finding dependable publishers, editors, copyeditors and administrators is difficult. The creators of ARS MEDICA have a goal: to propel the concept and tenuous link between medicine and art to the forefront.

Submission Guidelines for ARS MEDICA

Writing Theme and Structure

What does a writer do when undecided about how to move forward? In my case I signed on for a workshop conducted by Allyson Latta, Illuminating the Path: Finding Theme and Structure in Your Memoir.

img_2093 My writing group, Life Writers Ink, convened at a member’s Otter Lake cottage for our second annual writers’ retreat.

Allyson rightly assessed what was holding us up. She tailored seminars and exercises to demystify structure, point of view, and themes (and other essential components) of a good story. It sounds simple, doesn’t it? Don’t be fooled. There’s more to it.

With Allyson’s guidance, we discussed our writing options. We identified obstacles and explored new ways to overcome them. Some characters and stories within our stories needed to see the chopping block. What we thought were points of crisis and climax were not always useful components of our stories. We required a shift, an open mind about structure. We took off the blinders and got busy with eliminating impediments.

img_2097Other than an afternoon break on the boat, we devoted two days to lessons, discussions, book reviews and eating too much delicious food. We took turns with meals and clean up, which gave everyone a chance to rest, read, discuss, write or photograph the beautiful landscape around us.

 

Life Writers Ink Writing Group

In September 2008, alumni of Ryerson Online Memoir Writing Workshops met face-to-face for the first time at an Alzheimerʼs fundraiser in Unionville hosted by workshop facilitator, Allyson Latta.

Using Allysonʼs suggestions as our guide, five of us considered forming a writing group. Our ideas woman, Cheryl Andrews, former leadership coach, writer, artist and photographer, created a questionnaire, an evaluation tool to show what was important to us in the early stages of Life Writers Ink. Although we experimented with meaningful slogans, it was member Ruth Zaryski Jackson, writer, counsellor and heritage planner, who introduced us to Margaret Atwoodʼs advice: butt in chair — code for when we stray from our writing goals.

We chose a monthly rotation at membersʼ homes, with minimal hostess duties. Each person reads less than 1,500 words or brings books, articles or websites for discussion. We offer respectful critiques to whatever degree a writer requests.  Between meetings we share communications by email, informing of relevant opportunities and events.

Cherylʼs property beside Otter Lake, south of Parry Sound, was the site of our first writing retreat — a pilot for Cheryl, with Ruth and me. There was no formal facilitator or agenda. We brought writing interests, laptops, research materials and a genuine regard for helping each other. We found five sunny days to consult on the upper deck, retreat indoors, or seek out places that inspired contemplation.

Day One brought relaxation and orientation, decompressing from city life by swimming, and sightseeing by boat.

Day Two, we cruised Georgian Bay on the Island Queen.

Day Three, we set up workstations and explored our personal projects. Discussions over casual dining included authors, writing, publishing, books, blogging strategies and our personal projects. We consulted with each other about writing techniques, story lines, story structures and title choices. There was no pressure for accomplishment other than the goals we set for ourselves. We benefited from sensitive and helpful critiques.

Before breakfast each day, we cleared our minds with yoga and meditation. One evening we sat by the outdoor fireplace on the lower deck and watched an impressive Milky Way hover above.

Three of our members attend Writers Community of Durham Region (WCDR) monthly breakfasts and workshops, Words Alive Open Mike nights in Newmarket and the Words Alive Annual Festival in Sharon. We attend writing workshops, tele-seminars, book launches, author readings and more. One of our founding members, artist and author of The Perils of Miss Pepper, Gail Rudyk, took leave to deal with moving and travel. Our youngest member, technical writer Anahita Nepton Printer, is mother to three children and attends events with us when able.

Within our group of five, we submitted four stories to WCDRʼs Wicked Words Contest, with Cherylʼs story selected as one of 25 finalists for the published anthology. Sharing writing knowledge produced immediate results. We enter more contests, write more articles, create more blogs, read more books, investigate more resources and attend more literary events. Our pet projects are closer to publication because we motivate each other. We created a private WordPress blog as a repository for our writing references, resources, book lists and websites.

Our advice to writers considering a writing group:

  • Ensure invitees understand the goals and ground rules from the outset.
  • Be understanding of each othersʼ commitments. Varied attributes of dedicated writers will enhance your group in the long run.
  • There is more to a group than the act of writing. Considerate online communications, event notices, critiquing skills, encouragement, friendship and help with computer concepts outweigh strict attendance.

Life Writers Ink keeps its membership small to devote well-deserved attention to each writerʼs work. Everyone leaves a meeting feeling uplifted and excited about writing better words every day.

(Word Weaver, WCDR’s online newsletter published this post, May/June edition, 2010)

Update April 2016:

Two years ago we invited Dace Mara Zacs-Koury to become a member of our group. Her memoir project fascinated us and she is respectful of our established format. She begins a memoir writing course at Humber College in spring 2016, the impetus she felt she needed to bring her manuscript to completion.

Never Look Away by Linwood Barclay – Book Review

6678884I read two Linwood Barclay books recently: a paperback copy of No Time For Goodbye and a hardcover Never Look Away (Doubleday Canada). The genre is Fictional Thriller.

Barclay’s male protagonists in both books share many traits: nice guys trying to do their best to keep a lid on a situation where a pretty wife is either delusional, or a suspected murderer. Both men have one child between the ages of four and ten. Both men employed in middle-income jobs.

Barclay figured out a tidy formula for throwing suspicion over lesser characters, leading the reader into the game of Who-Done-It. Detectives are suspicious, tenacious and forgiving. Parents are mostly good people who have grown up children’s best interests at heart. Villains have guns.

I’m not convinced Barclay has nailed the children’s roles in either book. There’s a lot of angst over protecting a child, but it seems contrived at times. The view of the children is adult-centered. The plastic kids are easy to convince to do what they’re told by loving parents. Not always my reality.

This is not a genre I normally read. I attended Linwood Barclay’s author reading hosted at Wyndance Golf and Country Club and sponsored by Blue Heron Books of Uxbridge. The author is an easygoing, congenial writer, and he makes no claim to have written literary classics. He likes his genre, writes it well and has achieved international success for it.

Barclay advances most of the story in Never Look Away, with dialogue, relying on minimal setting details to keep the reader interested in the characters.

He effectively describes the lives of a depressed middle-aged couple, writing, She led me into a living room filled with furniture that I was guessing had been handed down to them from their own parents … Cheap landscapes hung so high on the wall they nearly lined up with the ceiling.

And again he captures an unattractive trait of a villain writing, At last night’s dinner at the Big Boy just off the interstate, he’d had his meal half eaten before she had her napkin unfolded on her lap. He was shoveling it in like the restaurant was in flames, and he wanted his fill before his hair caught on fire.

Barclay kept my attention enough to finish the 412 pages it took to string out a conclusion to the mystery. In both books, I was about thirty pages from the end and couldn’t imagine how he would tie up the loose ends in so few pages. But perhaps that’s a sign of a well-written mystery formula – something I had to learn. I wasn’t on the edge of my seat, but for the thriller readers out there, I’d say it’s a satisfying read.

The Disappeared by Kim Echlin – Book Review

6098557Author, Kim Echlin, spoke about her book, The Disappeared, at an author reading sponsored by Blue Heron Books at Wyndance Golf and Country Club. I reviewed Echlin’s book for The Writers’ Community of Durham Region website category: Reading as Writers, Fiction. The book was short listed for the Scotiabank Giller Prize in Canada.

I can’t stop thinking about Echlin’s story. She writes about events that happened in Canada and Cambodia during the time of my youth, the Sixties, when I should have been better informed about Cambodia’s reign of terror – but wasn’t.

Told first through the experiences of a 16-year old girl in Montreal, the author confronts the reader with the sensual details of blind love – love that flies in the face of convention, love that cares nothing for the cultural differences of two lovers, or the geography that separates them. The author, through an effective economy of language, captivates the reader with images of Montreal’s smoky jazz clubs, tawdry rooming houses and precious moments of sharing between disparate characters.

But it is the eventual rediscovery of the couple many years later in Cambodia that sinks its teeth into your skin. The author layers political complexities in a post Pol Pot regime with the woman’s tenacious personal journey, demanding the reader to recognize the realities of survival after international newspapers abandoned the story of Cambodian genocide.

Echlin introduces us to heart warming characters that journey with this devoted woman in her exploration of the home of her lost lover, realistic and believable. It is no surprise that this fascinating book was short listed for the Giller Prize in fiction.

Excerpt:

We could survive a whole weekend on five dollars. There was always a bag of rice and we brought home fresh fish from Chinatown and fifty cents’ worth of greens and a couple of oranges. We knew a café on Crescent Street where we could sit the whole afternoon with one coffee and we got into L’air du temps through the back entrance. Sometimes we walked up the mountain and threw snowballs over Beaver Lake and when our fingertips began to freeze we went into the churches. I like St. Joseph’s oratory best, its gloom and incense and hidden stairways.

 

Blogging

In winter 2010, I started blogging. Creating my first blog site nearly drove me mad.

27094_fullWhat’s a blog? I asked.

A strategy for marketing yourself (your online presence), helpful when publishing a book.

Really?

Wikipedia Definition: A blog is a type of website, usually maintained by an individual with regular entries of commentary, descriptions of events, or other material such as graphics or video. “Blog” can also be used as a verb, meaning to maintain or add content to a blog.

No way. Not for me. Not now, not ever. When pigs fly. When hell freezes over. I’ll just finish writing my book and publish it like it was always done. What was good enough for the greats before me will do me just fine, thank you.

Ha ha, ha, ha ha, the sound of experts’ uncontrolled  laughter.

If I consider this blog thing, where do I start?27089_full

First register with an internet service provider (ISP) for your domain name.

Who doesn’t know what a domain name is? Right?

After googling domain registry I saw complaints about domain slamming by ISPs.
Wikipedia: Domain slamming is a form of scamming which an internet service provider (ISP) or domain name registrar attempts to trick customers of different companies into switching from their existing ISP/registrar to the scamming ISP/registrar, under the pretense that the customer is simply renewing their subscription to their old ISP/registrar.

27082_full1Run away.

I quieted the inner skeptic long enough to google
domain sites. There are pages of ISP providers and domain name registrars. For the life of me I can’t recall why I decided to go with VERIO. They aren’t on the top of the list, which makes me think I stumbled on them somehow, crossed my fingers, and applied for my domain name. I paid $37.80 for a 2-year contract, free setup.

In for a penny. … Now what?

I heard about WordPress at The Writers’ Union of Canada Symposium at Ryerson in Toronto. I googled WordPress – and a couple of other sites I can’t recall because I forget everything that no longer matters to me–like my birthday and my husband’s golf scores.

WordPress Site Opening Sentence:
WordPress is a state-of-the-art publishing platform with a focus on aesthetics, web standards, and usability. WordPress is both free and priceless at the same time.

I saw the word “free” and downloaded from “Ready to get started?

27158_fullThere’s a fun part?

You bet. WordPress has hundreds of blog themes to choose from.  Determined to spend next to nothing on this project, I chose a free theme. Since then, I’ve found at least ten others I like just as much. I wanted a simple display (main message and sidebar). You can pay for themes with more bells and whistles, but out of sheer ignorance, I left the bells and whistles for the big boys. I had enough bells and whistles firing in my head already.

For fun, go to WordPress, scroll down the page to have a look at the free themes. Click on the demos, and imagine what you would do if you designed a blog for yourself. Fun.

I knew it was too good to be true27178_full.

Limitations & Glitches:
The truth is WordPress has experts to design their themes. They troubleshoot design kinks, and include user-friendly features. If I want capitals where they don’t use them, I won’t get them with the particular free theme I chose. I figure they know better than I do anyway.

Now what, Brainiac?

My husband went to Arizona to golf for 10 days. With determination (read, desperation) I rose at 5:00 am and retired from my computer chair after midnight.

I began to hallucinate: Why am I doing this to myself? What do I have to say about my topic? Who cares what I say? Why did I create so many pages? How does this bloody thing work? Why aren’t my married kids IT specialists living in the basement?

I spent days on help screens, and read forum questions written by people with problems similar to mine – comforted to see other stupid questions. After a week I lost contact with family and ran out of frozen pizza.

I crawled through personal photo archives for appropriate photos for the pages I created. I surfed the Google universe to learn about blogging techniques, realizing I’d broken nearly every rule of good blogging. Gradually I understood what SEO meant search engine optimization. Files of new information cluttered my desktop, most of it hieroglyphics. Many times I was close to pressing the abort button.

27805_fullCompany’s coming!

If you invite dinner guests to your home, but don’t clean the bathrooms, or sweep out the dust bunnies, guests might be less inclined to visit again. It’s the same with blogging. A pleasing connection between your content and the guests who read your blog is essential. (I’m still working on it, folks.)

My topic, creative non-fiction, is not everyone’s cup of tea, and perhaps my writing journey is unappealing at the outset. But it’s my misguided mission to reach those who might want to follow me around.

As a good hostess I don’t want a one-sided conversation. I invite guests to tell me about themselves, or to comment on what I have to say. With any luck, by the time I serve up the strawberry shortcake, we’ll have decided we like each other enough to visit again.

(In an irrational burst of creativity I created the cartoons for this post in Animoto. More fun.)