A happy introduction to Victoria’s literary community

Victoria Literary Festival at The Metro- (L-r)Patrick Lane, Lorna Crozier, Esi Edugyan.

Last night I went to an event as part of Victoria Literary festival. I had never heard Gregory Scofield read and I have yet to read any of his books. Last night he gave a reading of his long poem, Muskrat Woman, about MMIW and it was really compelling. It’s such a great reminder that when writers can also read really well, the audience is silent and they are right there, present, in the belly of the delivery and changed in some slight way afterwards.

I was introduced to Zoe Whittall through her readings. She’s another writer who, I’m sorry to admit, I’ve never read or even heard of. I’m impressed that she can write for some of CBC’s really successful shows such as Baroness von SketchSchitt’s Creek and still have the ability to go back to her own personal writing. And of course, I’d seen/heard Patrick Lane read. The  last time was a long time ago when his book, There is a Season, came out. It was at the Sechelt Writer’s Festival. What year was that? 

I’d only seen Lorna Crozier read at the introductory Growing Room Festival last spring or whenever that was. But to see them together, and the banter between them, was pretty entertaining. I think I know who wears the pants in that family and it isn’t Patrick Lane. But I’m sure, in reality, it’s very give and take. They just seem like the kind of people you’d love to be able to linger around a dinner table with. The evening was quite wonderful.

As a newcomer to Victoria, I got a real sense of the strength of the writing community here just from attending that one event. And it was clear, even with Esi Edugyan facilitating the conversation, that this pair have had a hand in the careers of so many writers who have gone through the UVic Creative Writing program. It was like witnessing a family reunion or something. 

It also made me think that anyone ranting on about the history of CanLit and its white roots, should just get over themselves because these are the people who historically made things happen. Like anything, evolution is a part of that, and the transformation is happening right now as it should be. It’s because of that foundation that a Canadian literature even exists even if it isn’t yet as representative of all realties in the country as it needs to be.

As I sat waiting for the event to begin, I was eavesdropping on the conversation behind me, well, not really eavesdropping so much as not being able to avoid overhearing it. It was that somewhat excruciating navel-gazing about a personal writing process that as writers we’re all so familiar with, especially if you’ve been involved in any kind of workshopping. I feel so done with that.  I just feel the need to find the time to focus on my own writing and it’s pretty clear to me that I just need to show up for that and there’s no need to discuss anything really. I know that might sound harsh but it feels like that phase is over. Let’s not get all precious about putting some words on a page or the process. As Patrick Lane so perfectly described it. “I’ll sometimes write a sentence that I really love  and get really excited about that, until I realize, Oh fuck, I need to write an entire paragraph.” And then keep doing that over and over. Again and again.

I’m not saying I wouldn’t love to have just one person who I could rely on to be a reader of my stuff to give me feedback, someone whose opinion I trusted and who actually would give me feedback when they said they were going to. Someone who understood the process, especially when it comes to first drafts,  but that’s so hard to find unless you pay someone, or they’re in your life as a partner and into literary things or you just luck out. Not having that is a real lacking for me in so many ways, much more important ways, of course, than just writing feedback.

I also met a young woman who was working for a new self-assisted publishing company (I found that terminology interesting) called TellWell Talent. She is the digital media marketing person for them and we talked about how a lot of authors these days are choosing to self publish because of the control it gives them, the ability to get things done more quickly than traditional publishing and to market the book as effectively, if not more so.

In my books, that all counts as a very satisfying evening. 

Write for 5 to win a book on writing

Hi Kids,

So four weeks of Write for 5 have now flown by.

It would be so awesome if I could motivate a few more writers anywhere in the world to participate.

So far I’ve mailed off four packages. Those have gone to Toronto, Uruguay, Vancouver and Atlanta, Georgia. Last week I shipped off a photographic print that I bought a few years ago that I loved but I never had anywhere to hang it. I communicated with the recipient and it seemed like last week’s writing book wasn’t the kind of book that he would probably get around to reading, so I looked around and based on his blog, I picked a photographic print for him.

Of course, I should have taken a photo of that before I sent it off to Atlanta, Georgia, but I forgot. Maybe he’ll send me a photo when it arrives and then I’ll be reminded of who the print was created by. I know it was a young photographer based in Delta, B.C.

I’ve decided that I can only send one book per person once at this point given the limited number of participants so that means your chances of getting this fantastic little book are pretty high if you’ve yet to be chosen.

This week’s book prize is called, The Situation and the Story by Vivian Gornick. And you’ll also receive the above print.

For those of you who have been playing along. You know the routine. I post 2 images at 8:00 am on Saturday morning and you have until Sunday at 11:00 pm to Write for 5. I want to experience the uniqueness of your imagination in five minutes.

On Monday, March 27, I’ll choose the small piece that spoke to me in some way.
This might be the easiest contest you’ll ever enter.

Are you in?  See you back here bright and early on Saturday, or whenever you get around to it over the weekend. Have a good one.

The Writing Life in 5 minutes

photo by gayle mavor

Hi kids,

Thank you to the three writers (plus me) who participated in Write for 5 this week. I must admit, I read all your pieces more than once (What a burden. They’re so long!) in order to decide who I wanted to give a book of mine to with a note. Who doesn’t love to get something other than a bill in their mailbox?

I liked the tone that was captured by Sue Goldswain in her short piece. I loved the idea of two little girls dressing up their grandmother when they visited her at what we have to guess might be an assisted living home, “plopping the shocking pink and yellow sombrero the size of a small planet,” on her head giving her some playful fun in a life that is dictated by others’ routines. And then the woman examining the photo more closely and having it remind her of her mother when she was “fed up to the back teeth,” afterwards.

I was captivated by the story written by Jo-Anne Teal because right after it began I wanted to know why this girl was stuffing clothes into her knapsack in a way that there would be no evidence on the outside. Then, as she got past her yard she began to run.  I was immediately transported with her along that run. Where’s she’s going?  Why didn’t she stop when her jeans got soaked? Why is she in such a hurry to get to school when she “still hates chemistry”?

I loved the idea of her doing something completely unexpected. Ripping off her jeans and tossing them on the bench because she was wearing tights, and then having the older woman join in her defiance, sick of struggling with her broken umbrella, letting it go to the bench as well. Then the ending still keeps us hanging on, wondering about the mystery of which journey this young lady was going on. She wasn’t going to school after all. Was she running away? Was she just skipping class? Was she going to the mall? Was she meeting someone? Where was she going? I want to know.

The story stayed with me as I was falling off to sleep. I was thinking how great it was that that story was told in a way that would never have arisen in my own imagination and how great it is that our minds, so unique,shaped by our experiences have that wonderful possibility of going in such vastly different directions in response to a single image.

I know Jo-Anne submitted her story after 9 p.m. but it was my favourite. So, I’m not going to be a hard ass. I have to go with my favourite. This week she’s my choice.

I’ve decided I must name the book I’m giving away, even though it will ruin the surprise for the receiver because I want to be sure people know I’m really sending people books. I stood in front of my bookshelf for a while and then chose, The Writing Life by Annie Dillard. The back cover describes it as a kind of spiritual Strunk & White, a small and brilliant guidebook to the landscape of a writer’s task… Last week’s book giveaway was Breathing the Page by Betsy Warland.

Happy Monday for anyone following along.  Next Write for 5 starts, as always, Saturday morning, March 18th  at 8 am.  Please join in.

I’m sleeping with Susan Musgrave, and writing advice

photo by gayle mavor of a book by Susan Musgrave

Amal Alamuddin gets to sleep with George Clooney.  Ellen DeGeneres gets to sleep with Portia de Rossi.  I get to sleep with Susan Musgrave.  Let me explain.

I went to make my bed yesterday which entails merely throwing the duvet cover in place and I found this book. It was upside down.  My first reaction when I saw the book there was, Jesus! I’d actually slept on it. I’m  sleeping with Susan Musgrave. That made me laugh. And then the very next thought I had was, oh thank God, I can manufacture something out of nothing for tomorrow’s blog post. No offense to Susan Musgrave. I don’t know who she sleeps with, if anyone  but clearly it’s not about her.

My third thought was about how much writers, or maybe just writers who have yet to be published in book form, can’t seem to get enough of hearing about the writing process. Even though most writers eventually realize that there isn’t really any other writer or anyone else who can tell them how to write what they’re trying to write.

Only you can do it. Writing is a bit like dieting. There’s no magic bullet. You want to write. Sit down and put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. But first it helps to have something to say. And that’s the hardest part.

I can’t even explain what it is about reading about another writer’s process that is so appealing. It’s like the self-help genre for writers.  And I know I’m not alone in this.  If I was, nobody would ever show up to writing workshops, festivals or readings and there wouldn’t be an entire industry built around it.  

I think it’s akin to reading horoscopes. It’s not like you actually believe yours but there might be something in there one day that will make all the difference to your day, if not your life.

Fully aware that their process isn’t mine, and that it won’t ever be mine, that doesn’t ever stop me from devouring what published authors and the newest flavour of book that just received acclaim have to say.

I can’t even count how many talks, readings, festivals, workshops, and even a writing program or two I’ve been to. Might it be possible that I just nodded off when one of them provided the Holy Grail of writing advice and if only I hadn’t nodded off, I would have realized that they’d just slipped in the one bit of writing advice that was going to crack everything open and suddenly I’d have some story come to me like I was channelling J.K. Rowling?

No! Not going to happen. Let me rephrase that. It could happen but not because of listening to anyone else.

This is not to say that you shouldn’t educate yourself about writing, and all the elements that go into how to knock the socks off storytelling. That’s different. It’s the difference between research and research that looks as if you’re trying to rewrite, oh, I don’t know, THE BIBLE! 

Anyway, I just thought I’d admit that I’m as guilty as you are in devouring every morsel of writing advice and I’m sleeping with Susan Musgrave’s book written in 1994, Musgrave Landing, Musings on the Writing life, and with a photo to prove it.

Guilty as charged!

PS: I enjoyed the book. She’s funny!   Oh. I almost forgot. You can join in and Write for 5 with me and one or two others this weekend. What’s it going to take for me to get you in the mood?

Join in. Write for 5 for fun

Dear friends,

Thanks for joining in today in this little experiment: Write for 5.  

I will say, it was a wee bit of a challenge choosing a single image! So I decided to choose 3. Pick just one to write about.

Whenever you’re ready, start the timer. (We won’t include choosing/examining the photo in the 5 minutes of writing time. Take your time for that.)

Write for 5. That’s how it’s going to work. At least for this first time.

We can complete the Write for 5 exercise any time this weekend so if it doesn’t work right this minute, then later. But if you’re just procrastinating, don’t! Do it now if you can!

We’ll all be brave and agree to post our Write for 5 submission in the comments of this post when we’re done.

I’m arbitrarily choosing 9pm on Sunday, Feb. 26 as the cutoff for submitting to this week’s Write for 5.

The first person to post their Write for 5 result gets a subscription to Geist Magazine (6 issues) courtesy of me for one year.

I’ll respond to some of the writing throughout the week on the blog and we’ll do it again with a new image next Saturday. That’s the plan. The universe may have other plans. We’ll just see. baby steps!

If you want to say anything about the experience for you, that would be interesting. Only if you want to.

Go!

Word Vancouver: From Comics to Kids Lit

WORD2015

This year at Word Vancouver, I decided I’d go to sessions that I might not typically be drawn to, especially comic books and Kids Lit.

First stop was a panel of children’s authors. One of the authors walked us through the steps she takes to create an animal character as the subject of a rhyming poem.  I really enjoyed that. Four authors spoke about how much going into the schools and reading to kids is an integral part of what’s required of children’s authors. That sounds like a fun thing. And as always happens, which is why it’s important to attend events such as this if you write, my own ideas came bubbling up as background all throughout the talks. Think of it as creative mind mapping, silently but stealthily, a running commentary of possibilities mingled. Creative thought begets creative thought.

I listened to Caroline Woodward, who had worked in the publishing industry for 30 years. She was speaking about living at the Lennard Island Lighthouse at the entrance to Clayoquot Sound near Tofino. Being one half of a lighthouse keeper has enabled her to get back to her first love, writing. Her latest book, Light Years, is about her time at the various light stations where she and her husband, Jeff George, started as relief lightkeepers. George’s photographs in slideshow format were a nice touch. Woodward’s favourite lighthouse is Nootka because of its history and its natural beauty.

I didn’t even know there were still people working at lighthouses anymore. Apparently seven of the 23 people who are stationed at lighthouses in B.C. are couples.

I listened to John Vaillant whom, of course, I’d heard about but had never seen in person or read before. He gave a compelling  intro to his book  The Jaguar’s Children and the life and death crossing into the USA of an illegal immigrant.  His reading and the prose was so precise that it was a clear lesson in how a compelling presence mixed with vivid language does indeed go a long way towards selling books. He said a teenage boy’s voice came to him clear as day one day while he was working on something else. He felt compelled to carry that voice onto the page.  This happened while he spent nine months living in Oaxaca with his wife who is a potter. Perhaps the spirits visited him. Perhaps they knew he was someone who could do their story justice.

It was cool to hear the journey of The Flour Peddler by brothers Chris and Josh Hergesheimer. Their original focus on local grains and farmers’ markets in B.C. (starting in Roberts Creek) eventually took them on a global journey to South Sudan. Their bicycle-powered flour mill is adding efficiency to small farmers there. Chris is now in Ecuador doing Ph.D. work through UBC’s Land and Food Systems faculty.

I found it kind of sad to hear the trials of cartoonist David Boswell and the trajectory of his comic, Reid Fleming, World’s Toughest Milkman. What began as just a one-off, one pager for The Georgia Straight back in the day, developed a small cult-like following with a script eventually optioned for a movie at Warner Brothers Pictures only to be quashed at the 11th hour by the executives who just didn’t get the humour.  That’s funny actually! The script remains locked in the vault there, stuck in limbo, history.  Boswell showed a movie that one of his nephews made about him with guest appearances by Matt Groening and others who sang his praises and the genius of the character, Reid Fleming.

The last session I attended was by Michael Kluckner. The local artist and heritage advocate has put together a graphic novel, a love story, called Toshiko.  I was surprised to learn that not all Japanese families were interned during WWII. Some lived independently, specifically up in Tappen, B.C., and Squilax near Salmon Arm where they worked on a farm called Calhoun’s.

I really tried not to buy but resistance is futile when it comes to books. I have to laugh at my purchases though which are more a reflection of proximity and mood than a strategic plan since I didn’t actually end up buying The Jaguar’s Children. I bought The Flour Peddler, Toshiko and Amber Dawn’s How Poetry Saved My Life.  Boswell was selling his comic book, a signed copy for a Toonie, so I got one of those as well. Go figure?

Did you go to Word this year? What stood out for you?

Porcupine Meatballs and The Artist’s Way

 

A friend of mine has been reading and doing The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Point me in the direction of acting like an artist. Show me the way. That’s not the book’s premise but it kind of sounds like it might be.

porcupine

Another artist friend who lived on Salt Spring gave me the book in 2010. At the time, I flipped through it and never looked at it again.  But I did keep it.

A few weeks ago when I learned of my other friend’s diligence (she’s on week 12), something in me was motivated as well.

I was reading Week 3 – Recovering a Sense of Power, and a small part refers to shaming in childhood and how that can affect our expression of creativity, especially when it comes to finishing things, in adulthood.

“Many artists begin a piece of work, get well along in it and then find, as they near completion, that the work seems mysteriously drained of merit. It’s no longer worth the trouble. To therapists, this surge of sudden disinterest (‘It doesn’t matter’) is a routine coping device employed to deny pain and ward off vulnerability.”

“If a child has ever been made to feel foolish for believing himself or herself talented, the act of actually finishing a piece of art (and this means art in the broadest terms) will be fraught with internal shaming.”

There was enough resonance in that statement for me that it got me off the couch in search of a yellow marker.

One of the tasks at the end of Week 3 is to dredge up some childhood memories. Favourite foods for example. For me I thought of Porcupine meatballs and Chocolate birthday cake with pennies wrapped up inside. Not combined. I recalled the joy of having one of those gumballs that come out of those machines where you slot in a quarter and out rolls a shiny pink molar-breaking tasteless piece of perfection. (Indeed, you are correct, it’s not a member of a food group). I also thought about tuna fish casserole with mushrooms and rice with melted cheese and chips on top that my grandmother used to make. (Sounds disgusting now but I loved it then). Baked potatoes with sour cream and bacon bits and grated cheddar cheese. Num. Num.

Favourite games? Snakes and Ladders. Chinese checkers. Checkers.  Candyland. 52 Pick-Up Stix. An imaginary “quicksand” game we played in Darryl McGuffey’s basement, the one that meant you had to leap from one piece of random furniture to the other because the floor was QUICKSAND!

Now I don’t know what it was about favourite foods but when I thought about my mother’s Porcupine Meatballs, my eyes got all teary and I stopped reading. They call them porcupine, I think, because rice gets poked into them and the rice can look a little like the quills on porcupines.  I hadn’t thought of those juicy round morsels of meat for ages and I got all choked up. The feeling came so quickly.

What the heck was  going on?  It’s Sunday morning and thinking about my mother’s homemade Porcupine meatballs led to tears running down my face. Oh god. That can only mean two things. Life has become extremely dull, Weight Watchers is getting to me, and I’m in more emotional danger than I imagine. Okay, that’s three.

I knew to really lean into the feeling, to let it happen. Then I thought about it, came up with two theories that made total sense, and eventually felt better.  No, I’m not going to tell you what it was about the Porcupine meatballs that induced emotion strong enough to make me cry. That’s for me to know and you to laugh about.

The point is…what is the point? The point is that books can be in your surroundings for a long time and then one day, they become the perfect book. You need to read that book. Have you ever noticed that? You can own a book forever and when it’s the right time to read it, you will read it. When it’s not, you will stop reading it. Profound eh? You spent 3 minutes reading this for THAT! Three minutes that will never ever come again. Forgive me.

Think back to your own childhood. Does a favorite food come to mind? I ‘d be curious to know what it is for you.

Oh, and this isn’t my mother’s recipe but it is a recipe for Porcupine Meatballs. I might just have to make it and see how it holds up to the memory.