Write for 5: Week Five

Both these images are from CC0 – Creative Commons Zero. Public Domain.

Hi Kids,

Thanks for dropping by. Again. How was your week? Decent enough, I hope.

I’ve been meaning to ask you what type of photos you might find it easier to write to, so if you have any suggestions about that, you know where the “Leave a rely” box is. Look down. Way down.

Your suggestions could be along the lines of: “I like faces more than scenes,” or “I can’t write about white people,” or “Sexier, dammit”  or “Is that a man purse? That better not be a man purse!” or “I hate kids. No kids!” Things like that.

If you have a friend who writes (or just has a good imagination) and you’d like to share this with them, that would be great. You don’t have to think of yourself as a “writer” to do this.


If you’ve participated before, you know the routine.  If not, here are the guidelines.

  • ·         I post a photo (or two) here at 8am on Saturday morning.
  • ·         You look at the photo(s) above this blog post.
  • ·         You take as much time as you need up to Sunday at 11pm the deadline.
  • ·         When you’re ready to write, set the timer for five minutes.
  •           When you’re done, post your results in the “Leave a Reply” box below.

Come back to the blog on Monday to see which piece of writing  I chose to give this week’s book and print to.

If you want to read something about where the imagination occurs in the brain. Try this article in Science in 2013.

I look forward to reading whatever our grey matter in all its wonder and weirdness conjures up this week.  Go!

PS: If you felt like leaving a comment on someone else’s piece, I’m sure they’d like that.

Just add personality

personalityforwebsmallIt’s pretty obvious, after going to countless number of book readings over the years, that it’s no longer good enough to be a great writer.

If you’re a great writer and you’re really boring then do yourself (and the audience) a favour and don’t read in public. Bask in the book sales that your story, your intellect, your unique take on the world, or your research has garnered.  In other words, let the audience read your magic but don’t inflict yourself, in person, on them. None of us can be all things to all people and it’s good to know one’s strengths.

Not only do writers have to write a great story these days but they also have to be able to tell the interesting stories behind that story, to be equally enticing a character as the characters they’ve brought to life on the page.  Are you worthy of a paragraph or two according to someone other than your mother?

But it’s not fair, you say. Writing the damn thing was hard enough. Now you want me to be Margaret Cho as well?

A friend who was a bookseller a decade or two ago told me her Farley Mowat encounter story the other day. She was in her twenties or thereabouts. She was standing with another young attractive female employee outside the bookstore at a large department store in downtown Vancouver where Mowat was going to be reading/signing books. When he showed up and  they went to the door to greet him, he said, “I won’t come in unless you kiss me.” He was in his late 40s or thereabouts then.  I’m not sure that’s personality as much as just your run-of-the-mill randy old guy (and he wasn’t that old then) but on the wake of his death it captures an aspect of his personality that, apparently, was well known. Afterwards, he went on to write a salacious little snippet in the book purchased by the other young woman.

Of course I want to hear a bit of the author’s writing when I attend a reading but mostly I want to hear the stories behind the story. Why this idea? What prompted that plot? Your struggles with writing it. Your process. The people you met while you were standing on that desolate beach trying to get a feel for the place. All the other wannabe writers hoping one day to be on that stage where the featured writer is presenting are just as eager to receive a PetSmart-styled literary treat as well.

I think back to a few of the personalities who also happen to be able to write who are/were masters at entertaining their audiences:

Tomson Highway at the Vancouver Writer’s Fest some time in the 1980s reading from The Fur Queen.

The late Peter Matthiessen on Salt Spring at ArtSpring in 2008 because of the stories he told about the on the ground research he did in writing The Snow Leopard.

The late Maeve Binchy in the first very funny 15 minutes of her intro to the reading of her book Tara Road back in 1998. At least, I think that was the book. See. I’m a little unclear about the book, but I didn’t forget her intro at the Vancouver International Writer’s Fest.

Patrick Lane at a reading at the Sechelt Writer’s Fest introducing his new book, There is a Season: A Memoir. I now can’t even recall why but the way he was, his persona, stood out for me.

Gail Anderson-Dargatz because she is really funny and once again, I’m not positive but it may have been the release of her book Recipe for Bees, but it could just as likely have been Rhinestone Button. I don’t remember. I do remember it was at Sechelt and she kept the audience in stitches leading up to her reading.

The late Frank McCourt at the Chan Centre at UBC, in his glory, centre stage, and yet he might as well have been having a chat at his local pub with the audience sitting in the next booth eavesdropping his interaction he was that elegant in the casualness of his storytelling. Damn Irish! They’ve got an advantage.

The biggest shock to this day, for me, was probably Margaret Atwood. Maybe circa 1985. UBC. A Saturday night on a cold fall evening. She was wearing a floor-length black cloak, hood up, and when she opened her mouth to read, I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe the voice of the woman whose words on the printed page had kept me riveted was as monotone as white paint drying. It was almost painful/irritating to listen to her. It’s still hard for me to believe that the person I saw and heard then is the same Twitter feed personality now, and with a sense of humour. I guess she’s loosened up a bit.

You get the idea. I don’t live in New York.  I haven’t been to too many readings of the cream of the crop of glorified literati. And my choices have been limited by my ability to remember.

What about you? Any really interesting authors who are also great readers/presenters stand out for you? Do tell! Or maybe you find the whole idea of authors having to be dog and pony shows offensive. Whatever.

When the writing wins

BookAuthor Brian Payton, the writing mentor for the 2012 nonfiction writing group at the SFU Writer’s Studio, of which I was one of nine members, has just released, to wide critical acclaim, his novel, The Wind is Not a River. 

It’s an entirely different experience reading a book written by someone that you know, however superficially, than it is to read the book of an author you’ve never met.

I know the tone of Brian’s voice, the rhythm with which he speaks and his dry humour. I can hear that voice in the book. I know the most minimal details about his life (because he is such a private person) and when I read things in the story that resemble the most minor of facts that I know to be true about his life, I wondered which small details in the book might represent some aspect of his life as well – if at all.

I could feel his inner strength, the peace with which he carries himself in the world and how faith, a faith that has had prominence in his life, finds a place as well,  in the story’s telling.

At SFU, every second Tuesday, we’d sit at the end of three tables pushed together in that horribly cramped room on the second floor of SFU’s downtown campus. Ten people would squeeze in to workshop the writing of four of our classmates in the three hour, biweekly sessions.  Halfway through the session,  Brian would provide snippets of insight during short talks that focused on some aspect of craft, as well as his own wrap on each of the pieces submitted that week, after we’d each taken a turn at providing our own.

I’m thinking back to late November 2012 when we were celebrating our wrap-up party at Saskia Wolsak’s fabulous old family home just up from Jericho Beach. Brian was there that night and on the high of having just discovered that a manuscript that he’d been working on for 12 years – on and off – was being bid on by New York agents.  We were in the tiny alcove that Saskia uses as a library as he told us what was transpiring, me peppering him with questions. He’d never once mentioned this manuscript in the preceding year.

So, to finally sit down yesterday, a day when January’s monsoons pelted down horizontally, and hold,”The Wind is Not A River,” in hand, has to rank right up there as one of life’s small but soul satisfying pleasures.

Sure, you might think I’m biased. I’m willing to admit, that might be a very small part of it. But, I also know that more often than not I have trouble reading fiction. More often than not, I’m not drawn in and I don’t finish a book. I rarely sit down and after the first paragraph continue inhaling the words on a page, disappointed that I can’t stay awake any longer or that other life necessities are impinging on me getting to the end of the story unfolding in my hands. I felt that way reading, The Wind is not a River.

First of all, I’m partial to islands.  Sure, I’ve heard of the Aleutian Islands but the name is pretty much the extent of my knowledge. Then there’s the history: a historical battle of huge significance, the only one fought on American soil during World War II and yet, so little wide-spread awareness about the facts.  There’s the secrecy imposed by the U.S. government about what was taking place there. Add in the tragedy of the small population of Aleuts and the ruin to their lives.   And, if that’s not enough, there’s the love story, well, actually, not to give things away,  but there’s more than one love story. The writing is so fluid that it runs off the page in the same way a wind or a river envelops everything that gets in its path.

The journey compelled me to keep reading as fast as I could. What would become of the main character, John Easley, who had already survived the impossible? Who doesn’t love a saga of physical endurance? Add in the courage and improbability of love pushing a wife to act, as only true love can, way beyond the limits of her comfort zone, especially after the regret of words that can’t be taken back.

The tenacity it took to craft this story, the research involved, the writing and re-writing, surely must be on par with that required by the book’s main character and his fictional quest.

Finally, there’s Brian’s ability to call up feminine sensibilities as required. Our almost all-female writing group surely helped with this part. I jest.

The audience for this book is so all encompassing how can it not fly off the shelves?

Buy one. I’m not lending you mine.

Learn more about Brian Payton and his other books off his website.

Watch this six minute interview with Brian on Global Toronto:   http://globalnews.ca/video/1078230/author-brian-payton