And to Begin

November 15th, 2014

The University of Iowa’s well known creative writers’ program is offering an online course for free. In keeping witwelcome math the behavioural standard of free things, even if money-worthy, not being valued as they should, I am weeks behind in listening to the lectures. The ones I have listened to have included a terrific one on first sentences. They are an opportunity to grab the reader by the throat, giving them no option but to read on, or to reach a hand out to them, offering to guide them on, well, if not a journey, at least story that takes them out of their own lives. So, no pressure, on the first line, eh? But I love first sentences even on their own. If they are well-crafted, I could read a whole book of them (not all at once). I’m rather pleased with the first sentences of my novels, particularly the third (which I am otherwise still working on): “There was a plan and I didn’t follow it.” Now if only I could get the rest of the novel to fall into place.

Sweet As

October 28th, 2014

I am very pleased to say that one of my short stories is appearing in Sweet As, a collection of stories by New Zealand writers.sweet as I’m not sure either how I managed to slip in as a Kiwi but I’m glad I did. The editors indicate that “These short stories speak to us of the diverse world we live in. They take us on a journey, or offer a glimpse into another’s life. Some show the struggles, tough questions and challenging situations people face. Some stories are sweet or humorous, while others are quirky or just plain entertaining. They provide us with a snapshot of life in New Zealand and how New Zealanders experience life overseas.” Book launch is November 4th, where you can get your hardcopy for a mere $20 (details in pic – it’d be great to see you there) or email the editors at SweetAsShortStories@gmail.com for a stockist near you. Electronic copies available that same day at http://www.amazon.com/Sweet-As-Contemporary-Short-Stories-ebook/dp/B00NTLG8HQ/.

Short Again

October 13th, 2014

I’ve blogged before that I generally (with the exception of Alice Munro) prefer novels to short stories. The market bears me

Google "too short" and this guy's image comes up.

Google “too short” and this guy’s image comes up.

out on this. With the exception of Alice Munro (and probably only in Canada), short stories are nowhere to be found on the best sellers lists. This should surely put short story writers at a disadvantage. And certainly it does in terms of income potential, but it most definitely doesn’t when it comes to publishing and contest opportunities. The market (such as it is) abounds with these. For the obvious reason, I imagine. No one would agree to judge – and so have to read – all those unpublished and (more importantly) lengthy submissions. But the lesson here is, if you want to get an agent or publisher to take note of your novel, brush up on your short story writing skills. Although I for one am sympathetic here to Joan Barfoot’s comment on why she doesn’t blog – with only about one good idea every few years, she doesn’t want to waste it on a posting. Ditto for me on a short story.

I’ve Been Told

October 3rd, 2014

The old writing adage is “show, don’t tell” but occasionally I like to be told. Eleanor Catton’s The Rehearsal is rife with thinkingtelling and the book is richer for it. It’s splendidly observant but the characters are unreal, distant for the frankness, tactlessness with which they speak. I have no sympathy for them and so wouldn’t have any patience for a young protagonist slowly realizing that an older woman’s beauty may be accentuated rather than marred by a laugh line. In fact, I would be sure to find it trite and rather annoying. But tell me that “He had supposed (though never truly consciously) that a woman was only attractive insofar as she resembled a girl; that her attractiveness fell away, by degrees, through her twenties and thirties until it was buried by middle age; that the qualities that women sought were always the qualities they once had..” and you have me. All of us can observe, however inaccurately, but sometimes I want to do away with ambiguity, with interpretation, and just be told what you think.

Hand Made Take Two

August 23rd, 2014
Art in progress

Art in progress

I have blogged about writing by hand versus wordprocessing before but I am compelled to return to the topic since it came up in my writing group the other day. We were evenly split between those who pretty much never did one if they did the other. The hand writers were, as I’ve noted before, those who felt more at one with their pen, if not their muse, than their keyboards and so to them paper was essential to the flow. The wrench in the works, as they all admitted, was typing it up afterwards. It didn’t always happen and if they left it too long, it could take on the shape of a daunting task. In that regard, wordprocessing had the edge. But for me there are least two other considerations. One, I always kick-start the writing day by editing what I have previously written. It is not nearly as intimidating as staring at a blank piece of paper, and it (normally) gets me back in the flow. The second reason is not nearly as rational. Or not rational at all. But seeing stuff in black print on white paper makes me feel as if I’ve done something in a way that handwritten prose does not. So, ahh, 224 words written in this blog. Job well done.

You Enjoy Doing That?

July 30th, 2014
Photo of my honey taken by someone who thanked me for the opportunity of doing so.

Photo of my honey taken by someone who thanked me for the opportunity of doing so.

This is going to sound incredibly naïve but it took me until forty-something (no need to be too precise) to realize that some people like taking photographs. I had always known that many (if not most) people like having photographs (and I very much count myself in this group), and, it was on that basis that I surmised that the folk who took more photos were simply those who liked having photos that much more. And, sure, I was aware that some people actually took photography lessons and the like, but, again, I imagined this was because they wanted the photos they took to be good ones as then they would like the photos that much more. At no time did I think that the actual act of taking a photo was enjoyable to these people. This is of course what happens when one extrapolates from oneself. I find the act of taking a photo of a memorable experience interferes with the experience, but later not having a photo of said experience interferes with me remembering the experience. A bit of a catch-22, the solution to which, I thought somewhat guiltily, required me to hang out with people who, on balance, favoured photo over experience. But now that I know some actually like the act of taking a picture, I will sit back and let others take the shots guilt free.

Oh Canada

July 19th, 2014
So glad saner minds prevailed.

So glad saner minds prevailed.

I’m going to stray slightly from my usual reading, writing, play-going theme to the topic of visual imagery (I say slightly because it is a way of communicating after all). I’m prompted to do this by the Canadian flag. I recently saw it plastered all over a Second Cup (a Canadian coffee franchise) in Dubai, feature on the door of a bathware shop in Istanbul (Canadian owned), and on the door of a pension in Tuscany (ownership unknown). It may be that I, as a Canadian, am particularly attuned to my flag. Traveling Swiss perhaps notice their flag just as often. But I am, for the purposes of blogging, going to assume that away. Rather, perhaps all this flag-waving is because Canadians, likely being no more patriotic that most, have a way cooler flag than most: a simple, elegant, recognizable design, free of the burden of historical references. This then generates a self-enforcing circularity: because we have such a great flag, we want to display it, which then makes us feel that much better about our home and native land, which makes us want to display our flag. Those politicians back in 1965 were onto something.

Those French

July 5th, 2014

 

No joke, Gerard came up in a search for "typical Frenchman".

No joke, Gerard came up in a search for “typical Frenchman”.

On the endless flight from Dubai to Sydney, I watched not one but two French movies – in a row no less. Arguably not good for a person’s sleep-deprived mood since the French are invariably morose. The first, Un Beau Dimanche, was kind of crap. The second, Avant l’Hiver, I rather liked even though it shared with the first that particular brand of French melancholy (don’t let the word “beau” in the title fool you). I was going to say, grey-skied melancholy but upon reflection I remembered that the first movie was actually set in the sunny south. But even in those conditions, the film-maker managed to make the light overly harsh so that the players were either over-exposed or obscured in shadow. Note the imagery is not lost on me but the question is why: why are all these good-looking (well, the women anyway, the men all look like variations on Gérard Depardieu), often rich, café-going people so glum (but not unhappy, the quality of sadness is too sentimental for that)? That’s a mystery the movies never resolve. It appears to be a French thing.

Back in the Day

June 9th, 2014

sinkin3I am sitting with my eleven year old niece who is analysing a poem for school. Later she will be deciding which three poems out of her catalogue of compositions she’ll take through a through an editing process and then “publish”.  Perhaps my memory is faulty, but I don’t remember analysing, composing, let alone editing a poem when I was eleven.  I don’t think we even read a poem until I was in grade nine.  As for writing one, it really was just one.  In grade ten English.  I have no recollection of my lone attempt but I do recall telling Ursula, who sat behind me, that angel was spelt “angle”, which had quite an impact on her poem since it was about winged entities and not triangles.  I also recall every word of the poem written by Wayne, the boy who say in front of me. Although, really, in that case it was a question of form over substance:

The

***sinking

**********ship

*************sank.

Wayne would have done well with flash fiction.

 

 

Give Me a Hero

May 13th, 2014
I'm weak.

I’m weak.

No, I'm weak.

No, I’m weak.

I have a theory and only the barest of anecdotal evidence in support of it, but I’m not letting that stop me. My hypothesis is that women are more tolerant of – let’s say – confused male protagonists, and men are more tolerant of their female versions. My evidence? My honey had to stop reading both Stoner and The Finkler Question because he found the (male) protagonist indecisive, spineless and weak-willed. I struggled to finish both Mansfield Park and Rebecca because of the submissive, spineless, insipid heroine. Mind you I don’t know any man who has read either Mansfield Park or Rebecca so perhaps they know better to stay away from gutless female protagonists to begin with (although, I suspect some men stay away from female protagonists altogether). The reasons for the aversions are likely obvious, but why would a woman be more tolerant of a gutless male protagonist? Perhaps it’s out of relief to find after all those pathetic heroines that the men can be like that too.