Wednesday, December 22, 2010


I haven't had time to write this week and I'm beginning to feel the inner angst that makes my fingers itch and my brain long to be composing and playing with words, sounds. My schedule has been flipped with the absence of school and my only time to write is in the evenings... evenings which have been taken up with other Christmas preparations, meetings and events. When I have a few minutes I'm loathe to begin; by the time I set up and really get into the zone it will be time to come back to the world of the present and resume my tasks. But sometimes it's simply that I'm so tired I'm ready to curl up into the warm cosy covers of my bed and dream.

My dreams in times like these can be a pleasant mix of thought and fantasy. Bits of scenes and people swirling around my conscious mind and gathering into partial sentences and phrases only to dissipate into the next image. I have always fallen asleep to images playing in my head; silent pictures, snapshots, forests, doorways, roads, stormy skies, beautiful sunlit meadows, houses.

This morning, as I sit here one of my dreams drifts pleasantly back to my mind and I relish the soft warm images with contentment. My perceptions seem heightened this morning, or perhaps it's the wreath of sleep still wrapping foggily around my brain. I notice the silence in the dark snow covered street. I love how silent it is in the winter. Sitting up at my computer, the snow outside seems to eat the sound of everything but the muffled tires whose crunch I can barely hear as the the neighbour backs out onto the road. I used to be able to hear the bus long before it came into sight and now I barely hear it as it comes around the corner into view. Winters silent forest is a time of rest for everything and here I am scrambling away with revisions and editing and the creation of new things – a bit of an oxymoron perhaps. But, maybe it's simply that we are meant to rest more in the winter, relax and take a breather from the summer's busy activity. Traditionally one would spend the summer working, planting and gathering in preparation for the winter and I have to wonder with all the modern conveniences if this balance hasn't also been upset.

I look out at my birdhouses in their snowy hats and think of all the people bustling around as they buy Christmas gifts and finish their holiday preparations. My Christmas is plain this year, as always. A few gifts for family and friends. Some baking and a well stocked pantry in preparation for the open house, a new wreath on the door (my one splurge), a tree in my studio, an advent calendar on the mantle and the peaceful white blanketing the streets. Definitely a nice close to the end of a year.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Finding a Natural Rhythm

Big Sky - October 2010
"Don't quit your day job." This is the advice many authors, and publishers alike, give to writers. And it is a well known fact that writing alone doesn't always pay the bills.

But, here's the dilemma. If one doesn't quit ones day job, how does one have the time or energy to get a collection of work together? If I was a visual artist it would be difficult to become known without having a collection of work, a show, or something more than a few pieces of work to display. This is also applicable to writers. And to get published one must send stuff out; to send stuff out one must have stuff to send out and at the rate I was going it would take another 3 years to get 10 stories together never mind anything else.
For Sale 

Of course, writing residencies would be perfect and afford me the time necessary to dedicate to my writing and do this – but many require you to have specific publishing credits in order to qualify and these are the very things I need to build. So, how does one keep the day job and amass work without taking a decade to do it and still write what one wants?

At the end of last summer I was forced to make some decisions about work in order to avoid a second burn out and take care of my health. I chose to cut my work load in half and work a 6 – 7 hour work day instead of 12 (at least when school's in). This has enabled me to spend more time on my writing and I have now come up with a system which works for me.

I divided my days into open hours, business paperwork, writing and market research. I'm open 5 hours a day, I spend an hour or two a week on business paperwork, 5 – 10 hours a week (ideally) on writing and 1 – 2 hours doing market research and the rest gets eaten up with errands, volunteer time and my children.

If I find a place I can send something which I already have finished, I do it that day. If I need to do some minor adjustments to a piece in order to send it out, I do it that week. In this way I have recycled, reworked, or finished many of the projects I was close to having done and polished. To date I have sent out 8 things, 3 of which are new pieces.

I have also learnt that regular writing exercises and word play are hugely beneficial in this process. If I find a magazine looking for a postcard story, I rise to the challenge. These shorts take a week or two to finish and allow me to explore different ways of conveying information; they also force me to focus on specifics such as action as opposed to narration, creating the suspense necessary to grab the readers attention and hold it, and including only the details which are pertinent to the story. This makes them pretty tight and helps my writing improve.

And in alternating between finishing projects, plugging away at longer term projects like my 2 novels, starting new short stories and sending stuff out I finally feel I've found my natural rhythm. And that is personally satisfying and relaxing in many ways.

On the dike in Dawson - facing West. July 2010

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Wild Things

What's the most wild thing you can possibly think of, I'm talking weird and bizarre. Trust me, this is a good exercise. I stumbled upon this quite by accident. Writing professors are forever saying 'put you characters up a tree and then throw rocks at them,' and I think that phrase has been used so much it's become clichéd. This is kind of like the same thing from a different angle.

Take something mundane like a year of the tiger stamp which is currently at Canada Post. It's beautiful in oranges and blacks with a gold foil tiger on it. Beautiful. What if it was enchanted? Or what if the tiger cam to life? How would it come to life? Would there be some kind of ritual or spell? Why would it come to life?

Now you have the makings of a story. One must have characters to make it happen. How are they going to react if it comes to life? Will it be a good thing or a bad thing? How will they defeat it? Maybe the stamp represents some oppressor and the main characters are fighting for their rights. Now you have the beginnings of a possibly political commentary.

Now comes to the fun part, building suspense and putting it all together so that it makes sense. Your plot, characters, and story have just evolved out of a stamp. Cool isn't it? Isn't this something like what nursery rhymes originated as... political commentary children learnt as fun senseless rhymes? That is if my memory serves me correctly.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Story boarding for Revision

I sat with the story before me. The main character, Sam, clearly in my mind. I needed to revise it, to add in a piece, but was uncertain how to do it. Pregnant, she was pregnant. What did that have to do with the story? I remembered when I first began to write the beginning of this story (in 2009) I discovered Sam was pregnant, but then changed it. After all, how could a pregnant person climb on a climbing wall. I hadn't thought far enough, she could be in her first trimester. So, I decided to it back in. But, I needed to understand what that had to do with the story?

The conference. Sam's at a conference when she meets another woman. That's the catalyst that starts this story off, but what is the conference for? How does it fit into the story? I need to know this too and how it connects with what happens in the story. The main character climbs the wall, she learns something about herself, about trust. I need the pieces to fit together. I know the plot, but I feel the need to visualize it. I need to write it out, write out notes. But not write a plot line. I need to see the three strings which make up the story and then weave them together.

I don't do well with outlines, especially when I'm discovering the story. This story I know. I decide now is the time to write out some of the mechanics. I pick up my pen and begin. Why is she there, what training is she getting? Rip. I stick the paper to the front window. She's pregnant. She's single. How does she feel about this? Fear - fear of being alone, undecided about continuing the relationship with the father. Rip. I stick it up beside the first paper. What does she see in Shay? I make notes and stick it up beside the first two. Next I start on the second row. Conference - FASD. Pregant - Doesn't trust herself. Shay - desperate to connect. Then comes the next row. Conference location - Banff. Pregnant - I list the feelings and barriers this has raised for her. Shay - her safety line (ooh, poor choice) Shay doesn't want to be her safety line. Then comes the last row. Walls. This story is about overcoming walls in more than one way. I list what walls each of the sections is posing.

As stand back and gaze at my stickied window, reading the threads. Things a looking much clearer and I now have some more ideas about how I'm going to proceed with this and put in the missing pieces to the story.

I'm not sure why I haven't used a story board to visually organize my ideas before. This isn't exactly a story board as it doesn't outline the story in sequence, but it is the closest thing I can think of to describe what I have done. Storyboards are generally used to lay out a films or movies in animated segments in order to tell a story. This has been used in film, theatre, comics, screen plays and many other types of digital or multi-media storytelling. I have heard of a few people tacking up cue cards to organize scenes and chapters in novels and I believe I even read an article on it in either the Writer Magazine or The Writer's Journal, but this is the first time I've ever actually attempted to use anything like it myself. It worked wonderfully.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Journey's in Writing

A good story always takes me on a journey. I become immersed in the character and, if it's a good story, I arrive at the end satisfied. In my fantasy novel, Rightful Heirs, (which is in pieces) each of the main characters goes on a physical journey and the plot largely revolves around this necessity to travel to a specific place and all the things which befall them along the way. In large part they are being chased. However, the part I need to figure out is the character arc. I need to figure out how the journey changes them and why. I haven't figured that out yet and this is precisely why this story currently sits in pieces.

In the book, The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, by Christopher Vogler, the author talks about the arch character types and the journey they go on. I have written about the way he works with plot in an earlier post, Journey's. In this way of plotting there are two important thresholds or climaxes. The first occurs when the main character leaves the "real world" or starting point of the story and becomes committed to the journey. Once the character has entered this domain he/she is tested and changed, finally to return back to the "real world" through the last threshold a having learnt something and become a different person. Of course there are mini thresholds in between. Definitely worth a read.

I, like all my artistic endeavours, have difficulty with the simple. I was the art student who, when we had to make picture using stencils, air brushes and at least 2 colours (so 2 stencils for a picture), decided to do a cat with a food bowl, a bow tie, different colour eyes and... I think I had like 5 stencils. When we did block printing instead of making a simple blocked image I did a squirrel, cutting out the feathered edges and leaving very little of the actual block. Why would my writing be any different? Perhaps this is why I love Christopher Voglers plot model so much. I have been able to adapt it and stretch it and squish many different threads and plots into this model to greater and lesser success.

Of course, there is more to a journey than plot. The character must change or shift in who they are from the beginning to the end of the piece. It is this emotional journey that the reader craves. I want to hold my breath in danger, gasp in surprise and cry at heartbreak. A recent article in The Writer's Guide to Fiction, published by the Writer magazine and titled The Driving Force Behind Plot, by Robert Olen Butler, refers to this as yearning. In the article he talks about how what the character want drives the plot and mentions that this is what can make the difference between a story being just words or pulsing with life. He's totally right. In the article he gives examples of how to convey this yearning through writing.

And so it is these pieces which I need to figure out for each story I write. Sometimes this means writing a whole lot of empty words first, kind of like walking through a forest until I stumble upon the right path. In Times Heart, the YA novel I'm working on amongst other projects, I wrote a scene where Fabula (the main character) goes out in a fog to feed the chickens. The story droned on and on with out much life until I realized that he didn't want to be there. He wanted to find Old Rumier, his mentor, because he was worried about him. So, despite the danger of getting lost in the fog and all the difficulties he might face, he took off to do that and when he did the story came alive.

Tonight, as I sit and ponder which piece to work on and consider their many journeys, I realize some have similar threads. I wonder why we as writers are compelled these journeys which our characters are forced to embark on? And what compels us to write different stories on the same theme? It's almost like we are completing the same journey in many different lives (a sub theme which runs strongly in Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series)? Are they a refection of the journeys we are each embarked upon or a way of expanding our understanding? Is it because we have an inherent need to explore the unknown or the need to pass on our experiences and lessons? Is it to document what people are living and experiencing today or is it larger, a need to evoke a change in thought - to enable others to see the world in a different light? What is it that drives us to write what it is we write?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Hint Fiction

While searching the web for market to send any of my three postcard stories (aka Flash Fiction), pieces of 250, 500 or 1000 words long, depending on the publication, I came across SmokeLong Quarterly. 

This online magazine deals strictly in flash fiction. They have a different editor each week and publish one story a week. But beware, they do screen submissions and repeatedly submitting the same story each week is not allowed.

While I was there I discovered a new genre of story writing, it's called Hint Fiction. Hint Fiction is a story told in 30 words. I found this idea intriguing and was totally stumped at how I would accomplish this task until I woke up at 2 a.m. with the story, which I've since submitted.

For anyone else interested in trying this they are running their Hint Fiction contest during the month of November. You can check it out here.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A bit ridiculous - In my opinion

I was 7 years old the first time I encountered the terms Male and Female. I'd been sent to the office with some kind of form to be filled out. The secretary, Ms. Tibido, dutifully placed the form in her typewriter, (yes, I said typewriter) and began dictating the form as she typed.

Name: she said my name. Age: 7 Sex: Female.
Sex, I thought, cringing, what was she saying? That was like the forbidden word and all kinds of wrong in my seven your old world. What did you say? I said, moving closer so I could see the form. Yes, it said sex.
Sex: Female, she said. 
What do you mean, female? I said. I wasn't sure I wanted to be this term - female. 
Well, you are a girl aren't you? I could put down male if you want, she said.
Well, yes, I said, confused.
Yes, what?
I'm a girl, I said, I gripping my dress. At least, I was. What's female mean?  
It's just a fancy term for girl, she said. Female for girl and male for boy.  
Weird. I said. 
What would you like me to put?
Female I guess. I said. 

I have since become resigned to the fact that almost every form any government agency has requires the additional information of knowing what genitalia a person possesses. Don't get me wrong, I am a woman and I'm happy to be a woman and have no desire whatsoever to be a man, but is this what makes me who I am? Of course not, I'm much more than the organs I was born with. Nevertheless I was shocked to discover that my Yukon Drivers license neglects to specify this particular piece of information! Normally this wouldn't be such a bad thing. I dislike being place in boxes at the best of times and it's not like someone looking at me doesn't have some assumptions about my gender anyway. 

However, it turns out this lack of information could have devastating implications for traveling as I discovered quite by accident through a local news release which was forwarded to me. A woman was stopped from boarding a plane in Vancouver because her photo ID, her Yukon Driver's license, neglected to state her sex and according to airline policy her photo ID must have this piece of information. 

Yikes, I thought. Here I've just traveled from the Yukon all the way to Newfoundland (where I attended Piper's Frith - a writing retreat and mentorship program) and back and could have been stopped from boarding any of the planes. Phew, was I lucky the man with the silicone face mask and fake ID (another recent news story) hadn't been discovered earlier and forced the airlines to check their ID's and follow policies more closely. And yet I still have to wonder what it was that prompted a government so fascinated with knowing ones gender to omit this ridiculous piece of information from my ID?

I have been assured though that the "new" Yukon Drivers license, with all the bells and whistles as far as security features, does indeed have ones sexual gender on it. However, this means I have yet another task before I hop the plane to Vancouver next week - to update the drivers license I renewed last month. A feat, ironically, which requires more ID and documents to obtain than a passport (birth certificate, utility bill, health care card, old drivers license, picture ID, etc for a start... hope I don't have to dance too). It's a good thing we are not still awaiting this technology or we would all be SOL when it comes to traveling. 

Friday, November 5, 2010

Narration and Third Person POV

I've always wanted a brother. I suppose my view of what a brother would be like is probably skewed because it's something I never got to experience growing up in a family of three girls. However, I have been blessed with three boys and thus have a very good idea of how they interact with each other.

This is very useful in my current project, Times Heart, which I've begun. Times Heart is a YA novel about the birth of a storyteller. It's coming of age story involving the passing on of an age old art and the responsibility that goes with it. The main characters include Fabula and his two brothers, Sitku and Anik.

This week has been a lot of fun as I have revised the first couple scenes, playing with the point of view and narration. The story is told in third person, but some of it is from Fabula's point of view. The sections in Fabula's POV were very active and pulled the reader closer as opposed to the parts, such as backstory or additional information the reader must know, which are more narrated. In order to make this seamless I've played with active language in the backstory summary. These techniques, if you would, give the story a very different feel, but seem to work.

The closest example I can think of to what I'm trying to accomplish and how the story feels are the movies The Princess Bride or The Polar Bear King. In both these movies there are times when there is an outside narrator, which we accept and it doesn't pull us out of the movie. This story is the similar in design, but of course is told through the narrative window as opposed to a motion picture on a screen.

Of course, this all means that instead of writing some 1600-17000 words a day (the Nanowrimo requirement which enables one to reach 50,000 words by Nov. 30th) I'm averaging 250 - 800 words a day, but what I do have is good. I believe if I can set up a solid foundation in structure and characters the rest of the story will progress much more easily as I get further into the novel.

About the photo's: Top Right - taken at the headwaters of the Takhini River (the lower end of Kusawa Lake). Bottom Left - my eldest son's and their father returning from an afternoon of fishing. 

Sunday, October 31, 2010

National Novel Writing Month

As I write, National Novel Writing Month or Nanowrimo has already begun in some parts of the world. During this month (November) writers of all types, ages and sizes, professional, amateur and beginner, will sit down at their computers and try to pound out 50,000 words - aka 1 complete draft of a novel. They will not edit, back track, add in things or strive to produce the perfect piece of writing. Instead, they will strive steadily onward towards their goal leaving spelling mistakes for later and making notes in the margins. They will do this despite work, family and other obligations and will have various strategies to get through the month; some will lock themselves in a room while others plan write-ins with other nanoers, go to coffee shops, sit in hotel rooms or keep notebooks beside them 24/7 to jot down those all important ideas to type up later. And each week, in an attempt to keep the energy flowing, pep talks from various well known authors will arrive by email in an attempt to spur everyone on. These are always a joy to read. 

I did nanowrimo in 2008 and met my goal of 50,000 words. That novel, The Trade Off, still sits in my drawer as I wrestle to find the time to revise and edit it. As a completed draft the plot and characters are there, but it's sails are full of drafty holes in need of mending. The novel as a whole needs to be fleshed out, trimmed and polished before it can vibrantly come to life as something I can set on a course to be (hopefully) published. However, The Trade Off would not be the same book if I'd pounded it out in a year or two instead of in a month and that would be sad because then I might not have met Dee. 

Dee is my favourite character in that novel and she was a surprise. She's a petite, strawberry blonde with a degree in economics and absolutely no common sense (and I mean none). She comes into the novel on a canoe trip with one of the main characters, Mira. During the trip we find out she's pregnant and asks for Mira's help in providing a place to stay while she sorts out her life. This puts Mira in the predicament; she must decide whether to be truthful or supportive about this. That aside, Dee didn't come to life for me until halfway through the book when Miguel, another main character, meets her at the coffee shop where he works. Miguel's having a rough day, no one else has shown up to work and he's frustratedly trying to be pleasant about it. While he's wiping up tables after the 10 o'clock coffee rush Dee strikes up a conversation with him and offers to help out. At this point Dee literally takes over (and becomes her own character) and Miguel dubs her 'teashine' on account of her hair and the fact that no matter how busy the shop is she can somehow manage to take care of customers, bus tables, organize things AND polish off a pot of tea (when no one is looking). However, despite the need to revise this story I find myself once again entering the Nano site. 

This November I'm will work on my Young Adult novel. I think it's the many Words of the Day which are half buried in it's nondescript pile that made me decide now was the time to begin it. Words like Labyrinthine (which refers to it's structure and possibly a piece of the plot), masks and fly (both figuratively and in the form of concrete nouns) and now Osier Alley. I chose to use Osier Alley in the novel as a piece of the setting this morning as a result of what Healthbird has told me about the Basket Willows, how they come to be and what they are used for. 

This novel was, in it's birth, going to be a short story for my children. After the first 750 or so words I stopped, unsure where I was going with it or rather where it was going as it had abruptly turned into a very dark piece. And even though I've now learned more about the story and have an idea of what I'm doing with it and where it's going, much of the book still remains a shroud of rags in my head as I await its complete form. 

But, this time, as I take up my keys to begin nanowrimo I'm not going to follow the 'no edit' rule. I want my work this month to be a solid, vibrantly coloured, draft firm enough to continue to build upon in the coming months. I have no expectation of 'finishing' the novel during this month, but instead have challenged myself to see how much I can get done. I will keep updating my word count as I go and watch the colour spread across the progress bar as it creeps towards the end and it will be a bonus if I reach the tipping point where my writing picks up so much momentum I can't type fast enough to keep up. In 'The Trade Off', this happened when I hit 40,000 words; it will be interesting to see at what point this phenomenon happens again. 

Photos: Top - taken in Baked Café. Left - Main Street, Whitehorse, YT. Bottom - Old dock pilings left from where the steamboats used to dock to collect passengers and wood at the turn of the century. Whitehorse, YT.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Word Ponderings

I find I am still pondering several of the Word of the Day suggestions and they have become more than just food for thought as I consider possibilities for writing and how I relate to them. Words, like people, can have many facets and with "masks" and "labyrinthine" especially it's hard to decide on which facet I want to focus. Of course, I should probably just sit down and write instead of falling into the trap of over thinking things, but sometimes I find the mountains of possibilities which my pondering produces eventually grow into the many layers that fill my pieces and make the story unique. The only drawback being that it is takes more time to process them them into a piece that conveys the huge picture of everything I want to portray; it is this considering which I have been doing lately.

First there was the word "masks." People can wear masks both in the concrete and figurative sense; we don't always show everything about ourselves to everyone. The characters in my stories wear masks and the story along with the more subtle subtext work together to provide the overall picture. In this case one might say the concrete masks the more abstract subtext which necessary for a more accurate understanding of what's happening and why.

Then there is "labyrinthine." This word speaks to something which is labyrinth or maze like. It is key to the YA novel which I have been working on for years now. This complex piece of work is much like a labyrinth under construction. There are many pieces and subplots (including full length shorts) woven into one overall story which makes it a little like a puzzle. However, I suspect there is an actual labyrinth (and a mask) in there somewhere too - I just won't fully see or understand it and it's significance to the story until I get there in my writing.

And so I consider and weigh each of the aspects of these two words and ideas continue to grow, which is the exciting part of writing. Learning about the characters and their stories, I purposely work with the words, story and materials until the heart of the story becomes clear and the synergy this produces as it all comes together explodes into light and I'm awe inspired with the result.

Note: both of the above photos were taken at Banff Centre for the Arts, Fall 2009.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Art-Writing Connection: Part 1

I spent this summer immersed in teaching children the process of creating art. I taught them how to observe the things around them and work with different materials and imagination through a series of steps to produce their own unique visual art. The projects has now specific "end" product as the activities were open ended allowing the children to create pieces which were truly theirs, but the process was what took them from beginning to end.

I began drawing around the same time I began writing, around the age of 7, and soon began experimenting with creating things in 3D as well as dabbling in paint. But drawing was always at the centre. In the past few years as I've begun getting back into creative visual pieces (very slowly)I have noticed that the different use of my creativity spills over into my writing and kind of spurs it forward a little. However, it wasn't until I took a workshop with Maria Lousia through the LLAMA Project that I began from her description of process to wonder if artists, like writer's get epiphanies about their work and what that looked like. Click here for the post I wrote about my experience.

This summer, even though I myself created little work as I taught and worked with the children attending my program, Adventures in Art. I began to get a glimpse of this epiphany because I gave leash to myself to explore without bounds what I could do and I'd have to say the most exciting epiphany I got was from a shirt I created for someone else that took on a second and third layer of meaning which related to culture and stories.

This shirt was to be a gift for a baby one of my partner's co-workers had given birth to. He told me he wanted it to be dyed black and orange and to have some kind of print on it - the suggestion was hockey sticks. My response to that was that I would dye the shirt and if I was printing it I wanted a design I was going to use again. So I got out all my dyes, tied it and died it - imagining in my head how the colours may turn out. Then I got out the block cutters and the vinyl printing blocks and draw a design of a young Raven, or it was supposed to be. Then it hit me. Black, orange, Raven, Sun. The shirt, if it turned out would be "How Raven Stole the Sun," which is a very well known aboriginal story told in the Yukon. I was on air. The shirt, like all first attempts needs some work, but the process was a journey I'll never forget.

About the pictures: Top - I began this one almost 3 years ago and am slowly working on it. It hasn't really spoken to me about what it's about yet - I have a few ideas that's all. My mother asked if it was a self portrait and it might be.... Bottom - the experimental shirt. I'm still trying to find a way to make the printing ink adhere better so it's darker and there are many other flaws I'm not happy with, but that's what happens... it's all part of the process :) 

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Sound of an Eclair

While pondering the word Eclair last week, I began reading Ursula LeGuin's book, 'Steering the craft,' which had just arrived. I've wanted to read it ever since Heathbird mentioned it in her post. And it has totally met my expectations. It's written in her unique style and breaks down writing further than any of the creative writing classes I've taken. I think this is because she writes it as a writer.

The book provides explanations and exercises which focus on developing specific aspects with the intent of practicing only that particular skill rather than "creating" something like most other writing exercises I've come across. Like making painter focusing on making as many shades of one specific colour as he can and playing with them to see what effects he can make on the canvas. This is an exercise which helps one to learn how colours feel together and what goes well and how shadows develop depth and change perception without actually creating a "piece of artwork." This skill however, will later be used to strengthen and deepen any piece later developed.

I was surprised to see the focus of the first exercise was on sound, something I already wrote a post about last spring and try and work on in my writing anyway. As I worked through it I suddenly had a flash of insight as to why poetry, even for those of us who aren't as good at it, helps improve my prose. The sounds in poetry go together making the poem easy and enjoyable to listen to, as is good prose. So it logically follows that listening to poetry helps attune ones ear to the way the sounds work together which then spills over into ones prose.

The following is my attempt at the first exercise in LeGuin's book. And although it's not the best thing I've written. I found it interesting to see how my writing changed from the beginning to the end and the crazy direction my thoughts took.


Deep fried dough filled with whipping cream dripping from the side in a solid white froth. Topped in chocolate icing and edged in fluffy white with cherries on top.
Oh to sink my teeth into the cool sweet gooey treat and see the foam slipping back onto the plate in ooey gooey gobs of whipped fancy.
Who can resist a white trimmed mustache made of a whipped creamy fill and chocolate on a deep fried bun. Not I. It's cool squishy sweet coats my tongue and slips wildly down my throat to the nether regions below on a southern expedition where the penguins roll and the snows blow across the great white icy expanse people refer to as the south pole.

Not quite an eclair, but just as pretty. 

Monday, September 20, 2010

Ode for a pair of glasses

Tomorrow a new word hopefully arrives and I have yet to write a post for the old one because apparently getting older means changing eyesight... so, after cutting down on my writing and reading, which was almost as painful as the headaches, I have finally gotten in to see the optometrist. As a result my post will appear in a day or two and my glasses shall hopefully show up in a couple of weeks, in time I hope for my trip to Newfoundland.

Thus I sit and sip my latte, my eyes resting on the mountainous scenery outside, and I work out the last touches of the post in my head. Later, I'll type it according to my recently reduced schedule and imagine all the wonderful things I'll be able to do once my headaches cease and try to envision how much clearer things will appear.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Encounters in Story

Labour Day weekend I sat down and finally put Changing Tides together, crossing an emotional threshold I didn't know about in the process. Saturday I tripped down to the local coffee shop, opened my laptop and painstakingly began again and again. I stared off into space, watched people come and go, tapped the counter with my fingers, stretched and finished one page of a new beginning that lacked any form of pulse; it stared at me in solid 2 dimensional starkness. Sunday I pondered, paced and thought about what was missing and why I couldn't seem to sink into the story.

I felt blind. I knew the story. I knew the outcome. It wasn't like I was writing something from nothing and yet, I couldn't find my way through the doorway into the story. In fact, I couldn't even find the door and looking through windows at the bits and pieces I needed to incorporate was not helping. I needed the key and I soon became convinced if I could just get the "hook," the right opening sentence, it would draw me into the piece. But what could I possibly say that would do everything I needed to do, I thought while the vastness of the story clogged my mind with events, setting and emotion all vying for a chance to be heard. I got it Sunday night; my first sentence, "picking up the path of my father's life, figuring out why he left and what that had to do with me was like picking up pieces of glass on the shore; each one had it's own story." I was in.

Monday morning I trotted back to the café, settled myself down and typed for 8 hours, went home, printed the draft and couldn't look at it. I felt as raw as a piece of flesh churned through a meat grinder. What had I been thinking? I'd taken a fictitious story set in a place I'd never really been with imagined characters and infused the narrator with emotions that belonged solely in the depth of my soul. The same emotions I'd suffered with and worked through in the darkest part of my life - what was I thinking? How could this possibly turn out any good? I couldn't bear to read it. What if, instead of writing a piece that was pure genius (as I had a good idea in my head of what I wanted and how it could be accomplished) it was instead a pile of pitiful trash?

My intent had been to look it over and make changes the next day... two days later it still sat, face down on the ironing board in the kitchen while I contemplated the Word of the Day, Threshold. I began thinking about all the thresholds I'd past through in the past few months. Every little discovery I'd made and every goal I'd achieved; the ability to integrate setting into plot and emotion, practice setting up and delivering scenes and the ability evoking an emotional response in the reader. I realized I constantly look ahead and challenge myself with new ideas opening doorways of possibility that expand my thinking and the directions my writing can move. And although I always know where I want to go with my writing and what I want to achieve sometimes the way requires experimenting with a roughly drawn blue print based on past experiences and glimpses around corners. It's to be expected then that things may not to turn out precisely as planned on the first run.

Today I was able to pick up the story again and read it with perspective. I can see the weak spots and the flaws and I acknowledge there are some major and minor changes I need to make in order to achieve the finished product I'd envisioned. However, I'm very happy it's no where near garbage. Instead the frame work of my intent is present. A softly outlined ghost, waiting to be shifted slightly, pulled closer to the surface and carefully fleshed out a into what it was born to be.

And so the use of "threshold" in my writing this past week was not something in a story, nor did it wind up as a writing exercise. Instead, it was a reflection on my experience, the relationship I have with my writing and the realization that despite this new threshold I've just crossed there will always be more doorways to traverse and things to learn as I push my writing ability forward, stretching the limits of my word use, composition and broadening the expanse of my end desires.

Photos taken of Dredge No.4 in Dawson City, Yukon. Summer 2008. 

Monday, September 6, 2010

A whimsical Setting

I have always loved the word whimsical although the images it brings up are nothing like the dictionary definition which describes whimsical as a "playfully quaint or fanciful, esp. in an appealing or amusing way; acting or behaving in a capricious manner." However, I think of whimsical I think about soft images and a place where ones thoughts could run in any direction. This is why the setting in Changing Tides has always seemed whimsical to me despite being the backdrop for some pretty major issues Mira, the main character, is dealing with.

The following is my original opening, which I have since altered and added to:

My gaze strayed out across the horizon and the great pulsing force my grandmother referred to as the sea. The waves rolled up the beach as I walked leaving the sand smooth and wet. It clung to my toes in great knobby-growths, thick and sticky, until the next wave washed over my ankles and carried the whole mass out to sea in it's wake. The cool breeze blowing in made my hair stream out behind me in a flickering golden-wave; it sharp fingers ripped through my sweater, flitting over my skin. Turning I could see where the waves washed away my tracks. It was as if I'd never walked there, the beach a soft unbroken expanse and that suited me fine. My grandmother hadn't seemed to care how many hours I spent out here. "Go on," she's day, smiling. "The Sea gets in your blood. It was in your father's blood." She giggled, "It was all I could do to get him to come in for meals."

Note: The photo above was take in Ontario from the shore of Lake Simco at sunset.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Finding The Heartbeat or The Rescue of a Stranded Story

Saturday morning I sit at the local café reading the newest edition of the Writer. This act is a precursor to beginning work on the story at hand just as this post is a warm up for my other writing. In both cases the story is Changing Tides. I know I have mentioned this story in older posts and it's one which I've been easing myself back into. However, I'm now up against the do or die deadline. This is the story I'm going to work on in Newfoundland when I attend Piper's Frith and I have to put it back together before I go because in it's current million and one, okay I exaggerate, pieces it would never survive the trip in any recognizable state.

I first wrote Changing Tides in the fall of 2005. In 2008 I painstakingly revised it, polishing the flow in an attempt to prepare it for a reading. That's when I realized it was missing... something. It was mostly a very well painted backdrop strung on a beautiful island of prose. Masked somewhere behind the conscious words I'd thoughtfully written was the rest of the story, for which I would need to search my subconscious. So, with a setting rich enough to taste, crafted with gorgeous scenic descriptions (which I loved!) setting both tone and mood with perfect clarity - the story nevertheless lay stranded in limbo, lacking a strong enough plot to carry it off.  Until now...

As I read through the 5 new beginnings I've made since then, I make notes and questions to help me bare the meat, to locate the life line - the missing connections to something. To what? As the flesh begins to emerge I'm startled when the missing "details" suddenly show themselves unexpectedly and I begin to see how it fits and why it was so hard to include; how emotionally charged it makes me feel - how deep the connection is - it scares me and excites me at the same time. It's not that I haven't discovered the emotional connection to a story before, but it's never been this strong or quite like this. And I realize this is what Jenny Rough was talking about in her article, "The Essayist finds her stride," in Septembers issues of the Writer, when she describes sculling. She uses her her experience in learning to scull to explain how she uncovers the missing pieces in her writing - the emotional connection, that something that makes the writing work and brings it alive.

The more I continue to delve into the missing pieces of Changing Tides the clearer  this reveal becomes and I'm startled to discover the backdrop colours, moods and highlights are all in the right spots to reflect and display them to the best advantage - like a stage set built to order, waiting for the main attraction. An event I now acknowledge I could not have written in 2005 or 2008 because it contains aspects of my life I had not yet allowed myself to see. Things and feelings I was not ready to face at that time. Perhaps one could argue that the piece would not be the same as it is now had I finished it 2 years ago, but I believe differently. I believe it was always meant to be what it is now and I'm awed by the genius way it all fits together.

This revision will still be difficult, but I know from experience it's often the most difficult things which are the most rewarding and I am eager to begin work on it. However, in retrospect I wonder if, just as this unwillingness or inability to reveal certain aspects of myself stopped me from being able to write the crux of this story 2 years ago, perhaps it's the same thing that's also at the root of the writer's block some people experience.

Monday, August 23, 2010

A Miner's Range

This weeks word lead me on several journeys. I finally ended up, far from the mountains of ideas where I began, with Luke. Luke's traplines, which he mines seasonally for furs, range throughout the valley below and up the forested mountainside near the village where he lives. He gathers enough pelts and meat each winter to eat and pay for lodging for himself and his crippled son. But this year he's worried. Strange things have been happening, traps have gone missing and he's only managed to trap 2 rabbits in the past few weeks, no where near enough to survive.

Caught in a blinding snowstorm Luke takes solace in the fact that he could find his way to the cabin, half an hour away, blindfolded if he had to. His only worry is what to do if the storm lasts more than a day or two as his food supply is getting low. This turns to astonishment when he is woken half-way through the night by a loud clapping and abruptly the storm is gone, pushed away onto the horizon. The forest all around is briefly lit with a brilliant purple light. As the lights dance there is a crisp crackle in the air, the cabin and forest disappears, and he finds himself standing in the middle of a gravel road surrounded by the barren dirt of a clear-cut stretching out in both directions. Is he dreaming?

Note: This photo is not related to those mountains in the Miner's Range any more than the story I began this week. It is instead a picture I took just out side Haines Junction in Kluane International Park, Easter 2008. 

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Part 2: The Birth of a Writer

People who know me are constantly saying they, "don't know how I do it." Some have even asked me how I do it, meaning how do I raise a family, work a day job, be an active part of the community and find the time to write. I've found this a hard question to answer as there's no real "how" to it, and "because I have to" doesn't convey anymore information than replying to the question, "who are you?" with, "I'm me."

I began writing and drawing at a young age. I bore my own children young, birthing my first at 20. There was a period of 10 years where my writing and my children shared scant space. My writing starved, but my children thrived and my creativity found outlet in changing knitting patterns and sewing quilts, adding my own mark to everything I made. This happened for many reasons, not because I was sacrificing myself for my children, but rather I couldn't figure out how writing fit into the mold of who I was supposed to be, what I thought was excepted. I didn't know how to be both and would later find I didn't in fact know myself.

During my abstinence, my writing obstinately tried to break out of the drawer where I'd shoved it; calling to be set free - to breath. And when I could no longer resist, I began the physical act of writing again, embarking on a surprising journey of self-discovery leading to more than a half-starved writer. It was the beginning of an inner awakening, the realization of who I was and it resulted in my becoming the whole person I was born to be in more ways than one. Along with this came the knowledge of how close I'd been to losing myself permanently, my identity and how deeply I'd been buried. One can't discard or reject a part of ones self without consequences and I'd been doing that for years - every time something about who I was didn't fit into the perception of who I should be. We tell our children they can be anything they want - but do we actually mean it. Does society really support it?

I don't regret this time, it simply was. When I think of the path my life might have followed if I'd kept writing when I was first married and had children I know my writing would not me the same as it is now - it would lack the depth and knowledge of my experiences within the drawer. Just as people who bear children when they are older parent differently than those who bore theirs earlier in life, my writing would have developed differently.

Birthing babies, never mind raising them, takes time and is hard on your body. A doctor will tell you it takes about 3 years for your body to recover after having a baby, he doesn't mean from the delivery. My children are 3 years apart, but I could swear my body didn't really recover until my youngest hit 6 or 7. I don't know if there is such a thing as recovery after birthing a story. Unlike being pregnant, writing breeds more writing. I heard an editor once refer to this  phenomenon as having a disease, once you caught the writing bug you couldn't stop. I view it as a blessing. When you experience starvation for awhile you don't take it for granted anymore.

No two writers write the same, every artist's work is distinctive to it's creator in some way and yet takes on a life of it's own; two pieces only being alike in the same way all children are children.  Each of my children is uniquely individual with their own characteristics, likes, dislikes and temperament. This can also be said for each of my stories. Most develop in the womb of my mind in a similar fashion, but they all differ in essence, design and their needs during their up bringing. Some are easy and others I have a more difficult time with, those ones fight me all the way with temper tantrums and arguments, but they're often worth it; they're the ones that teach me something and help take my writing to the next level.

I've always been delighted by a newborns perfection - one doesn't expect they won't be, but the tiny fingernails, exquisitely formed features, downy hair is all so absolutely without fault or blemish - it's amazing. And I know when a story is done because I get that same feeling. I can examine it, take it apart in every detail, read and reread it and remain almost in a state of disbelief that this piece of work originated in my brain and came from my hands - indeed, that I wrote it.

Some writers wait until their children are grown to take up the pen; for me, waiting almost killed me - I cannot do that again. Instead, I'm among those who manage to find a way to birth and raise stories along with children synchronously. There are many challenges to overcome and many hurdles to vault to accomplish goals and achieve some kind of balance between it all. I don't believe it's easy for any of us. I do it because both make up a large part of who I am and what's important to me; knowing in the end both my stories and my children will step into the world and if I've done a good job they will stand on their own.

Carrying, birthing and raising a story is as much as part of me as carrying my children was when I was expecting. There are sacrifices, decisions and priorities. It's physically and emotionally draining and one learns to live with being tired some days. Insomnia often strikes as the story begins mid-night calisthenics with ideas flowing forward as it stretches and kicks me into getting up and madly writing in my notebook. I know from experience if I don't do this and just enjoy the feeling of all these great thoughts I'll spent the next 3 weeks trying to recall them and they will never be as vivid or as perfect as this moment of clarity, no two moments, sentences or thoughts being alike. And so I write them down and later tweak them, rewriting them and adding to them until they are complete whole beings.

I loved being pregnant. I love my children; to create is to breath and to write is akin to being with child - It's simply part of who I am.

Note: The black and white photo's ones I took of my youngest son playing at the park (summer 2009). The colour photo of me at the bottom was taken by my friend Jerome. 

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Introducing Kat Mortensen

In my on-line forays I have recently had the pleasure of meeting Kat Mortensen. Kat is a canadian poet who recently published and released her first collection of poetry, Shadowstalking and when she provided me with the opportunity to interview her on my blog I was delighted.

So, without more ado... here she is!!

1. What inspired you to begin writing and how has your writing evolved?

I’ve always been a writer of sorts. As a kid I used to write little poems and enjoyed putting them in cards for family occasions.  I loved when school assignments involved poetry, but I like to write, in general.
It has only been in the last few years that I’ve started looking upon writing as something that defines me.  I take it seriously now; I work at it. 
The funny thing is, I’ve reached the point where I need to write.  If I don’t do it, I feel rather empty and unfulfilled.  As soon as I create something, I am energized and invigorated.
My poetic writing has evolved from “found poems” about news items and celebrity to more formal poetry and self-revelatory work.  On the other hand, I don’t set particular goals with respect to what I will write at any given time; I like to go with the cerebral flow.  I allow my brain to dictate what will be written – the emotion and sense of it is divulged with the writing.

2. As I'm late getting into the loop, can you tell me a bit about this world tour I've been reading about on your blog? Is this something which you are doing to promote your new book Shadowstalking or are there more reasons?

Ah, the world tour! Yes. You are correct in linking this to the promotion of my book, “shadowstalking”.  It was dreamed up to add a bit of interest and flair to a “virtual tour” that enables me to share something of myself as creator of the book.  I’m happy that you wanted to be a part of it.  If you visit the designated shadowstalking blog, you can see all the previous stop-offs that “shadowstalking” has made.  It’s gratifying to already have been received both domestically and across the Atlantic.  I’m excited to be here with you, Leonie, in the “Great White North” of my home-country, Canada.

3. If you could offer one piece of advice to other writers what would it be?

I have to borrow from  Shakespeare for this answer.  One of the most famous lines comes from “Hamlet” when Polonius says to his son, Laertes, “To thine own self be true.”  This, above all is what I would offer as advice.  Stay true to your own personal style and interests.  When you are true to yourself, it comes through in your work. When you are false and try to mimic someone else or be someone you are not, the work suffers and your readers will know that you’re just faking it.

Thanks Kat, for the lovely interview and insightful answers.

If you're interested in learning more about Kat or her book Shadowstalking, check out her blogs Poetikat's Invisible Keepsakes or Shadowstalking.


Photo's: Kat Mortensen (top) and Shadowstalking Cover (bottom). Both images were supplied by Kat. Thanks Kat!

Part 1: The Birth of a Story Inception

Outlines work fine, if you already know the story. Which is precisely why they don't work for me; I approach my writing from the other end, preferring to create the story from the inside out. Writing those initial draft(s) to find out what the story's about is like walking when you're pregnant - it helps with the delivery. This fact I can attest to, having given birth 3 times.

In it's inception the story has the potential to go in any direction it chooses on the unwritten slate of my subconscious womb. Writing out everything initially coming to mind is part of the pairing process. This is where the DNA from my subconscious and the physical production of something concrete begins. The story begins to take form as I learn more about the characters and who they are. Their wants, desires and flaws emerge along with it's heartbeat; the core around which the story revolves, the problem, the stakes and the solution, allow for the pruning of earlier ideas and irrelevant details to begin. And this cell death results in the separation of fingers, toes and the formation of organs into distinct functioning parts.

It's at this point the outline starts to appear along with it's various layers, themes and story threads. Finally giving birth to a healthy piece of writing to be revised and polished - raised if you like.

About the photos: A sail boat in the straight between Vancouver and Vancouver Island taken from the ferry (top). My eldest son watching over the rail (bottom). Pictures taken in 2005.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

What is Home?

They came everyday. It was their hideaway, where they could come whenever they wanted to escape, to relax in the peaceful atmosphere. There was nothing like the soft zing of the line casting out into the pond with that artful plop as it broke the glass surface, nor the accompanying swishes bringing the line home. They never really caught anything much. The fish swam contentedly at the bottom of the pond, their large scaly bodies moving silently back and forth in the cool deep water, just out of reach while the sun beat down from above. It was a serene, almost surreal way to spend the summer and summer was all they had.

This is the beginning paragraph of my Young Adult novel-under-construction. Fabula, Sitku and Anik, the three characters in this story, are brothers. They live in a world where ox drawn carts, stone huts and dirty roads are prevalent and I doubt they'd know what you were talking about if you asked them about toilet paper or even paper at all for it's scarce and hard to come by.

People often think of home as being a secure and loving shelter from the storm of life. A place where everything is always warm and fuzzy. Other's say "home is where the heart is." Home for these boys is a heavy burden encompassing memories of great happiness from a time before their mother became ill and great sorrow as the watch her slowly slip away from them. Every night as they go home, they attempt to keep out of reach of their father's half-drunken temper knowing that it is because of his angst over being helpless to save his wife and treasuring the moments they have with their mother, coaxing her to smile and trying to ignore how hollow her face has become.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Call of a Raven

Birds fascinate me. When I was 5, I patiently snuck up on a small brown songbird, probably a sparrow. I wanted to hold it. I got close enough to run my finger down it's back as it flew off. I don't think I have the patience to do that today. Instead that same trait has manifested itself in my creative process, questing to get things just right even if it means rewriting a piece over and over as I experiment and work towards the perfect combination of elements and structure I’m after.

The other day, while walking, I heard a Raven's gravely voice muttering in a tree somewhere near. It took me about 4 minutes to find him, feather's fluffed, chattering into the branch with a myriad of sounds rather than the regular crawk, crawk they usually make. In fact, one of the neat things about Ravens is that they do have the ability to learn to talk.

The talking raven, Rufus, belongs to a boy named Ben. Ben's searching for his best friend, Wren, whose disappeared under strange circumstances. Awaking in the middle of the night to a noise, he is drawn to the window of his room only to see the bright light a the middle of the meadow wink out. He shivers, fumbling to light the lantern and don his boots. The raven's circling the middle of the meadow distraughtly. Ben runs through knee deep snow torn by the tracks of a caribou herd to where the birds cries pierce the air, arriving at ring devoid of snow and an abrupt ending to the tracks. It's happened again.

The story of Ben and his raven is part of a young adult book which I've not fully written because my ideas are still forming. The book originally began as a short fantasy story I was writing for my children and has since evolved into much more. The story is made up of many distinct pieces and will be told in sections strung together around a staff belonging to a small boy. I have about 3 sections currently done and am still working out the structure.

Note: The photos are of a crow, not a raven, and were both taken in Haines, Alaska - Summer 2007. 

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Show Don't Tell

Blue is one of the few colours I can think of with emotional connotation. Unlike red, which is generally only associated with anger, blue encapsulates a whole host of emotions much easier to show in specific situations than to list. That said, it provides the perfect writing exercise by challenging one to show and not tell what the character feels, advice writing instructors constantly tell their students.

In my story, "Changing Tides," Mira wakes up at her grandmother's. It's her first summer here since her father died. In fact, it's her first summer here ever! In his will her father, who she's only seen once a year since he left when she was in seven, appointed her grandmother as guardian.

The house was sleeping. Twirling her ring in her fingers, she stared vacantly out the kitchen window into the garden at the mottled grey shadows cast in predawn light. The soft haunting roll of the sea floated through the window. It's salty tang bit her nose. Why had her father moved back here? At home the colours would already be dancing in the daylight and the bird would be singing. Here, everything was dull, washed out. You couldn't even tell where the ocean met the horizon, they were one and the same large expanse of - hollow, herself in the middle. Was this how is was going to be now? Passed around between winter and summer with no real place, caught in between?
This photo was taken on a beach in Victoria, B.C. not far from the University.

Friday, July 30, 2010

The Headache of a Synopsis

Sipping afternoon tea I ponder the current projects I have on the go and the post Cow Girl in New England had on her blog this morning. It was by guest author David Bridger, whose just had his book "Beauty and the Bastard" published. Now, although his book is not something I would be interested in as it's totally not my style, his post was interesting. It was all about writing a synopsis and how he writes it as he goes rather than trying to condense the whole novel into something manageable at the end.

A synopsis is what a writer sends to an editor along with a cover letter and the first 3 chapters of their novel (depending on the publishers submission requirements). It shows the editor what the story arc is, where it's going and how it ends. An important piece all things considered.

I've always found synopsis writing to be an interesting and daunting task. Interesting because everyone has a different idea of how to write one and what the outcome should look like. Daunting because it is pure hell to try and condense a 67,000 word story into 2 pages. Attempting to figure out what details to put in and what to cut, especially when the story has 4 main characters and 3 narrators! AND, of course, it's supposed to be written in the same style as the novel.

Despite those difficulties, I have written a synopsis for my novel and I am fairly happy with it. I wrote it between February and March 2009. Actually, I drafted 3 different synopsis and wound up doing something similar to the process Bridger describes. My first, the long synopsis, was 10 pages single spaced. The second, the short synopsis, was 4 pages. finally paring it to 1.5 pages after that. Of course, each editor's view is subjective so there is still no guarantees and I know I will be rewriting it yet again as I revise my work (or at least tweaking it).

Saturday, July 24, 2010

What's in a Name?

Barely awake, the coffees deep brown flavour hugs my tongue briefly and slides down my throat, reminding me of “Koffee,” Mira’s dog from my novel, “The Trade Off.” 

Koffee, has always been Koffee and I've always known that was her name. At 6 weeks old, her silky white coat was decorated in golden brown splashes much the colour of a Latté, the spots starting on her nose, dripping down her back and encompassing her tail; not to mention, she’s since developed a decided preference for the beverage and a tendency to sneak sips when Mira isn’t paying attention.  
Finding the right name, like finding the perfect word or term to describe something, doesn’t always happen right away. Sometimes names come more easily, intuitively appearing in the text as I type, while at other times as with Mira ( and Tristan, assigning a name results in a mini case of mistaken identity. On both occasions I forced the name, rather than allowing it to come to me in it’s own time, by naming the character before I began writing the story, thinking it was about one character only to find out I “got the name wrong" and discovering the story was about a different character entirely. 
So how does one come up with a name? In the case of my postcard story, “Shattered,” about man drowning in his heartbreak after discovering his girlfriend sleeping with his now ex-best friend. I had originally used Simon, a character in my short story “Memory Files,” when I first started writing the piece because I thought a bar would be a good place for a scene in the story. Once I was done I realized that the scene was instead a complete 250 word story about someone else and I needed a name. I began by looking baby names and their meanings, finally coming up with Tristan.

I always know when I’ve discovered the right name because it rolls off my tongue like a savory treat with the perfect blend of sounds to describe an essence of character not found any other way; it perfectly fits the character. It sounds like them. Sometimes finding the right time involves more thought, research or learning more about the character, providing moments of discovery that are both elating and satisfying as I begin my day.

About the photo: Taken late June 2010 at the headwaters of the Takhini River where it flows out of Kusawa Lake. The name, Kusawa means "long windy water." The glacier fed lake is approximately 37 miles long is frequently white-caped by winds.

Friday, July 23, 2010


Sitting behind a row of dyes I see the festival through a hidden window. The town is full of tourists, Yukoners and Dawsonites and I wonder what their vastly differing opinions might be as I explore the town, taking a collection of photographs for a project I’m working on. For myself, I love the architecture, the signs, and the beauty of surroundings haunted by the presence of history.
My impression is only slightly marred by my thoughts on the dredge tailings. The rugged stony piles left by the dredges as they rode up and down the valley in search of gold are tinted with sadness and sparse vegetation, roots isolated from the fertile earth buried meters below the rocky surface. It’s hard to imagine that this valley once fed upwards of 40,000 during it’s peak in 1898 ( 

Gazing through my camera I realize again the limitations of a lens. What is majestic can be reduced to ordinary when framed within a 4x6 frame and yet given the same perspective the mundane can become a beautiful story with the capturing of a moment, a thought or a look. I pause; my finger on the shutter, I consider. If the subject is intriguing to me, would interest others and what it is I’m trying to capture? And I’m struck by how much the same considerations apply to writing. What is the best angle to approach a story? What would interest the reader? Is the point of view that of the character in the story or my own?

A picture is a representation of the world captured, composed and shown purposely through the eye of the photographer, a story is a view of the world written or orated by the creator of the piece and told through the eyes of the narrator. And as writer I have to differentiate between the various viewpoints of my characters and my own perspective, picking the narration which best to displays what it is I want the reader to know.

Top - taken from the inside of the Tie Dye booth at Dawson Music Fest 2010, Dawson City, Yukon
Botton - Taken in the train shelter in Dawson City, Yukon.