Saturday, June 26, 2010

On the Road to Somewhere

Whenever I think of Fireweed I think of the Fox Lake fire. I think of the trip my partner and his friend made to all the Yukon communities looking for clues which would solve a riddle with the potential to lead them to the keys of a brand new Nissan Pathfinder. A lone car traveling through the fire zone while the fire burned on both sides of the road. Not knowing the road had been closed behind them after they'd left Carmacks and ahead of them, on the Whitehorse side. Their only company becoming a cougar with a docked tail walking down the road searching for prey.

Two years later that whole area was a field of Fireweed as far as the eye could see, waving purple, softening the hills; beauty springing from destruction. It was this image which started my short this week leading me to discover a woman who is leaving her past and foraging on in search of herself, escorted by fireweed on both sides. Memories litter the highway behind her, a trail of where she's been; the highway stretches ahead, a road to somewhere, an unwritten future where I hope she finds happiness.

This Photo: Taken on the Atlin Road, heading back to Whitehorse, about 8:00 p.m. one evening in early June.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Importance of a Reading

Published writers are often asked to read at events, book launches, and in other public places, attracting large audiences who walk away with opinions and books. April 28th, 2010 was the opening reception and readings for the Yukon Writer's Festival in Whitehorse, YT. The Yukon Writer's Festival was called the Young Authors Conference when I attended high school at F.H. Collins Secondary School. Each year at this time, for one week, a number of authors work with students in the high schools who want to try their hand at writing. The authors mentor the students and teach them different writing techniques.

During the reception, the readings of a number of the authors caught my minds eye, but I resisted the urge to buy books in the moment; savoring the memory for the distant future, 2 months later, when I would walk into the local bookstore, Mac's Fireweed. Recognizing the name in the Canadian authors section, I picked up the book, "February," by Lisa Moore and instantly remembered her reading. I bought the book and with it broke my reading fast. I read most of that book aloud. It made me laugh and cry, forcing me to pause many times in the last two chapters to wipe my eyes. It was beautiful, it was heartbreaking, it was happy/sad in the perfect way. And it is a concrete example of what I have always dreamed of accomplishing in my own writing.

One can learn a lot through hearing ones own words read aloud. A sentence may read fine to the minds eye and be choppy when spoken and I've learned sound is just as important in prose as in poetry. I know some writers read their work aloud in the safe confines of their studio and I have tried that - in truth it makes me feel a bit silly; especially when one of my children walks in and finds me pacing and talking to myself. But, nevertheless I also find it helpful to gauge the reaction of an audience and that, in my opinion, is what makes open mic opportunities so important for emerging writers, singers and storytellers.

A year ago I made Lauren Tuck, who was then organizing the local open mid event Brave New Words, a deal. For four months I would commit to having something to read out. This gave me a deadline and forced me to get up in front of people and read my work aloud. By the time the  fourth month came around I was beginning to spend less energy focusing on deciphering the type written words I was attempting to read off my shaking piece of paper and started noticing the audiences attention span.

In honor of the last Brave New Words of the season, last night, I made myself pick something to read. It has been 6 months since I have read at this event, being too busy with my own projects. The piece I chose was a new one which, despite it's rawness from the forge, seems to have something. And I think, with those scant 262 words I've accomplished my first breakthrough into where I want to go with my work and am still, with the help of a friend, figuring out how I did it. The words flow with graceful rhythm and dramatic pauses in sentence structure, but there's glimmer of life, of something more than's "on the page," an emotional reaction transferred from the paper to my eye as I listen.

Although I'm not sure what the audience felt, the applause was great and I was pleased to find an abeyance in my previous nervousness. Instead, I began by telling the story of how the piece came to be and found the necessity of actually reading it's printed form, as opposed to being able to just tell it, an annoying distraction as I excitedly tried to focus on watching the reactions of those spellbound.

Note: The photograph above shows the sidewalk outside Baked Café where Brave New Words is held once a month between September and June. 

Also, thanks to Caitlin Smith for organizing Brave New Words this year. I look forward to seeing what happens with this event next fall.

Monday, June 21, 2010


It is very satisfying to discover the roots of a story. But, until now this weekend, I never really thought of characters as having roots other than the ones I deemed necessary for the story.  I have recently been reading "The Art of War for Writers," by James Scott Bell. It's full of strategies, tactics and exercises. What I like about it is that it's written in short sections which are easy yo fit into my day. It reminds me of things I already know and it gives me ideas on how to structure my writing time and things to try which will improve my skills. The exercises are very much open ended and apply to whatever project I have on hand.

On one section it mentions getting to know your characters by having them tell you about themselves, pg. 116. The first draft of my novel is incredibly rough and as I'm beginning work on it again, I wanted to get to know some of the characters a bit better. In order to do this I asked Lila, one of the main characters, to write me a letter and tell me about herself and her family. Especially as I came across some pointers in "The Art of War for Writers" about inner and outer conflict as well as outer action and inner reaction and I need to know my characters a lot better to make that work to it's fullest.

I discovered that one learns interesting things when actually conversing with ones characters, despite making them up. I was surprised to learn that Lila is the main character, Mira, in another short story I wrote about 5 years ago which is currently sitting in pieces because I have been unable to sew the pieces back together. She told me this was her story. She told me her father left and went back to England when she was 4 and that she only saw him in bits and pieces and never understood it until she was forced to spend a summer with her paternal grandfather after he died, when she was 11. The story, "Changing Tides," is about how she came to understand him and found her roots. She also told me she's pissed off that I put her in a novel with Sauri. I love it when my characters surprise me :)

About the photograph: The roots of this tree grow beside the trail going up Tunnel Mountain in Banff, AB. 

Friday, June 18, 2010

Weaving with Words

The writing process can be described in many ways. In a recent conversation my friend, Erin, described a project she’s working on as being akin to piecing together a quilt. I have similar thoughts about my own process, having referred to it in the past as the making of a tapestry. Quilting, stitching or weaving, for myself, ideas unravel as I apply my fingers to the keyboard, flipping out skeins of text across the screen until I stop, hitting the end. 
Then I begin reading the sentences, picking out threads of colour; writing words down, thinking, reworking sentences until I am left with a mess of short sentences and paragraphs to sort through and combine. Which thoughts are best; how can I weave them together to create a complete picture?
Tangents grow and my mind, embroidering a million possibilities, focal points of colour, texture and feeling. If the old man really could encase his memories in glass would he be able to hold onto them. Or would it make them unattainable; something seen but unable to be grasped to recollection? 
Which idea will work better? I have to decide, thread it through and smooth out the kinks, trimming ragged edges and adding polish; fine points of colour, detail and sound woven together so invitingly it holds the reader’s eye up right to the last syllable. 

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Out of Pockets

"Glass Marble"

My penpal and I were talking about writing and she loved the idea of a having a weekly word and suggested the work "Glass Marble." After a few days of pondering ideas began to emerge and so I took 15 minutes this morning to start  free writing about it at Baked and see where it went before I had to leave for Carcross. I surprised myself and have the beginnings of a very moving short short about an old man who used to make glass paperweights with images in them and now has Alzheimer's : )

I took this picture on the afternoon on Thursday, June 10th after coming back from my trip to Atlin, BC. It's taken on the corner of 1st and Main, looking up Main. The tables are sitting outside Baked Café. Looks inviting.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Art of Revision

Revising truly is an Art. No two writers are alike. For me, first drafts are the most exciting. I get,  get to know the characters and discover what the story is about. Some writers find this part the hardest, relishing something concrete to work with. I relish seeing where the story leads me and get a huge rush when finally making the connection between the story and where it's come from. 
As a result I sometimes find the work of revision to be finicky and time consuming. Never the less, I am driven by the challenge of making my writing sing, dance and paint a living picture in the readers mind. One of the things I love about being a writer is that I'm constantly learning. First off, I'm often two quick off the mark and send things out too early, thinking they are finished. Maybe it's my way of letting go of them so that they can grow.
Often my revision process is part of learning about my story and growing in my writing ability. It's uplifting to pick up something I wrote 6 months ago and go, "OMG, I wrote this... I can't believe I thought this was done," and begin making huge changes to the writing and structure of the story.

However, there's a difference between adding layers and refining colour and the final fine tuning of a piece; that point where the story is fine, the writing is good, the editor loves it, but it is too long. After my elated I danced about the room, I realized this meant I needed to revise yet again, but not really revise anything. This time I had to shorten the piece and yet keep the original story. Aaaaahh!!
My plan of attack in a previous post involved an elaborate plan which was way more complicated than it needed to be. What I did was go through the story line by line. I questioned how each sentence contributed to the story; what was its underlying purpose? How did it connect to the rest of the story? This was gave me a clear idea of the key events and specific details which were pertinent to the telling of the story - the bare skeleton. This was important when considering what I could prune. For example, aside from plot, at the end of the story Ben puts the mouse in a birdcage. This make it imperative that I leave in this detail, mentioned earlier in the story when Ben and Flic are cleaning out the closet.
When I looked at the end manuscript, equal part notes and typing. It became apparent there were some sections where the purpose was clear, but the sentences were weak in delivery. I also noted that these sections slowed the story down because the reader had to process more information to understand where the story was going. There were also places where I expressed one idea in 2 different ways with 2 different sentences.
The best sections were effective because they contained only the pertinent information needed to smoothly connected events in the story together and move the reader from one idea to the next with little or no effort. 
There were, of course, individual sentences which could be tightened or combined. But the greatest word count reducer was condensing the slower sections and eliminating all repetition - unless it was necessary to the actual plot.
In successfully shortening my word count by the desired amount. I learnt this method of editing should be a part of my revision process; how to focus the details necessary to the telling, polishing the narrative and allowing it to dance unclouded along the plots line from beginning to end holding the audience in spellbound suspense. 

The other extremely important and not to be overlooked part of this process was the feedback I received from friends and other writers. This showed me the parts of the story which came across as I'd planned and those which did not and enabled me to add, rearrange, or strengthen the details needed to convey what I'd intended; leaving me with a clear, concise and moving story and a new bar by which to measure every other story I write.