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.