Friday, August 26, 2011

Story Ponderings

In real life one can find oneself thinking about someone for no apparent reason. Imagine if this person lived in a different province and then... days after you were wondering about them you run into them in a small community town an hour from your house, as happened to me recently. Is there really such a thing as fate or coincidence? One could argue that it's a question of energy and if two people think of each other it makes the chances of meeting greater... that the energy we put out affects what happens around us. One could also argue that everything is random and can be explained mathematically and can be calculated using probability.

For myself, I am always awed when things like this happen and have to wonder why it is if things coincide like this in a short story or novel, it seems contrived? Why must we surround pleasantly surprising turns of events with foreshadowing to make this phenomenon acceptable to the reader so they do not perceive it as the unique unexpected gift and totally wonderful occurrence it can be, but rather see it as the only logical solution or unfolding of events in the story arc.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Future Story Images

I have a very vivid imagination and recently wound up doing a nightmarish 6 hour highway trip in 9 hours, at night.

At first the fading light was only annoying, it cut down my vision and made me feel half blind, but as the night got darker the landscape changed, taking on sinister appearance; trees turned to dark shadows and bits of fog appeared on the road making navigation hard.

On the top of a clear hill I looked out on the lake of fog I would have to drive through with dread. Slowing to 60 km/h I changed my headlights to low beam so less light would be reflected back from the humid air and allow me to see a little further and clearer as I crept up the highway. The softly light gave the illusion of traveling in a dream reality which was hard to shake. It was only my consciousness tying me to this earth as I moved my small bubble of light through the dark scape surrounding me, making the dreamy illusion even harder to shake as I clung to consciousness awareness and the belief that real world I longed for would emerge again.

At times I could have sworn the road was no longer the highway I remembered. Instead it was easy to imagine I'd been magically transported through hidden doorways in the fog and darkness to a road in another dimension and would be transfered back to reality on a later section of the highway provided I didn't stop. Which of course I did, as one doesn't make a 6 hour drive without going pee.

I chose my stops carefully. I never stopped in the foggy unlit valleys. There were places I knew I could stop safely and places I couldn't. I can't tell you how I knew this, I just did. It was a feeling, a pressure of caution, a warning passed from outside into my conscious brain which I have learnt to pay attention to. When I finally pulled over for a nap it was on a hill where I was on higher ground and in an area I recognized and was comfortable with.

As I neared the 2/3 mark, the sun was rising and I could see the trees clearly in the areas which were not smothered in with fog. I looked up from the thinner fog I was driving through and saw a picture which could have been from a fantasy movie. A sharp hilltop swathed in fog was guarded by the black shapes of 4 tall dark trees in the foreground, sentinels standing tall, looming from fog wrapped feet.

As I made the last 2 hours of the drive the sun shone brightly and the few lingering fingers of the mist which crept across my path and around the edges of the road were quickly fading; a nightmare receding into the fogs of my subconscious. And I couldn't help think of the rich descriptive images I have gained and wonder what stories they are going to crop up in.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Pondering on Fireweed

Taken at Dredge #4, Dawson City, Yukon. July 2009.

I always find it amazing to discover how a specific detail of a story writing has made it's way into my work from my subconscious and what the connections are, however loose, to my own life. A year ago in June one of the words I suggested was "Fireweed." Then, last summer I when began exploring linocuts for blocks printing. One of the first cuts I designed was Fireweed. I was very happy with the simplicity and detail I had put into the image, but lacked the drive to actually do much with it until last week, when I again had the print making materials out for the kids to use and I decided, 'what the heck, I'll have some fun too' and pulled out my fireweed cut. 
Having made 9 different and unique prints on paper I was then left with the dilemma of wondering what to do with them. It was this pondering which got me thinking about Fireweed. I remembered as a child spending hours playing in the field of fireweed which grew on the embankment next to the garden and watching the bumblebees harvest pollen. And I began to wonder just why Fireweed still continues to fascinate me and what it's significance is in my life is now that it has turned up, not only in my writing, but my drawing and other creative expression too. In doing this I recalled the post On the Road to Somewhere where I discussed story beginning I wrote last June using the word "Fireweed," which appears below.
On the Road to Somewhere
The purple-pink carpet stretches on both sides of the road as far as I could see, broken by blackened stumps, sentinels lifting their heads above the thronging flowers, bowing in the wind. Bumble-bees hovered from bunch to bunch gathering nectar. The raging fire, bearer of this beauty, but a memory soon forgotten.
 My worldly possessions filling the trunk of my little Epson Ford, I drove. If you had to chose what to take. If you could take only what would fit into the car; what would you chose? My typewriter, a suitcase and paper for words yet to come. 
 Back home Tom was heading in the other direction. I could imagine the women on his smooth talking arm, twirling their skirts, smiling with their flippant blonde locks streaming in the wind I’d left behind. 
I let the pictures fly, one by one, out the open window, memories blowing in the breeze marking the trail of where I’ve been, the stereo playing in the background. So, what; fine me for littering. I looked ahead at the open highway, roads to somewhere - unwritten. 

After reading this I realized that the fireweed in the piece appears after a moment of irrevocable change in the main characters life, a climax in a story, and is very fitting. Springing from the ground after a forest fire, fireweed displays it's beauty and reclaims the earth with new life and I think for me it is a symbol of rebirth and hope, that no matter what the changes are and how many, to borrow phrase form L.M. Montgomery,  "bends in the road," there is always some new beauty, some hope. And, in my case, I have Fireweed.

One of the 9 prints.
In this one I highlighted the design in
silver ink after the print dried. 

Monday, July 25, 2011

Character Awakenings

Right now I'm doing a rewrite of a piece called "Simon," it's original working title was "Story of a Dead Man," and for a short while lived with the title "Memory files."

And in one of the scenes I was working on recently I was not satisfied with the dialogue. The second main character, Mindy, was profusely apologizing for her actions and when I compared that to an earlier scene where her character came through strongly I knew there was something wrong. She was coming across as weak and helpless which she is not. I pondered why and how I could strengthen the piece and suddenly realized that she was not sorry at all... she was pissed off. Wow, what an awakening!

And now, just as I thought I was on a roll and this would be the last draft, I have to change the whole scene and, in retrospect need to look at some of the past scenes and figure out if I got her mood right in them or if they too need to be changed.

However, I'm not too upset about it as it's moments like these where the character wakes up that provide the joy in my story composition. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Coffee Contemplations

Coffee seems to be one of the stimulants most writer's have in common. On a recent trip to a cute little coffee shop about 20 minutes out of town I took a photo of their selection.

When I came across it this morning I began contemplating characters and coffee. As I am currently still in the middle of revising the story about Simon, I find myself wondering what kind of coffee he actually likes to drink - if any.

I'm not sure why this is important to know, but I somehow feel that his taste in coffee is pivotal to this final revision... like I'm going to add something which will just pop the story from the mediocre to the masterpiece with whatever detail it is I'm going to add. I think it has something to do connection and grounding, everyone who drinks coffee understands the importance of a good cup and how it makes them feel.

What kind of coffee does your character like?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


I had to look up the meaning of this word after using it, and was chagrined to see it fit. My days have been so busy with summer and work I totally forgot to update the Word of the Day for, not just one week (as I first thought), but two weeks! Yikes!

However, it has been updated now and the word this week is Red Kayak. Last week, after finishing my 10 hour + work day I proceeded to take an Intro to Whitewater Kayaking course. 6:30 each evening found me making my way down to wherever we were meeting, stuffing myself into a wet suit and buckling into the required helmet and lifejacket, grabbing my paddle and cramming myself into the red kayak I was using.

It was something I always wanted to do and it's something I'm at least not a total idiot about either. Having a healthy dislike of flipping over I work very hard to make sure I stay upright. I still do not know how to roll, but really liked what the instructor said when he said, "If you are in a situation where you have to roll you've already made a mistake." Kayaking isn't about rolling it's about riding the water and I totally love the feel of the water under the kayak. I'm not so thrilled with going through large whitewater, with that I seem to have a love hate relationship; Deep down I totally and absolutely love it while consciously I find it hard work and am so concerned with staying upright I find it hard to enjoy the way I want to. Hopefully that will go with practice.

And so my red kayak and I enjoyed 3 evenings of adventure and I the only time I flipped and swam on the river was when I stupidly grabbed the sweeper instead of continuing to try and paddle around it. All in all it was a good run, although tiring and I look forward to doing more in the future while finding a way to turn this last adventure into a story.

I hope you all have as much fun navigating through storyland on this weeks word as I did in kayaking with it.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Six Word Stories

In my grand scheme to drop my truck at the shop at 8 a.m. one morning and walk to Icicle Sport to pick up a new rim for my son’s bike, his had the misfortune of being “bike racked” at school, I neglected to realize Icicle didn’t open until 10. 

Thankfully, Midnight Sun Coffee Roaster, which operates out of the back of the bike shop, was open at 8:30. so, I wandered in, bought a muffin, ordered a coffee and sat down on the bar counter to peruse the supply of reading materials in their little shelf. 

For anyone who's never been to Midnight Sun, the books available are very eclectic ranging from short stories, short novels, stuff about coffee, recipe books, etc. and all have interesting titles. This morning, wanting something light my eye happened upon “Six Word Memoirs.”
The idea of a six word story intrigued me. Having attempted my had at writing a 30 word story in December I was curious as to how a story could be told in 6 words.  
In the hour and a half it took for the bike shop to slowly awaken, I read most of the book. Some of the stories were ingenious and heart wrenching and many reminded me of Haiku's. They all started with one idea and ended with a slight twist or unexpected change in direction. 
As I headed off with my new rim to check bus schedules, I contemplated how I might later tell my morning experiences in a 6 word memoir. 
Drove downtown, got rim, rode home. 
Went to bike shop for coffee.
Coffee in hand, I drank stories.
If you were to tell a story in 6 words I wonder what it would be....

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A word in Telepathy

I am slowly returning to the land of the living and have been meaning to begin writing posts for awhile. Indeed I started several, but did not get the time required to sit down and finish them as there was so much I wanted to put into them it was very daunting.

When Heathbird suggested telepathy I grinned :)  "Of course she was thinking that. I should have known." Indeed her suggestion was no surprise in the light of a recent conversation we'd had. Thank you, Heathbird. It was just the word I needed to jump start me into posting :)

The subject of telepathy has intrigued me for sometime and indeed I have had experiences which I can only describe as being like telepathy in many ways. These experiences found their way into the first novel I began in 2005 (I think) and is a fantasy piece. Back in 2005 I had begun reading Robert Jordan's "Wheel of Time" series and was delighted at the cleverness with which he wove the modern world into the history behind the current world in which his story was taking place and the way he wove in belief systems and enough "real" and plausible experiences that it became alive in a way no fantasy world had ever lived in my mind before. He was genius in this way.

The Novel I began at that time is set in "The Dominion of the Four Winds." The dominion is made up of four countries under one rule.

In the book there are 3 main characters. They are triplets, sisters who were separated at birth for reasons of necessity. None of the girls knows of the existence of her siblings and each, due to circumstances beyond their control, go on a search of for their roots. During their search they begin having odd experiences. They begin passing feelings from one to another in a similar way as I envision telepathy to work. They also occasionally see out of the eyes of one of the other girls in cases where the absent sister is experiencing a traumatic event. At the end of the book two of the sisters find their family and each other. Everyone is concerned about whether the third is alive and because they have, by then, figured out the connection between them the girls are able to not only tell their clan that she is alive, but also where she is.

The book is the second in a series and needs some major rewrites as it is missing some very important character arcs and is thus still a project under construction, but one I hope to eventually finish along with it's counterparts.

I hope those of you who decided to use the Word of the Day as inspiration had as much fun with the word Telepathy as I did. 

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Challenge of a Fairytale

Somewhere in the mists of the chill Yukon winter there is a way over the crusted snow, through the airs crisp veil of frozen watervapour and past the sundogs, to a place where tales originate. A place where anything can be.

A story is made in the telling. One can have the most interesting story premise, but it's the telling which draws the listener, holding their mind captive to the end.

As a writer, I'm held prisoner solely by the limits I place upon my imagination. And I have to recognise that often these restraints are subconscious; sometimes letting ones imagination run wild is scary, one never knows what things will be unearthed along the way, and I am learning to realize when this happens, slowly pull off the brakes and prepare for the rewards and challenges of the trail ahead. This takes courage; the courage to explore and rise to the challenge; to dare to write deeply, dedicatedly and fearlessly in a way which resonates with the unspoken inner being of humaness we all possess somewhere within our souls. It is something which has to be done consciously, faced and overcome with each story I now encounter.

I have hit this point earlier with the fairytale than with previous stories. It took weeks to figure out the plot. But, once I let go of the limits I'd placed on my imagination, the symbolizm and fantasy elements literally popped out and into place with the clarity of a landscape revealed as a veil of icefog dissapates beneath the suns hot rays on a cold day. And I now must walk across this landscape and spin it's story with the language necessary to do it justice.

But, despite having this road map, I found myself pausing. "You don't really have to write it all," my brain said, "It's a two part story. You don't need to actually tell the whole fairytale because the reader is only going to see glimpses of it through the eyes of the main character as she remembers it and applies it's lessons to her life."

I liked this idea. I savoured it's flavour in my mind imagining a canvas. The fairytale is the lightly outlined background (peach in my mind) the rest of the story painted over top. After all, the completed work will really consist of a more modern story told over top of the fairytale; in the writing of the top layer I could simply colour the parts of the fairytale that are meant to show through. Why trudge through the land of the unknown when one can follow the path of lesser resistance and still have the same affect; after all, I know the fairytale now; I understand how it applies and which pieces I need to tell in detail.

Then, I remembered the journey I've just made into the sparking land of magic and mystery which this fairy tale encompasses and how much I've learned in the process. I've learned that although simple in language, with archetyped characters and a style which tells more than it shows, fairytales are packed with symbolism and broad, deeply coloured layers as equally meanful as the the layers in more modern "show don't tell" tales. Don't be fooled however, into thinking fairytales tell everything. In a fairytale it's still what's "not said" which carries the deep river of meaning; a resonating symbolism revealing humanity and life knowledge in a form broad and deep enough even the youngest listener understands it and can apply it to his or her current life experience.

And this was the point at which I had my epiphany. If I chose not to actually write the whole tale in vibrantly coloured detail, I would deprive myself of  an opportunity to experience, grow, and learn some very valuable things in story telling, composition and word choice, the things which come from trying something totally new combined with the skills one currently has, as well as the possibility of learning something more of myself. I would be, to use a cliché,"chickening out."

And so I've decided. I'm going to go ahead and write this fantastical tale in it's entirety. And I look forward to reaping the rewards of a work well done, treasuring each moment of the journey across this land of fantastical happenings, while I dare to capture each telling detail of beauty and magic necessary to the weaving of this vibrant and totally new traditionally fashioned tale.

About the photos: 
1. Whitehorse YT - looking towards the bridge from the Dept. of Ed. parking lot.
2. Whitehorse, YT - looking south from Takhini Arena
3. Shallow Bay, YT - looking toward Lake Laberge (where Robert Service's poem Cremation of Sam Magee took place)
4. A doorway into the side of a church sitting 4 feet from the ground and opening onto a roadway in Toronto, Ontario.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Writing Sundogs

Sundogs are a phenomenon caused by ice crystals hanging in the air like prisms. When the angle of the sun is just right you can see ice floating like dust motes in light.

The dogs appear as rainbows perpendicular to the sun and come in pairs; one on each side. They usually appear when the temperature drops below - 30˚C and occasionally, when it's even colder, one can see double sundogs; 2 dogs on each side. I have only seen double dogs once.

It's not alway easy to capture  the dogs. Although they appear vibrant and alive to the eye, almost dancing. They're often washed out on film, becoming faded ghosts of reality in opaque colours blended into the background.

I managed to capture the following sundog images on January 13th at -34˚C.

I have always been awed by the beauty of sundogs and look forward to cold days when they come out to play. Likewise, I have always wondered if there were any first nations stories about sundogs and if they fulfill a role in their traditional culture.

I ponder how I might describe them in a story in order to get the imagery and detail right; to guide the reader to the perfect place in which they might see them clearly. Even these photos are but a ghost of the vibrant sight. How much harder would it be to portray them on paper?

The top snap was taken by Takhini Arena, Whitehorse YT around 2 p.m. in the afternoon. Notice how low the sun is on the horizon. You can see the dogs to the far right and left sides of the picture. In the bottom pic you can just see the sundog on the left side; a faint rainbow running vertically behind the exhaust of the Canada Games Centre.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Playing Hookey

Today I'm playing hookey. I slipped out the door, dropped off my fire extinguishers for servicing and, instead of going home to do more paperwork, I snuck into the coffee shop with my laptop.

If the world is my home and my house is my room then the coffee shop is in a large way my living room. It's where my friends and acquaintances gather and where I can relax and create. It's also my social time, the place I go when I want to be around others. In my house I wake up, stretch, get dressed and, when I want company, I go into the kitchen and have coffee before settling down at the kitchen table or in my studio to work.

Settling down at the large shared table in the shop, I prepare to work on something. I've decided I'm not working on the fairy–tale today. This is a stumbling block for me as I had this great idea of "whipping off a rough draft," but reality has proved differently. There will be no whipping off. Instead there will be a slow plod and stop until I figure out what all the story pieces are. I know the story is a parody between a fairy–tale and the real world. I know where the characters start and where they end up, but I don't understand the details. In the fairy–tale the locket is important, symbolic. It has to do with love, but what? How does that play into the story? I know in the real world the character is washing dishes and thinking about the fairy–tale. I know the fairy–tale is going to have a significant impact on her life and will be is symbolic to her. But what exactly is happening in her life and how is that going to work out? I know the endings of both stories will be parallel, and she will have an epiphany about herself, her world and her life. She will emerge a different person than she was at the beginning of the story, but to get all the pieces and put it all together is proving difficult. If I don't work on the fairy–tale then how does this effect my plan? Is the plan still doable?

I step onto my blog and take a look at my blueprint. I'm pleasantly surprised. Things are definitely doable with this well thought out plan. No longer do I have to guess at and try and remember what I was going to do next. The roof will not cave in and I'm will not be buried. I am not doomed to be stuck because this story is taking more time as the next 2 tasks don't depend on it. Instead I'm energized.

I'm suddenly de-stressed about the fairy–tale and excited by the prospect of working on something else for awhile. It's so simple. I just have to look at the feedback from Changing Tides, tweak it, and look up the markets for the art piece and send it both stories out. I can work on the fairy–tale as things come to me and just continue on with the plan. Life is good. Happy Writing!

Top: Baked Latté
Center: In Baked
Bottom: The view from the window 

Saturday, January 1, 2011

A Writing Blueprint

I have never been a fan of New Years resolutions and last year my solution was to make New Years wishes. In my post, New Beginnings, I referred to Emily Starr, a character in the books Emily of New Moon, Emily Climbs, and Emily's Quest, by L.M. Montgomery. In the Montgomery's books Emily is a writer and she often writes letters from her present self to her future self. I contemplated doing the same with my New Years wishes. My thought was to write a letter to myself containing my hopes for the coming year in and asking questions about where I am now and if the things I've wished have happened. The idea being to open this small time–capsule New Years Eve and consider its contents.

Now, as I sit here, I'm attempting to imagine what I would have said and how I would feel upon reading such a missive from my younger self; I wish I'd actually written the letter. What I did do last March was start a wish book which helped me resolve several things in my life. However, I have no desire to read it.

Looking back I recall the types of things I mentally wished for and see I didn't manage to accomplish everything. Somethings in my life have turned out drastically different than I would have imagined and others have worked out better that I would have thought. But I'm happy with what I've done. I've managed to rearrange my schedule to get more writing time, I've grown as a person, I've found a balance which works for me in my creative work and I've currently have 8 submissions out that I'm waiting to hear back on.

In thinking of this I have looked at the coming year as a whole and decided on what some reasonable expectations would be. Now, everyone knows for a wish to come true one must keep it a secret so these plans are not wishes, nor are they resolutions. Resolutions are like chores one doesn't want to do but knows one should and I have no wish to hang that stone around my neck.

Instead my thoughts for this next year take the form of a writing blueprint; an elaborate plan containing all the specific information needed for the construction and completion of a my desired writing project – down to the margins, formatting and type of font required. The following is my blueprint for the next year. It is a continuation of the work I began in October and, when completed, will provide the foundation necessary to ensure I have a growing number of finished pieces to submit to various markets which will hopefully result in publication.

1) First Draft of new story (A Queer Fairytale)
2) Changing Tides (minor revisions and polish and send out) 
3) First Art related article (reproof and send out)
Jan 15th (total = 10)
4) The Wall and Wishes and Dreams (add missing pieces, revise, polish)
5) Memory Files (revisions and polishing)
6) Still, I stand (minor revisions, polish and send out)
Feb 15th (total = 11)
7) Reread The Wall, Wishes and Dreams and Memory Files, put on final polish and send out. Reproof, polish and send out any of the 8 stories currently submitted places, as needed.
(total = 14)
6) Mobri's Dragon (revise)
7) A Queer Fairytale (revise and edit)
8) Write first line story
March 30
9) Continue working on Times Heart and The Trade Off. 
10) Revise first line story and finish the "winding stair" story – find a title for it.
11) Polish and send out first line story, Mobri's Dragon and A Queer Fairytale
June 1st (total = 17)
12) SUMMER BREAK – Break from writing and begin 10 hour days at work and play with fabric, inks, drawing and other visual art type projects, hike, kayak and relax and gather ideas.
13) September 01 take a brief breather. 
14) Assess goals, decide on where I am and where I want to be and revise blueprint as needed. Continue working on pieces to send out and the novels, Times Heart and The Trade Off.

All stories will be constructed in Times New Roman font. Drafts will be stored in individual files marked with the stories title. All submissions will follow the submission guidelines specific to the place they are being submitted. Numbers for items in circulation will be recorded with date of submission, title of story, place submitted and expected response time. The totals specified in the plan take into account those stories currently in the submission pools (starting status = 8). 

Of course, this is just a surface picture of the entire blueprint I'm working from. Like the sketch of a finished house without the nitty gritty plans for each floor. I haven't included blogging, writing excercises, correspondence, research, and the possibility of other new work arising within the course of the year. I have simply worked with the stories currently finished or underway. And the deadlines, as in any project, may be shifted as lifes crises arrise. But, if I follow the plan I should end up with the minimum end result – a growing collection of completed, polished work and increasing options.

And as I ponder resolutions, wishes and plans I'm struck with the realization that they largely reflect the things which are important in some way, changes and progress towards a goal that matters and I wonder if everyone wrote theirs down what they would all look like.

Photos: Above right taken at dusk in Haines Junction 2009 Easter weekend. Above left taken in 2005 at a small forestry day use/ trail head camp just before Stewart BC.