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.