Kindly Advice to Beguile Your Lonely Life

The Girl's Own Paper and Woman's Magazine, February 1914

When I picked the February 1914 issue of The Girl’s Own Paper and Woman’s Magazine out of my Time Capsule, I had an overwhelming sense of déjà vu.

The column “Literary Club” (which runs across several pages) reminded me of the first time I received feedback on a piece of fiction.

Naturally I knew my story would blindside the workshop leader and seven other writers around the table – it was the most brilliant story ever to be exposed to human eyes. It would change the course of literature forever.

There was a moment’s silence once the workshop leader opened the discussion, then a snigger, quickly stifled.

“It’s Disney on acid,” said the person to my right and the group dissolved into hysterical laughter. It took all of ten of the forty-five allotted minutes to dissect and toss out the story, wrap up the discussion and head out for a lunch break.

Having endured a painful education in accepting criticism in dance where it can often be phrased and felt as both intensely negative and personal (what’s ‘wrong’ is you/your body), I found the responses amusing. But I’ve never looked at that story again.

I thought what I’d do here is merge snippets from the “Literary Club” column writer’s responses to various poems to create the ultimate feedback letter, and then write a poem using lines and images given in the responses. The poem proved too much for me! I just couldn’t manage it! Can you?

The Girl's Own Paper and Woman's Magazine, February 1914

*****

Rose of York,

I like your verses.

I should rather demur to the words “sea-girt bay.” An island can be sea-girt, but I don’t quite see how this phrase can apply to a bay of the ocean.

I don’t think I would begin by speaking of “a fellow spirit with whom to converse.” You don’t exactly “converse” with a spirit. You enter into communion with a spirit.

Then this is rather a truism: “It is not the lot of every human creature to be endowed with gifts above those of the average man.” Of course not, for what then would become of the “Average”?

You must not make “on” and “song” rhyme.

I do not think that “the waves falling on the rocks” sounds well.

I confess it would have pleased me better if the Divine Vision had – as surely would have seemed natural – awakened an ultimate response within the breast of the suffering woman.

You are too fond of phrases.

Do not say “then when”

You are inclined to dwell too much on unimportant details.

You rather confuse ideas.

Tautology occurs rather often.

You skip over years in a bewildering manner.

You mix the present tense with the past rather awkwardly.

I do not know why the poem is called “The Crown of Life.”

“I’ll haughty talk of men” is not grammatical.

Your final sentence will never do – it drags on for nine lines.

I have altered the last line.

I sympathise with you, and should encourage you to beguile your lonely life by writing. It is good for you, and, of course, you may improve with practice. Do not be discouraged. You should try again.

Your friend at “The Literary Club”

The Girl's Own Paper and Woman's Magazine, February 1914

End of Year Sharing of Writing and Creative Resources

In my last post of the year, I’d like to share some links to websites, posts and articles that have been particularly useful for me this year.

Some are helpful in terms of writing craft or writing life or creativity, others are inspirational, and yet others energizing. Some are just fun. Some are all of the above! All make me want to write.

Enjoy! Continue reading

Essence of the Short Story

I always start reading Mavis Gallant’s short stories with pad on knee, pencil in hand, ready to make notes about structure, style, characterization, and other nifty craft insights.

By the second paragraph all that is forgotten. I’m lost in the world of the story.

So I think about the story for a while and then re-read, this time determined to keep a clear, cold eye. Again swallowed whole by the story!

I don’t usually read introductions until I’ve read all the stories in a collection but when I started Mavis Gallant’s “Montreal Stories” again, I thought it might help get me into analytic mode.

And whoomph! There it was! In Russell Banks‘ Introduction. One of those huge, wonderful “yes, yes, that’s absolutely it” moments when all at once a basic ‘truth’ of short stories becomes totally clear and meaningful.

What is the essence of a short story? Not only did Russell Banks’ description enlighten Mavis Gallant’s stories for me, it clarified what I am trying to do with mine. I just had to share.

“The tension – and sometimes outright conflict – between remembered and felt experience on the one hand and, on the other, the known truth of what happened lies at the heart of all great short stories. It’s the argument that generates plot and structure, which, finally, gives a story meaning.” Russell Banks

You can read Russell Banks’ whole Introduction to Mavis Gallant’s “Montreal Stories” in Brick Magazine

Staying In The Story – A Look At Orphan Black

Agony, agony! I missed two episodes of “Orphan Black” while on holiday!

Right from the first episode, I’ve been a committed fan. Even though I watch quite a bit of it with my hand over my eyes, asking my husband “What’s happening now?” “Has she got away?” “Have they seen her?” “Ew! Ugh! Have they finished yet? Tell me when this bit’s over.”

Like being pulled into a novel, being held captive by a movie or tv series is a wonderful experience. What fun to be drawn into another world!

How do you hold your viewer or reader captive? Continue reading

Creating Better Misunderstandings in Dialogue!

Enough of black, I decided. It’s spring – time to jazz up my workout gear.

Off I sallied to my workout feeling upbeat and energized – and more than a little conspicuous – in a fun new bright (very bright) pink and blue top.

“Oh, wow, is that ever bright!” exclaimed a woman in the class, poking a forefinger into my ribs. “My goodness.”

After the class, I stayed to chat with a couple of people. She joined us. “Have you seen what she’s wearing?” she asked the others – as though it was possible for them not to have seen! She jerked her thumb at me and raised her eyebrows. “Isn’t it…” She laughed. “I mean…” Continue reading

Snow Rage: Writing Lesson From A Snowy Sidewalk

I’m clumping along on my ‘grippers’ – grampons attached to boots for icy sidewalks – to the pharmacy. Only a narrow strip of sidewalk has been cleared between the two banks of high snow.

Inevitably I’m going to come face to face with someone heading in the opposite direction. Who will be the one to step aside, into the snow, and wait for the other to pass? Me? Or the other person? Continue reading

Writing In Dialect

Tail of the Blue Bird by Nii Ayikwei ParkesWhat do the experts say about using dialect in your stories?

Don’t do it!

But I love writing dialects!

When I write dialect, I hear the language – the elongated or shortened or twisted vowels, the skipped syllables or consonants, the particular and unique words, colloquialisms, and constructions.

When I’m writing in dialect, I’m in the landscape, I can smell the air my character is breathing. That’s when my characters become….characterful!

So what’s the Continue reading