Seven Questions Every Writer Should Be Ready To Answer

The joy of finishing your story, the bliss of an acceptance, the struggle to write your bio. Yay! You’re done.

Wait! You’re not done. There’s more….

Just when you think you have a story nicely wrapped up, and have moved on to other things, you get an email asking you to answer a few questions.

These questions Continue reading

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Games With Names: Going Against The Expected

coffee cup with 'Marine'When the barista asked me for my name, I was tempted to say ‘Amarantha’.

Amarantha is the name of the main character in the short story “How Beautiful With Shoes” by Wilbur Daniel Steele, which I’d just read.

“Marion,” I said. She wrote it on the cardboard cup as ‘Marine’.

Marine is tall, dark haired, elegant, with striking dark blue eyes. Everyone does a double take when they look into those eyes, even people who know her well, though very few know her really well.

She wears slim skirts, killer heels. High-powered, or at least on her way to being high powered. She has efficient relationships and rarely loses her cool. This is not natural, it was hard come by as she was born a revolutionary, a rebel.

She has a curious gait, a loose limbed, uneven stride as though she’s picking her way over uneven territory – a pitted sidewalk or a tangled moss-veined path through a tropical forest. This gait is the result of a fall when climbing out of her bedroom window one teenage night. She’d broken her leg on the grouping of gnome statues in the flowerbed below and, refusing to give in to her parents by calling out to them for help, she lay there all night, in pain, on the increasingly cold and dewy lawn. By the time the newspaper delivery guy caught sight of her as the newspaper arced from his hand towards the front door, she knew she could bear anything.

Wait!

My mind jumps back to Amarantha. We often do what I’m doing, intuitively create a character who seems appropriate for a name. Or we might search for a name appropriate for a particular character. Continue reading

The Sound Of Words: Writing Lessons From The Birds

Frigate Bird - Galapagos

When you hear birds singing, do you listen to what they are saying?

I’m no birder. Not me. I can only identify the most obvious – blue jay, cardinal, nuthatch… Even so, my spirits lift every spring when I hear the birds singing again.

I now recognize some of the bird calls even if I can’t match call to bird or identify many of the birds I see.

One bird I call the ‘bath tub bird’ because its burbly, warbly call sounds like one of those old-fashioned whistles that kids used to play with in the bath, filling it with water before blowing. The quick chit-chit-chit of a pair of birds living in the blackberry bushes is a special delight. And the clear liquid song of another bird high in the maple trees.

This last weekend I decided to try and find out what some of these birds are. A lesson in writing humility. Continue reading

Moving to Write: Exploring Flow For Narrative Energy

The idea of flow in writing is usually associated with ‘being in the flow’, that wonderful sensation when words and ideas synchronize, when your concentration is totally focused, making you lose all sense of time, when everything seems to come blissfully together.

Movement offers writers a different way of looking at flow.

For example, these two contrasting types of flow give interest and energy to movement and written narrative alike: Continue reading

Perceptual Shifts: Seeing The Strange In The Everyday

sky and clouds

 

I’m sure most writers have heard this advice at some point: write from the known to the unknown. The theory is that this grounds the reader and avoids confusion.

When I was analyzing Virginia Woolf’s “Between the Acts” for my MFA craft essay at Lesley University, I noticed that she often did the reverse. I loved the disorienting effect and the immediacy this gave to the narrative.

Early on in Continue reading

Writing Craft and Community

spare parts for writing a storyI was stuck with my novella, not a bad stuck, just a point when I needed to stop, think, and realign characters and plot.

I pulled a couple of craft books from my shelf at random in the hopes of sparking an idea, or finding a new way to see my material.

  • “Naming the World” (ed) Bret Anthony Johnston
  • “Burning Down The House” Charles Baxter
  • “Creating Fiction” (ed) Julie Checkoway

Writer Unboxed

Not an hour later, I was reading a blog post from Writer Unboxed about the issue of craft books. Although many people shared their favorite craft books and inspirational authors, a number of comments expressed quite a lot of antagonism towards craft books – e.g., craft books are only written to make money; you can’t learn writing from a book…

I was very surprised because I think of writers/artists as curious people and would have thought they would want to see what other Continue reading

Creative Grocery List: An Evening With Peter Carey and Josip Novakovich

little wooden man with veggiesI have a very unwriterly reason for having a soft spot for Peter Carey: my godmother was a fervent fan of his.

I remember a wonderful visit with her years ago in her little house (oh how I loved her royal blue bathtub and loo), listening to her talk in great excitement over tea and cake about “this marvelous new Australian writer” and his newly published first novel “Oscar and Lucinda.”

So when I heard the two-time Booker Prize winner was coming to Montreal to discuss “the writing of inspiration” with Globe and Mail’s Arts Editor Jared Bland at Concordia University, how could I not go? Especially as they were to be joined by Booker short-listed author Josip Novakovich, the master, I discovered last year, of the art of hilarious-but-serious anecdotes.

How to begin

Continue reading