Every Story Has Its Seasons: Fall Clean-Up

Spring – seeds of your first ideas, images, characters, plotlines send up green shoots!

Summer – the story blossoms, flowers and weeds alike.

Fall…

Fall. I’m working on my earth pond, pulling out invasive weeds and dredging stinky sludge and algae. I check every scoop for frogs and salamanders so it’s slow work. And it’s hard work too. The huge pond rake becomes even heavier when dragged through water.

If I don’t do this, the inlet pipe gets clogged up and the pond becomes cloudy with silt and will eventually fill up and return to the mosquito-infested swamp it once was.

salamander in netEarly fall is a good time for a pond clean-up.The frogs and salamanders I disturb are able to swim away and dig themselves into the mud again. If I leave it till later, when it’s much colder, they can be very sluggish and I worry about whether they’ll survive.

Dredge too early, in the spring, and the frogspawn and young salamanders will be destroyed.

Just like with the earth pond, fall is the optimum time for cleaning up a story! This is the time when a story’s process, motivations, scenes, points of view have become overgrown or tangled up in other weedy storylines, or even died off and disappeared into the undergrowth. Continue reading

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

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

Golden Rain And Other Inspirations

When spring insists on remaining winter, it’s wonderful to have such a rich arts week! So great for enlightening our own creative process…

Golden rain

In Lin Hwai-min’s “Songs of the Wanderers” performed by Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan, three and a half tons of rice stream down as curtains of golden rain, splash up in high gleaming arcs and, in falling, transform into the shifting sands of a desert.

sun up in Sahara © Dr. J. HockAn ancient tribe struggles through this desert, leaning on their crooked staffs which have what look like a little leaf or bird at the top but are in fact tiny bells.

To one side, a monk or Buddha figure in white. Eyes closed, hands together in prayer. A constant column of rain pings off his head and hands and white robes. He remains absolutely motionless. Surely a statue. No. At curtain call he receives thunderous applause for his 90-minute stillness. 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