Thursday, September 27, 2007

Bedtime stories

Spent a pleasant half hour on the floor of Duthie's on Vancouver's W. 4th. Avenue this morning with my daughter Holly, searching for the perfect book for her partner's three-year old's birthday. And there was me thinking there must be lots of books about trains - Adam's passion - but besides the predictable Little Engine that Could and Thomas the Tank Engine, there was nary a one.

But it reminded me of Holly's favourite books when she was A's age, and older:

  • Alligator Pie by Dennis Lee - she once met DL when he came to my library to give a reading, and ever after she referred to AP as 'Dennis' book'.
  • Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein - poetry was always big in our family - I remember as an infant H. fell asleep on my father's chest while he recited John Donne's 'Song' that begins, 'Go and catch a falling star, get with child a mandrake root..' later recorded on a wonderful album Circle of Light by Pentangle.
  • Drummer Hoff by Ed Emberley - and me the pacifist had to read this every night for weeks... about the building of a canon, the last line of each refrain being, But Drummer Hoff fired it OFF!"
  • Are You My Mother? by LeSieg
  • The Mud Puddle and Mortimer by Robert Munsch - both became favourites in the years I was doing a lot of storytelling.
  • A House is a House For Me by Mary Ann Hoberman - another one in rhyme.
  • Sssh Bang - Margaret Wise Brown - this may well be out of print. My copy is so old and beat-up I'd only lend it to a reader who has very careful hands.
  • The Gunniwolf by Wilhemina Harper (Holly liked it better when I told it with a wolf puppet)
  • Black Beauty by Anna Sewell (on tape, long before I'd have thought she'd be interested).
  • Mr Gumpy's Outing - lovely Mr. Gumpy....
  • The Elephant and the Bad Baby - Raymond Briggs. "But you never once said Please!"

I think most of these are still in print - or should be. Which is more than you can say for many of the adult books I was reading about that time.

(Holly turns 32 tomorrow! So it's been a while since we shared a bedtime story. But I read The Runaway Bunny to Adam on his first visit here...)

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Nine tips for writing students

It's that time of year. Time for me to get back into the classroom for a while. When I'm writing, I wish I was teaching. When I was teaching, I wish I was writing. It's getting the balance right that's the tough part.

If you're new to writing, or taking classes to refine your skills, consider these tips.

  1. The teacher does not know everything - but hear him/her out before you decide.
  2. Do the homework if you can. The more you write ~ The better you get. The more you write ~ The easier it gets. There's no way around it.
  3. There is no 'secret'. So don't sit around waiting for the instructor to let 'it' slip. Contribute. Paticipate. Process. Practise.
  4. Share your writing with others in class if you can. They know as much as the teacher, even if they don't know that they know it yet. Stay in touch. Throughout the course, and after. With each other, and the instructor.
  5. Don't take too many courses at once. Give yourself time to absorb what you are learning. And to practise it.
  6. Don't read too many writing books at once.
  7. Try and balance the amount of time you learn and read with how much time you put in writing.
  8. Most teachers are eager for feedback. Let them know what was most and least useful to you in the class. It will help them do even better next time.
  9. Two books that teach as well as ilustrate lots of good writing:
    Imaginative Writing by Janet Burroway, and Make Your Words Work by Gary Provost. And of course there's my book, 101 - and more - Writing Exercises to Get You Started & Keep You Going.

This term I am teaching Getting Started, Keeping Going, Writing and Selling Short & Long Nonfiction, and Fundraising in General (and Grantwriting in Particular). For particulars... check my website.

Maybe I'll see you in class.

Writers Read

I go through phases of hardly having time nor energy to read a word of anyone else's work - besides students' or writing buddies'. Then I pick up one book off the shelf at work, then another... and it's early to bed if there's nothing good on CBC's Ideas, and I have the light on until midnight.
Here are a few I've worked my way through over the summer:
  • King of Lies by John Hart - from the discard shelf at work. His first novel, showed up on a number of bestseller lists. A great read, and defying the description on the cover - 'Grisham-like' - with whom I have always been seriously underwhelmed. JH has a new one coming out soon. I'm on the waiting list at work.
  • Earth and Heaven by Sue Gee. About an artist and his family between the wars. Another discard; I've read it at least twice since I found it. And no. You may not borrow it. My eiditon with its glorious cover is probably out of print.
  • Breakdown Lane by Jacquelyn Mitchard - found this v. compelling.
  • ??Elysian Fields by James Lee Burke. I think his very best, even if I can't remember the title - it's gone back to the library.
  • The Year of Fog by Michelle Richmond. Enjoyed this. A mystery story of sorts, and a rumination on memory. Which I find facinating, anyway. She has written a few and I'd definitely track down more.
  • Looking Down by Frances Fyfield - I thought I liked her books, but couldn't get past the first couple of chapters. Me or the book? Was I mistaking her for...
  • Denise Mina. If you haven't read her, do.
  • Home Cheese Making - well, I thought I might try, after reading...
  • Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. A good companion to The 100-Mile diet if you're into eating close to home.
  • Joy School by ELizabeth Berg.
  • Lots of kids books, but I no longer have them in my hand, but loved Sahara, Boy O'Boy by Brain Doyle, The Skellig, and Al Capone ...shirts... see, I have a filthy memory.
  • Pay Attention, For Goodness Sake by Sylvia Boorstein - my bedtime reading, every night, for a very long time. Helps me get through the days in one piece..

(Sorry. No links to Amazon. Find them yourself at your local independent bookstore if you can pay full price - or at the local library.)

What have you read this summer?

Friday, September 21, 2007

Start of a new year

January 1 may be the official start of the year, but to many of us it seems as if September is the real beginning. Back to school / putting away the sandals and airing out the sweaters / a flurry of activity that we forgot about over the summer.

Suddenly it's almost October.

I love barelegged summers, long days, mild nights, and lots of light. As soon as the first fall rainclouds gather overhead I feel a mood shift take place in my body and my psyche. And unless I work hard to keep the energy flowing, this change can swamp me, and I'm wading through the doldrums.

I know it's the same for a lot of people. But as fall brings with it the beginning of fresh assignments, a new school term, ballet and judo for the kids, a garden to be put to bed - even for some crazy types the first preparations for Christmas - hopefully we all have enough to get us out of bed in the morning and hold off the fall blues as long as possible.

I'm knocking over deadlines like dominoes. One presentation to a Vancouver literary group - the Shebeen Club, a reading at the local Arts' Council anniversary gala, contest finalist submissions to read, a new workshop to outline, the monthly arts council newsletter contributions to edit and submit, and preparations for the 15th. annual Surrey International Writers' Conference to prepare. That should be enough to keep my mind off the brooding sky.

But today I went in search of new tights for the season (gave up nylons and 'business dress' when I turned 40, and haven't regretted it yet), and as long as I can keep busy - and warm around the legs and neck - I can take on whatever this fall sends my way.

I hope you can, too.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

When my writing becomes real to me

Last week I spent a wonderful ten minutes talking to a real editor on the phone this week - 'real' as in someone I have never met who was talking about my manuscript.

The upshot was/is that she will be recommending my book to the next meeting of her company's editorial board.

Never mind that it may not be until late October. Never mind that just an hour before her call I had returned from the post office where I had mailed out three complete copies of the ms. to publishers who like to bite off the whole thing right from the start, (having spent $30 at Office Depot for good copies on 24-pound bond, and a further $26 on postage).

Just the fact that a complete stranger--and an expert at that-- not only took the time to say some really nice things about the story and my writing, but that she talked about it and the issues it contains as if they existed, was enough to make my day. As if they were real and not just some kind of deluded fantasy in my addled brain. As if the book matters. And the conversation convinced me that, even if for some reason the editorial board at her company says 'no', someone thinks it is worth publishing, and so it was worth writing.

However, it is now September. And September is back to school time - which means time to teach again. Which means time to plan what I will cover in my three upcoming courses - Getting Started, Keeping Going; Writing & Selling Short & Long Nonfiction - a Primer, and Fundraising in General (and grantwriting in particular).

I have a pretty good idea about what I will include in the latter workshop.
And I have written enough grants in my time to have some useful tips to pass along.

But that doesn't help when I have to sit down and write a grant applications for myself. The BC Arts Council deadline is in just ten days, with Canada Council's coming up just two weeks later. And between now and then I have a deadline to meet for an article for The Writer, and a bunch of other deadlines nipping at my heels.

Which beggars the questions - why am I blogging when I could be working?

Fine. O.K. then. 'School' tomorrow. Must get an early night.