Thank you

This showed up in my mail. A thank you card and chocolate, in a lovely little fat envelope. Completely unexpected, for something I’ve done in the past year. Something I’ve quite forgotten about. Wasn’t expecting for it to be acknowledged like this.

I nibbled the chocolate happy face, and wondered about email and snail mail and cards and thank yous, and the time we take to say “thanks.”

Made me think about the way people hold doors open for others in NYC–how that really touched me last time I was there. Made me realize that somehow, in our West Coast craziness (how did we EVER get the rep for being laid-back?) I’ve forgotten to do that, to shoulder check and see if someone’s behind me. To pause.

How to make a big difference.

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a question of intention in writing

I received this from a writer friend:

In my writing group we were discussing how writers start writing. Do they start with an intention as in an overall theme statement?

My thoughts go to Arthur Miller, who said that if he knew the theme to the work before being two-thirds through, the work was suspect. He felt he shouldn’t know. Writing is an act of exploration.

I think this: no surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.

I remember finding those words of his, and feeling a deep sense of relief (how we don’t trust ourselves!) because I’d always felt some guilt over not really knowing/ understanding my path when I began to work on a project.

When I talk with school groups, the subject of “planning” comes up. It ALWAYS comes up. Teachers are particularly eager to hear this. If, in the Q&A time, the question hasn’t come up from the students, then the teachers ask it. Of course, they are confident that I will give some cred to the words they’ve been repeating since September: plan, plan, plan.

As a young person I was one of those students who would quickly write the entire book report or project so that I could back-track and write the dreaded “outline” on schedule…then pretend to write the longer piece afterwards. I could not write an outline until after the project was complete…or at least the first draft. (Yes, teachers DO love me when I talk about re-writing. Re-writing IS writing. Planning is something else.)

I will say: MANY writers can and do plan, and it works well for them. Or they’ll plan to a certain degree, or point in the story. Fair to say, too, that for certain genres there are types of planning that do not interfere with “exploration.” A mystery, for example, might take a certain shape, but the elements of character development can still be discovery.

My books have begun with an historical question or a question about something in our society that is poking at me with something sharp (here, I have to go with caution), a title (yes, all on its own), an image, a fleeting glimpse of a character who puzzles me. Perhaps most often, a setting. Mud Girl was all about the setting to begin with. For me, if the first element of a story to enter into my mind is the Theme, then I become very anxious about it.

This may be because of my background. I grew up with dogma. I try hard to avoid dogma. Perhaps for a writer who has grown up in another way, working with a controlling theme from the moment of genesis is comfortable. But for me, it isn’t. In fact, in the last few weeks I’ve abandoned a project whose “theme” came early on. Too early. And I’ve been wrestling it back to a place of “discovery” since. I’ve moved on to another project. After 172 pages.

Maybe it’s a question of why we write. Back to those school projects: as children and early-year uni students, we write to study others’ words. We are not taught or guided to find our own thoughts. No one seems to think about this possibility…until grad school. So, all the “planning” takes place. You can plan when you know–or want to think you know!–exactly where you’re going.  Imagine if we told students to “write until you discover something new about yourself or the world.” It would be a challenge in the 22 minutes allotted in the lesson plan. But this should be the point in writing, in painting, in dancing, and creating music.

Some writers talk about taking that “theme sentence” and writing it in big letters and hanging it over their workspace. Reminding themselves what it’s all about. Maybe. Maybe that’s what your story is all about. Is that what writing is all about? Is it ALL your story is about? Might you go zooming to that place…and miss something on the way?

What do you want from writing? From your practice of sitting at the desk?

I’ll be interested in your responses. I hope someone disagrees. Or something. I have no idea where this will go. Let’s see.

 

 

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final “short report” on Book Week

Oh, it’s TOUGH to write short!

How can I evoke “magical week” in short? I’ll try.

Snapshots:

small town libraries that feel to be so much a “hub” of their community;

teens thinking—seriously—about careers in arts (oh, can’t put the sound of buzzing bursting minds in a photograph!);

pre-schooler in jammies and train slippers, out for an evening in the library;

round, round, wondering eyes, and dozens of hand-made, wrought with thought, Thank you cards;

bank employees, leaving their stations, sitting on the floor like schoolchildren gathered for a story;

pot-luck lunch and rattly taxi disguised as a family mini-van;

gathering of young people faces together with my cousin and my grand-great-aunt, listening;

VIA rail, passing towns, passing lolloping cows, and a lone chicken walking through a wood, passing children with grandpas waiting to wave at the train–yes, three children     with grandpas (they still do that!);

You CAN fit a big old chunk of this country into a snapshot—don’t ever think you can’t.

What does it mean now, now that I’m home? I pack up a box of books and send it to a school in Kapuskasing, and feel a Connection. I sit at my lone, early morning writing time, and feel a Purpose. Readers have faces and hands and hearts.

Humbly: Thank you for the reminders, all of you, for each reminder.

 

 

 

St. Mary’s water tower…

 

 

 

 

Bearskin airlines plane from Timmins to Kapuskasing–no arguing about who gets the aisle and who gets the window seat!

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last day: Book Week in Ontario

Kapuskasing. A magical word to me as a child. Where my Mom was from. Where there was Family. Great Grand-Mere. Great Aunts and Uncles. Twelve of them. And cousins and cousins and cousins.

It meant so much for me to be there. My cousin met me at the airport (after a 14-seater plane ride! with ROARING engine) and in the morning (frosty!!) we went to the school. Right by the front door was an AMAZING display of visuals from The Cul-de-Sac Kids! (And funny: someone had placed a training-wheels bike right next to it, which connected completely with my presentation!)

For lunch, the teachers had a pot-luck. And I had a conversation with a music teacher about…what else…arts careers! and how to sustain them..seems to have become a theme of the week: follow your passion and it will work. Had the same conversation with the newspaper reporter who came to interview me after the second presentation of the day. The students–two groups of grades 1-4 and 5-8–were terrific, with more Good Questions.

And to close the day, a trip to the local branch of the TD Bank! Who makes it all happen. So we had a quick read.

Magic happens in many forms. Often, money has nothing to do with creating magic. And other times, money has so much to do with it! If you know me, you know that I’m a hippie who doesn’t think well of the directions that business ethics often take. So when I acknowledge and say huge positives about an organization or business, it’s Big Stuff for me. So here: Thank you, thank you TD Canada Trust for what you do for children’s literacy, literature and book and story creators in this country! Thank you for a most magical week.

And thank you to CCBC–the Canadian Children’s Book Centre–and Monica Winkler, for administering and organizing, Canada Council (funding readings for public), and also all of the teachers and librarians who volunteer to organize on their ends. And Niki, driver- extraordinaire! And my cousins, Lorraine, Pauline, and Gaby, for driving me to presentations.

And all the young folks who listen, ask, learn, READ, and write! Keep on rocking in a free world!

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Thursday, May 10 the adventure continues

Had terrific fun with grades 1 and 2, talking up more “Funny Writing” and then grades 3 and 4 “Re-VISION-ing.”

And sold every book I carried in the doors. And left a few unhappy that there weren’t any left! PLEASE go to your local bookstore and ask for THE CUL-DE-SAC KIDS. And you can let them know the ISBN.  That’s the little International Book Number on the back of the book by the funny little barcodey thing: 9781896580999. It MAKES MY DAY when someone goes to a bookstore and ORDERS the book (because then the folks who own the bookstore know my book is out there…THANKS!)

Any school with a picture like THIS in the office has to be a good place… Thanks for a great morning, K-W Bilingual School (Kitchener)!

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They’re HERE…and I’m going there…

Yeah! I picked up 76 copies of The Cul-de-Sac Kids from Tradewind Books on Granville Island last Friday. Emmett and a friend and I were heading down to Science World, in keeping with our “Field Trip Fridays” thing (saw a wonderful movie on the BC part of the Canadian Railway!) and stopped in. I carried the box from the office to the van–and realized this is not good for my ageing back! Had to plop them in the car and reward myself by going to get some of that amazing Turkish Delight from the wee candy place in the Island market. (Or, as my middle son used to say, “Tuggish Delight”–when reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.)

So here they are:

 

 

 

 

 

And yesterday I hit the local thrift shop to find myself a suitcase ON WHEELS. After all, there’s only so much Turkish Delight I can reward myself with…

Airing it out on the deck…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now off to Ottawa, Toronto, St. Mary’s (home of Canada’s Baseball Hall of Fame!), Waterloo, and my mom’s hometown, Kapuskasing!

 

 

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Spring…and a new book: The Cul-de-Sac Kids

I am SO looking forward to introducing this one to the world! A new age group–ages 7-8 or so–and Funny! I’ve so enjoyed hanging out with these kids…and their new neighbour. Who is supposed to be a hockey player, but is quite a disappointment on that count.

The Cul-de-Sac Kids

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TD Canadian Children’s Book Centre Book Week Tour

On May 6, I’ll be flying to Ottawa to begin a week of touring Ontario, going to St. Mary’s, Nepean, Osgoode, Toronto, Waterloo…and (drum roll!) Kapuskasing, my mom’s hometown! I was there twice, with my mom, in my early twenties. I am so very happy about all of this 🙂

Here, I’ll have to place a photo of my great grandmother’s house as I remember it, at the outskirts of town, and where she raised her thirteen children, one of whom I’ll be visiting!

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A New Year

It is like a baby, just a bit. An opportunity to re-write.

Reminds me of sniffing the crowns of my infant sons’ heads and breathing deeply. Somewhere in my core, I carry that smell-memory. Such memories carry and motivate. The tough part is to think about these things briefly, at the outset of a day, or remember them at moments when you need them. And there’s only one way to do this.

I think that will have to be my guiding thought for the year. Slow down. I haven’t waited until the first of January to start anew. Really, I feel as if I’ve been preparing for this coming year for some time now, laying foundation to build on…and I’m ready to build further.

For months, everything has had a slightly frantic edge. Now it’s time to dive in to the cool, silent depths, slow, go deep. Daily yoga time really works with this. Finishing various writing projects. Establishing my editing work. Solidifying teaching. Seeing my boys grow up–something full of wonder in that.

“Be still.” The two words I’ve taken from my childhood/familial belief system. Possibly the most powerful little phrase.

 

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in medias res

in medias res, in the middle of things, is trotted out in writing classes as THE place to begin telling a story. I was taught it. I have taught it. I read it in the “successful” books now being published.

So when I sat to begin reading with my son this past week, and he interrupted me after a few pages to say, “I hate it when a book starts in the middle of the story,” (uh, did I mention this was my first published book we were reading?) it was a bit of a shock.

“What do you mean?” I asked. Idiot.

“It’s starting right in the middle.” (Yes, dear, it’s supposed to. In medias res.) “And it shouldn’t. It should build up, and set it up, and take time.”

Exactly what we don’t have. And if I do that–if I ‘take time’–I don’t have a hope of finding an editor, a publisher, let alone those marketing people, to publish my book. But how to explain that to an angry-looking red-head who is asking for setting.

This son, my third, is not a happy reader. He only began to enjoy reading after about six months of home-learning in grade 5. Before that, it was a chore; a school-task. And now there are many books he sets aside, often returning to a small number of default.

A month ago he explained to me that when he reads Harry Potter to himself, he can “see” the story. Other writers don’t quite manage to do that in the same way, though if I read aloud to him…after awhile…then he can also “see” the story.

I’m learning. Although just how I’ll use this knowledge, I’m not sure. J.K. Rowling creates visuals and begins with setting up the story. While I’ve tried to create visuals in my work, certainly, I haven’t done so with the thought of time-taking, setting-up, and I’ve never thought of visuals and setting in terms of the needs of reluctant readers. I’ve been quick to agree that it is exactly those readers–reluctant–who need the in medias res, otherwise they won’t stay with us. Perhaps it’s the very speed with which we attempt to haul ’em in that turns them off and causes us to lose them. We need to get the film reel moving, but first we need to give them the theatre, the feel of the plush seats, the smell of popcorn with real butter, the lights that carve out the path to follow in the floor, the old woman, hunched in the nearby seat who turns up by herself for the afternoon matinee…maybe a digression into the life of the young teen sweeping up kernels and scraps from the floor (why is he here during school hours?)…there’s music playing in the theatre. Let’s see…it’s the soundtrack of…

Emmett enjoying a book

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