Friday, 19 August 2016

Book Review: A Walk In The Woods

Several people have recommended I read Bill Bryson, so when I noticed A Walk In The Woods at my
parents house this summer, I took a little peak.  Fortunately, both my mom and dad have already read the book, so I was able to bring it home with me.

A Walk In The Woods is the true story of Bryson's experience hiking The Appalachian Trail.  I would expect a book on The Appalachian Trail to be written by an avid and experienced hiker, but the charm of the book is that Bryson is quite average in his hiking experience and readily tells of his shortcomings and misadventures.  To top it off, Bryson takes along an old friend, whom he calls Katz in the book, who is overweight, prone to seizures and given to hurling important hiking necessities (including his water bottle) off cliffs when he gets tired.

Bryson has the uncanny ability to make the long, arduous journey entertaining and outright hilarious in some parts.  He weaves in fascinating research Appalachian Trail history, hiking and survival as part of the story.  He writes his research in the best way possible, you don't even realize how much you've learned because it's all so interesting.

The best parts of the book are the relationship between Bryson and Katz.  I had to wonder if Katz wasn't a bit embellished.  Such a perfectly unique character seems the stuff of fiction, but I wouldn't ask Bryson to change a thing.  An excellent read, even if you have no intention of ever walking The Appalachian Trail.    

Friday, 5 August 2016

Book Review on Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End

I feel like this should be required reading for life.  And especially death.  I just finished the book
and think I need to wait to see how this books affects the rest of my life, but I also know I will forget important things if I don't write them down now.

Being Mortal is written by Atul Gawande, a surgeon at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, a staff writer for The New Yorker, a professor at Harvard, etc., etc.  Yet this book is so well written, honest, informative and thoughtful, it's as if he's spent his whole life writing it.  In some ways, this is true, as the stories and research he shares in this book are mostly his own, or if nothing else, part of his personal/professional research.

In this book, Gawande takes a hard look at current medical practices, especially focused on how they relate to end of life care.  He discusses the history of care of the old and infirm up to and including current practices.  Although Old Age homes are a thing of the past in North America, even the best and most expensive nursing homes are filled with unhappy patients.  He carefully and methodically outlines why this is and finds Assisted Living homes where patients are happy because they have more control over their own lives, are allowed to make bad health choices if they want, and statistically use less medication, live longer and are, more importantly, happier than their unfortunate counterparts in Nursing Homes dedicated to safe and healthy living.

I would find it difficult to recommend this book to friends and family members in end of life situations.  I think some of the findings would be difficult to deal with in such stressful situations.  But I hope their doctors will read this book and their family members who want to do what's best.  I'm glad I read it before facing such difficult situations myself.  I feel much better prepared. 

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Holiday Find

It's our first day back from holidays through Alberta and Saskatchewan.  It was so good to see family and friends and to visit the places we used to live, but it's also nice to be back in our own beds.  I took the two weeks off of writing.  I know this is a controversial choice, but I wanted to just experience life for a moment, soak in all that was going on around me and recharge.  I ate, played, visited, read, took  pictures and daydreamed as we drove and drove and drove.  I'm hoping this little rest will revitalize my writing.
Shuswap Lake, BC
A highlight of my trip was finding my grandma's treasure trove of photos and family history.  The book I am currently writing has been inspired by part of her life and I have been asking my Dad for stories and memories about his mom.  He told me he had some pictures I could see when we next visited.  I never imagined it would be such a find!

I'm following the advice of Stephen King, Julia Cameron and C.C. Humphreys to not give away my novel idea during the first draft, but here's a sneak peak at a one of the amazing photos.

My Grandmother is the teacher in this photo.
Do you take a holiday from writing?  Where do you find inspiration?

Friday, 15 July 2016

Book Review: On Writing by Stephen King

I recently bought this book because I loved it so much the first time around, I needed to own a copy.

What makes this book so good?  I believe it's the honesty and the writing.  I have never read another Stephen King book; I'm afraid of nightmares, but he writes with a clear, direct yet poetic style.  His years of experience with the craft make it an important read for any writer.  Rather than go on and on about how amazing it is, I thought I'd write some of my favourite lines, currently high-lighted in yellow in my copy.

"Fiction writers, present company included, don't understand very much about what they do -- not why it works when it's good, not why it doesn't when it's bad."  xix, On Writing

"In my character, a kind of wildness and a deep conservatism are wound together like hair in a braid." p. 39

Quoting John Gould "When you write a story, you're telling yourself the story," he said.  "When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story." p. 43

". . . stopping a piece of work just because it's hard, either emotionally or imaginatively, is a bad idea.  Sometimes you have to go on when you don't feel like it . . ." p. 63 - 64

". . . put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn't in the middle of the room.  Life isn't a support system for art.  It's the other way around." p. 87

"Similarly, I don't read fiction to study the art of fiction, but simply because I like stories.  Yet there is a learning process going on.  Every book you pick up has its own lesson or lessons, and quite often the bad books have more to teach than the good ones."  p. 131

"You cannot hope to sweep someone else away by the force of your writing until it has been done to you." p. 132

"Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing world."  p. 149

Give yourself a treat this summer and buy this book.  Make sure to leave a comment about something you loved or even something you didn't love about this little gem.

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Why publish?

My dear friend Jeni challenged me with some questions after my previous post.  I often think of Jeni as the epitome of a critical thinker.  Perhaps it's because she's a nurse.

Anyway, her question got me thinking right away and I felt I needed some room to compose an answer.  So, here goes.

Jeni's question:  Does the place where the joy and love of writing come from not satisfy enough?  Or is there a time when it needs to be shared?  I am guessing it is like things in our lives when we want and need some recognition?

Which took me first of all to the question of why I write.  I came up with several reasons, some admirable and some not so much.  Certainly, there are times when I write for myself.  This is usually in the form of journaling when I don't understand something about myself, my life or other people and I need to write it out.  I don't usually share this with other people.  It's more of a mental health exercise, although it sometimes leads to writing to share.  My blogs may sometimes come out of this kind of place, although I'm always aware that the blog will be read by others and so I often delete certain things or even entire ideas that I don't want to be public or that won't interest anyone but myself.

Mostly, though, what I write is meant to be read.  I'm not sure if this is because I'm more of an introvert or because I'm a slow thinker, but I love the format of the page for communicating with others.  It may be argued that we read to find and understand ourselves.  I have repeatedly had the comforting and encouraging experience of reading a sentence, story, poem or book which so perfectly described the world or myself in a way I would never have put together on my own.  I hope that my writing does this once in a while.  I had the supreme compliment once from my good friend Katie, who was dealing with the passing of her grandfather-in-law, that she felt I was there with her because she was reading one of my books at the time.  I am so glad she told me.  That, in a nutshell, is one of the best reason I write.

Publishing and the desire to be published is different and yet, maybe not entirely.  Publishing is business and money and a certain amount of fame and or recognition (although for most this amounts to very little).  I'm sure that not all of my reasons for desiring publication are honourable, but I think some of them are.  Publishing is the way a writer connects to a reader.  Self-publishing allows for some of this, but without self-promotion, it won't necessarily get to anyone.  I loath self-promotion, and yet I do it in the hopes of connecting to a reader.

Traditional publishers have connections to readers.  Some of them promote for you, or at least with you.  It is also an affirmation that my writing is worth reading.  I can't deny that I struggle to write sometimes because I doubt it's a worthy occupation.  Apparently I'm not alone in this feeling.  Stephen King wrote "I think I was forty before I realized that almost every writer of fiction and poetry who has ever published a line has been accused by someone of wasting his or her God-given talent.  If you write (or paint or sculpt or sing, I suppose) someone will try to make you feel lousy about it, that's all."  From On Writing.  I don't even need someone to tell me this.  I already think it on my own sometimes.

Who needs another novel?  Especially one of my novels, which really aren't that important.  I need more novels and more people to make sense of things for me through each confusing and overwhelming stage of life.  If I can share this experience with my writing one day, I feel that the pursuit of publication is valid.           

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Rejection Letter

A page in my journal of rejection letters.
Every so often, I forget how difficult it is to deal with rejection letters and wonder why I haven't been sending out my writing.  I become motivated and send out everything I've written, expecting that this time things will be different.  I've been writing for even longer now, I must be ready for publication.  A few weeks of hopeful expectation passes and then the rejections letters begin.

Mostly, rejection letters are form letters.  When I started sending things out, I used snail mail and I collected these letters in a notebook.  Now, I can save my postage most of the time and send my writing via email.  But, other than than, the process is the same.  Write a cover letter, send out what you think is your best work and wait in hopes of being accepted.

Today, I received a rejection with notes.  This response to my submission was optional.  I opted to hear the truth.  It was brutal.  While I greatly appreciate the time it took to reply to my work, I can't help but wonder if it could have been tempered with something good.  Perhaps this is hypocritical of me, but as a teacher, I know how important it is to look for the good in student's work while gently suggesting a bit of improvement.  It's so easy to focus on the negative.  Now, I'm thinking this story is beyond help.  Perhaps I should never have ventured outside my genre.

I'm trying to encourage myself with Julia Cameron's advice.  "And so, in order to be a good writer, I The Right to Write, p. 23).  She also says "The best and rarest criticism is constructive, and very few people know how to give it. . . "All (a writer) needs to find (their) stride . . . is encouragement and safety.  This does not mean that aesthetics go out the window.  It means, however, that we need to take the time and the space to discover our own aesthetic, and that does not happen when we get involved with instant cup of soup criticism and art by consensus." (p. 177).
have to be willing to be a bad writer.  I have to be willing to let my thoughts and images be as contradictory as the evening firing its fireworks outside my window."  (

So, perhaps the reaction of not wanting to send out any more writing is a healthy one.  Cameron calls it "Containment".  I'll let this batch of submissions run its course and allow myself to forget the sting of rejection until I'm ready to try again.  I am tempted to post the rejected story here, however.  I don't think I'll be able to send it out again.  It's tarnished now by the impressions of others.  I'd love a bit of advice here.  

Thursday, 16 June 2016

A Short History of Serialized Writing

Jo-Anne Sieppert Design
I was recently invited to apply to write for, which is an online serialized writing site.  It was the invitation that grabbed me.  What, somebody wants me to write for them?  After another long spell of rejections, I was intrigued.

In the back of my mind, I had a memory that several classic writers started by publishing their longer works as short excerpts in local newspapers or magazines.  Now that I’ve signed up to serialize my work Taking Comfort, I’m curious to know how many of my favourite writers went the serial route.
Charles Dickens was the first author who came to mind.  A quick search reveals he published at least six of his novels in this form including Little Dorrit and Our Mutual Friend.  It was a way to allow the middle class to access novels, which were generally too expensive, by spreading the novel into 1 shilling chapters over time.  Without the whole novel to give the big picture, the single chapter had to encapsulate an engaging beginning and ending and leave the reader in such suspense that they would spend another hard earned shilling to read the following chapter.

Henry James published The Ambassadors in serial form through North American Review.  Lucy Maud Montgomery originally intended a seven-chapter series about a red-headed orphan for a newspaper series, but instead, it became into Anne of Green Gables.  Louisa May Alcott wrote An Old Fashioned Girl in serial form for the Merry Museum Magazine as well as many other thrillers which she published under pen names.

I was hoping to find Jane Austen amongst the serialized writers, but unfortunately, the technology was not yet available during her time.
A more modern example is Stephen King who purposely wrote The Green Mile in a serialized form so that readers could not skip to the end and ruin the suspense!  He also wrote The Plant as a serialized story in lieu of Christmas card.  (Love it!  May have to try thisJ)

So, with these literary giants in mind, I decided to give it a try.  Will my chapters be intriguing enough to keep readers wanting more?  The Channillo website is based on monthly subscriptions, and as my novel is already finished, I intend to release it as quickly as possible to keep the suspense from killing anyone.  The great thing about the site is, you can also read other authors in many genres, while you're waiting for the next chapter.

It’s a new concept, but it’s given my novel Taking Comfort new life.  I finished it several years ago, but wasn’t yet ready to release it to the world.  It’s been sitting in proof form in a drawer for almost two years.  If nothing else, I’ll have a completed book at the end of this adventure.  If you'd like to give it a try, here's the link Taking Comfort