Monday, 28 November 2016

Can Writer's Dance?

I'm extremely blessed to have a fun and creative husband.  Sunday night, he set up a mystery date for us in the city.  Waiting in the ferry line-up, he revealed we were going English Country Dancing at a Legion in Kitsilano.  I would not have guessed that!

Phil and I took ballroom dancing when I was pregnant with our first.  It was a fun way to meet people, but became increasingly difficult with my growing belly.  That was thirteen years ago.  Now our baby is old enough to baby-sit, so we are free to dance again.  But should we?

English Country dancing is the type shown in Jane Austen movies.  It has similarities to square dancing in some of the shapes, patterns and steps.  For instance, a do-si-do is called "back to back".  The English Country Dance group in Kitsilano is an amazingly welcoming place.  Phil called ahead and was greeted by the woman he spoke to as soon as we arrived.  We were whisked away to the dance floor so we wouldn't miss the first dance.

We were each assigned a more experience partner and were immediately walking through our first dance.  There was a live band including a piano, fiddle, bodhran and several others.  My partner was patient and encouraging as I frequently went the wrong way or stood looking widely confused.  The best advice came from the caller who said, "whatever you do, don't panic!"  After each dance, we traded partners and learned more steps.  I felt okay about the first three dances, but then my brain began to fail me.  At one point I stood in the middle of the floor with absolutely no clue what came next, but I did not panic and the moment passed.

I don't know if it's because I'm getting older or because I've recently moved and want to keep things low key, but I find I have fewer things I actually enjoy doings.  I like to be home, read, write, go for walks and have coffee with friends.  I'm glad my hubby still surprises me into trying new things from time to time.  I don't know if writer's can dance, but I think we, like everyone else, should try.  If nothing else, it will probably make a great scene in a story one day.

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Book Review: The Vancouver Stories

I bought this collection of short stories and novel excerpts in the hopes of attaching stories to my new
goodreads.com
home.  I imagined beautiful odes to our incredible surroundings, mysterious histories and poetry.  Instead, this collections seemed dedicated to the weird and depressing.  I supposed it has something to do with Douglas Coupland being the mind behind the collection.  His introduction states that he wants to disprove the idea that Vancouver is just a "nice" city.

This book included an excellent variety of writers.  From Pauline Johnson to Alice Munro to Shani Mootoo, I was introduced to many Canadian writers I had never read before.  I found The Bravest Boat by Malcolm Lowry extremely irritating, even with it's surprise ending.

I especially loved Alice Munro's story, which included a reference to my new home.  "The last days of May are among the longest of the year, and in spite of the ferry-dock lights and the lights of the cars streaming into the belly of the boat, she could see some glow in the western sky and against it the black mound of an island -- not Bowen but one whose name she did not know -- tidy as a pudding set in the mouth of the bay."

I was intrigued by Timothy Taylor's excerpt from his novel Stanley Park titled The Canvasback which tells the story of a a chef meeting his father at night in Stanley Park.  His father, The Professor, is so obsessed with studying the homeless people who live there that he has moved in with them.  He pridefully displays his ability to survive in the woods by killing and cooking a duck.  I am similarly curious about what happens at night in this amazing park.

The collection also includes a poignant family story by Madelein Thien titled A Map of the City.  Thien is the most recent winner of The Giller Prize.  She certainly gave me a new way of seeing Vancouver.

It took me a while to get through and I don't think I understood some of them.  While this book was not what I was hoping it would be, I'm still glad to have read these stories.    

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

An Overheard Conversation

I am still having a great time taking my online Creative Writing course from Wesleyan University via Coursera.  It's inspiring to learn from other published authors and to get feedback from fellow writers.

I am currently studying the Craft of Character with Amy Bloom.  For this week's assignment, I was to imagine a conversation between two people overheard by a third person.  The first person was to be an "insider", the second and "outsider" and the third the eavesdropper.  In addition, we were limited to only three "speech tags", ie he said, she said.  Here's what grew in my imagination:

wikipedia

Guidance Counsellor
Pamela leaned over the giant industrial stove to stir the macaroni.  It was an ongoing battle to keep it from burning.  It had happened before and now the will to burn seemed ingrained into the oversized stainless steel pot.
            “That’s not how you do it, dufus.” 
Pamela heard a familiar, bored teenaged voice behind her.  She turned toward the buffet line-up and recognized Erika, a senior with striking long black hair and perfectly penciled cat eyeliner.  What was unusual was that she was speaking to one of the new grade eight students.  The boy hardly looked old enough to be standing in the cafeteria.  His hair was cut too neatly, his clothes looked brand new and his voice, when he spoke, had an unmistakeable squeak.
“I know how to get food, Erika.”
Pamela whipped her head from the scene to return to the noodles.  She wound the spoon around the pot, focussing on the bottom to release any resting pasta.
“You do not.  You’ve never done this before.  Let me help you.”
Erika’s voice had lost volume.  She must be worried that other students would notice the exchange.  She hissed.
“You have to get a tray first.  You can’t just grab a plate like you’re at home.”
“Why not? Look, it works.  I have food on my plate.  I’m going to be able to eat it.”
Pamela stole a peek at the pair and noticed that Erika had turned her back on the boy.  She bunched her long hair between her fists and gave them an exasperated squeeze.
“Where are you going to put your cutlery?  Or are you going to eat with your hands.  Seriously, how did Mom manage to raise you with so little brains?”
Pamela hid a chuckle in her white cooks uniform.  So, the popularity queen had an annoying little brother!
“Shut up.  Leave me alone.  I don’t need you.”
There was a loud clattering of broken plate and thudding food.  Pamela left her post to attend to the scene, but Erika and her brother were nowhere in sight.  Little hooligans!  But, when Pamela peered over the top of the sneeze guard she found the siblings bent over the mess, their heads together, scooping food and glass onto an extra tray.
“Don’t cut your fingers.” 
Sniffling was the only answer. 
“You’re gonna be okay.  I did this exact same thing my first day.”
Pamela gazed about, hoping no other students noticed the commotion.  Fortunately, it was halfway through lunch and most kids had already eaten and left.  No line formed behind the two students.  Pamela returned to the stovetop, whisked the steaming pot from the heat and poured the cooked pasta into a waiting sieve.
The rest of the conversation was too low for her to hear over splashing water and the clanging dishwasher.  She abandoned the noodles to check on the leftover food.  Erika was wiping the remainder of mashed potatoes from the floor with a handful of rough school napkins. 
“Thank you.  I should’ve listened.”
“That’s right you should have.” 
The mess was cleaned and Pamela reached out for the tray.  “Thank you.  Why don’t you help yourself to a new tray?  I won’t charge you for the spill.”
The boy’s dark eyes filled with tears. 
“Just a joke!  Really, the rest of the food’s just going in the trash.  Thanks for cleaning up.”
Pamela turned away.  She should have kept out of things.  She separated the macaroni into the prepared chafing dishes and then poured on the cheese sauce.  Kids always loved cheesy noodle day.  Even the seniors. She was all ready for tomorrow.  Now to clean up the rest of today’s mess.
The bell rang for the cafeteria to close and Pamela noticed Erika paying for her brother’s meal at the cash register.  He carried a tray with a full plate, cutlery and a glass.  He gazed out at the crowd of students and took a deep breath.  Erika murmured something before she strode away to her usual table.  Whatever it was made her brother smile, stand taller and face the chaos before him

Saturday, 12 November 2016

The Light Between Oceans Book Review

goodreads.com
I picked up this book on the advice of my sister.  It's the story of Tom and Isabel Sherbourne, lighthouse keepers in Australia in the 1920s.  After three miscarriages, they discover a boat washed up on their island.  Inside, they find a man dead, but a baby alive.  The choice they make next will affect the rest of their lives.

It was a gripping story and the choice to tell it from multiple points of view makes it even more fascinating.  I found the descriptions of the island and post-World War I Australia especially satisfying.  However, due to the heavy themes and heightened emotions, it's a rather exhausting read.  I need to pick something a bit more lighthearted now to relax!  I look forward to seeing the movie version.

Friday, 28 October 2016

Book Review: Strange Things Done

Strange Things Done is Elle Wild's debut murder mystery novel set in Dawson City, Yukon.  Like
dundurn.com
most people who move to Dawson City, Jo Silver is trying to escape her past.  She arrives in Dawson just before freeze up to take over the local newspaper.  When a local MP dies mysteriously the night Jo arrives, she wonders if she's ready to be trapped in her new community all winter long.

My favourite part about the book was certainly the setting.  By spending time researching and living in the Yukon, Wild was able to include brilliant sensory details.  Buildings, rivers and the permeating cold were realistically recreated on the page.  Local characters seemed grown from the harshness of their surroundings.

Jo Silver's background formed an interesting side mystery to the story, although I found it a bit hard to relate to such a hard-boiled, hard-drinking journalist.  Her weaknesses of self-doubt and distrust helped create some empathy.  However, her decisions to break the law, take enormous risks and continuous running outdoors in inappropriate clothing were sometimes difficult to swallow.

The story is filled with action and has a satisfying conclusion.  The reader is left with several questions about Jo Silver which would work nicely into a sequel or series.

Monday, 3 October 2016

Book Review: The Jewel That Was Ours

Being a big fan of the BBC Masterpiece series, Endeavour and more recently, Inspector Lewis, I
goodreads.com
became curious about the books that inspired these series.  Colin Dexter's name comes up as the creator behind these excellent detective stories and so I searched for him in my local library.  I hoped to start at the beginning, but the series is a bit old and so I made do with starting at book #9.

Like Endeavour, The Jewel That Was Ours starts with short chapters/scenes of several different characters with no seeming relation to one another.  As the book develops, like the T.V. episodes, the connection between these characters slowly comes into focus.  However, unlike watching the episode, it takes longer and is more difficult to keep track of names and stories.  Perhaps I have a poor memory, but I found this difficult in the book.  However, I understand that confusion is the mystery writer's friend.

imdb.com
The Inspector Morse of The Jewel That Was Ours is entertaining and endearing with his curmudgeonly, hard-drinking, obsessive nature.  I could see some similarities between him and the young Morse in Endeavour.  His head is quickly turned by a pretty woman, which seems to be his blind spot much of the time.  He forgets to eat and sleep and often makes a large error in solving the crime, which he overcomes and then properly unravels.

I enjoyed this look into the book behind the T.V. show, but I'm not in a hurry to read any more.  I can't wait until the next Endeavour season comes out!

Monday, 19 September 2016

Finding new inspiration

Last week, I was feeling a bit down about not working or publishing.  I took a walk, which is one of my favourite ways to unwind and let my mind wander.  It's no surprise that I get a lot of
ideas in this way and this walk was no exception.

I remembered a few friends had told me about free courses you can take through public libraries.  When I had the chance, I checked out courses offered through the West Vancouver Library and found Coursera.  They have four courses related to creative writing and allow students to audit their classes.  I am loving this course on plot and thought I'd post this week's assignment in the hopes of getting some feedback.  Here goes!

Assignment:  Write 100 - 200 words about a visit to the doctor or dentist.  Use the ABDCE (Action, Background, Development, Climax, Ending) formula.  The action leads you to the doctor's office.

"She noticed the page beginning to blur around the edges.  She blinked her eyes quickly in succession, one – two – three.  She carried, on, worrying about losing control of this roomful of preteens.  Their regular teacher had selected this story about the earth and their duty to protect it. 

The page continued shrinking and Favia had to follow the words with her finger.  She found herself tripping over simple, one-syllable words.  She knew what was happening.  It wasn’t a common occurrence, but she recognized the experience from when she was thirteen.  She read faster, hoping to make it through the book.  The classroom was beginning to grow louder.  She surreptitiously reached into her purse for the pill that would solve her problem, but the bottle was empty. 

The book dragged on, pulling the children and herself into a helpless spiral of guilt.  She turned the page, her nose nearly touching the book and she heard a boy nearby whisper “What’s wrong with the sub?”  The next thing she remembered was waking up in a hospital bed.  “Likely an aneurysm,” someone was saying.  But she couldn’t get her mouth to tell them that it was only a migraine."

Can you find the ABDCE?