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?

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Book Review: A Handful of Dust

I picked up A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh at the local Community used book sale on the
recommendation of my friend Daniel.  I've never read Waugh before, but I assume he recommended the book based on my love of Jane Austen and other British writers.  

Like Pride and Prejudice, A Handful of Dust focuses three or four families in a country village (as well as in London).  Tony and Brenda Last are the Lord and Lady of Hetton Abbey, an extensive home and grounds rebuilt in the Gothic Style, but with "rather a shortage of bathrooms." (Waugh, 11.)  While Tony loves the country life, his wife of seven years is growing restless.  Enter John Beaver, an impoverished young gentleman with no work and little sense.  He spends most of his days waiting by the telephone to be invited to various lunches, dinners and parties when someone else can't make it.  He mistakes Tony's general invitation to visit Hetton as an actual invitation and shows up for the weekend when Tony and Brenda think they have the house to themselves.  Brenda is friendly, but Tony is continually rude without meaning to be.  Shortly after, Brenda decides to take up a small flat in London and begins an affair with Mr. Beaver.

This is certainly different from my other favourites including Austen and the Brontes, mostly in that it is more modern.  But also in that it is more wholly satirical.  At one point I wondered how Waugh could stand to write about such deplorable characters that not even their creator could love, but then I started to develop a bit of a soft spot for some of them.  Even though they are hideously self-involved, greedy and insensitive, they are completely oblivious to their faults.  I actually became quite fond of Tony Last, which was a mistake.  I found the ending quite grim on his behalf.

I also had some trouble with the death of John Last, who is only a child and quite well drawn as such.  It's fine to mock the petty habits of the rich but to kill off one of their children seems rather cruel.  However, it was a necessary catalyst for the rest of the characters and events of the novel.

I have mixed feelings about the book.  I laughed out loud several times, but couldn't help wondering if Evelyn Waugh would paint me so ridiculous.  Did he like anyone at all?  The book went in strange and unpredictable directions, the writing was smooth and I found I'd read it all much more quickly than I imagined.  I'll leave it up to you to decide if you will pick up this novel.

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Book Review: The Murder Stone by Louise Penny
The Murder Stone (A Rule Against Murder in the U.S.) is book number four of Louise Penny's Armand Gamache murder mystery books.  It begins with Armand and his wife Reine-Marie taking an anniversary holiday to the Manoir Bellechasse.  Despite stifling heat and irritating, entitled fellow hotel guests, the Gamaches enjoy their time together, away from the demands of Armand's job as Chief Inspector with the Sûreté du Québec.  That is, until murder strikes at the historic and foreboding Manoir.

Once again, Penny creates memorable and complex characters in a picturesque yet dangerous setting.  This book gives faithful readers a deeper look into returning character, Peter Morrow's, family and past.  He has always been a quiet, seething background character overshadowed by his eccentric and energetic wife Clara.  I've often wondered about some of his jarring actions and this book offered answers to some of my questions about him.

The great thing about a murder mystery series is that Penny can leave some mysteries unsolved to be answered in future books.  This keeps her readers reading and offers satisfaction when a mystery is solved several books later.  The Murder Stone also gives readers a peek into Armand Gamache's early history.

I was also pleasantly surprise by Penny's acknowledgements at the end of the book, where she reveals her inspiration for the character of Armand Gamache as well as the real-life basis of the Manoir Bellechasse.  I have now caught up to the other Gamache mysteries I read out of sequence.  My next Penny book will be A Trick of the Light.

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.