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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

OFF THE PAGE And Into the Classroom!


"Off the Page" is a program sponsored by the Federation of B.C. Writers who has a grant to send writers into classrooms (any ages of children or teens) and talk about the writer's life,  read their work, introduce kids to the life of a writer.  I've participated three times in the past and found it a most rewarding experience.  Yesterday, on my fourth Off the Page visit was, as usual inspiring and lots of fun.

I started writing between the ages of 8 and 10,  first writing plays for my classmates and for friends to perform in grandpa's back yard when we lived in Stratford. (What better a place for a budding writer, in that Ontario town with everything named Shakespearean, even the River Avon!)  When my family traveled across Canada by train after Dad came home from the war, I got interested in writing about pioneers, and later about the Biblical lands (Dad was a Baptist minister).  Then it was the Romans, and by the time I was 16 I got introduced to my hero, Alexander the Great.  I wrote stories, novellas, and plays.  I recently found a box full of these old manuscripts which I've kept.  A play about drugs in Vancouver's East End that I first wrote when I was 18 as a cautionary tale in 1953 and later reworked (without family or society censorship) was successfully produced by Theatre in the Raw in 2000.
But all during that time I was scolded for not paying attention to my school work.  I couldn't understand math and science, had no interest in it at all.  I wanted to be a writer and that was that!  And when I got my first old Underwood typewriter when I was 16 years old I was thrilled beyond words!  Now I could write like Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams, my literary heroes!  My mom was always being called into the school and told that I should be spending more time at my studies instead of writing.  I nearly failed my final year of high school because I was writing my first Alexander themed novel.


Persian school boys

These days, kids are given many more opportunities and encouraged to develop their creativity.  And the Off the Page program is just one way that we writers have of helping to stimulate this interest in the written word.  My two groups yesterday were Grades 9 and 10.  I spoke to them about my early desire to write and how through the years by persevering my dream has come to fruition and now I am a full time writer.  I demonstrated the different types of writing including poetry, and with each group I did writing exercises.  For the older group I had them write about a place they loved in 50 words to get the gist of writing short for the internet.  The younger group had prompts from my Idea Jar and wrote on various subjects.  They were shy about sharing but the teachers were encouraging and believe me, there was some excellent writing displayed!  It was truly an inspiring and rewarding morning spent at Moscrop School with the fine teachers, Leanne Sjodin and Dr. Gail Joe.  I was impressed! 

I'll be going back to that school again next month to participate in "The Human Library" which I was invited to do for the second year. I will be a 'book' in the library titled "So You Want to be a Writer?" The children come into the library, choose and book and ask questions.  It's really a lot of fun and again, a rewarding experience.

It's important to nurture young talent and give encouragement to kids who have a desire to write.  And it's heartening nowadays to see that there are teachers who care and programs to stimulate this creativity.  I am proud and glad to have participated in the Off the Page and commend the Federation of BC Writers for promoting such a terrific opportunity for writers and school kids!

http://bcwriters.com/off_the_page.php

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Sunday, March 27, 2011

A WRITER'S BUSY LIFE!

Pablo Neruda's House "La Chascona"
Santiago, Chile

Between winding up my classes and catching up on travel writing, besides editing Shadow of the Lion, it seems I have not had much time for blogging, other than to add a couple of new travel blogs (sometimes using old stories!)

But here I am, unwinding on a Sunday night after a productive day topped off with two stories getting accepted for an on-line publication (EuropeUpClose),  posting another travel blog, and going for a nice long walk for some exercise.

The final edits of Shadow went very well -- the red-pencilling part.  Now I have to start working on the new file on the computer and all the little icky-picky things that are necessary to get the novel into tip-top shape.  I'm approaching it in a relaxed manner.  There's been enough stuff going on around here to stress me out, so I want to have a fresh mind each time I sit down to go over the manuscript. 

In between, I've been getting a few new travel stories written:  (1) a story about touring Pablo Neruda's houses in Chile (2) updating some old stories that haven't been published (3) catching up on writing all the other stories I've had on the back-log while busy writing for The Vancouver Guide.  Now my time is a bit more freed up and I am enjoying the change of pace, especially getting used to the more casual 'blog-style' writing. 

Pretty soon I want to start working on my old novel, but I don't want to disrupt the work I still have to do on Shadow.  Hoping to get it all ship-shape in the next month.

In two weeks my classes all start up again for the Spring session, so I have to prepare programs and hand-out material for them.  Also, this week I will be presenting at school,  attending two classes to talk about being a writer.  This is for the Off the Page Program sponsored by the Federation of B.C. Writers.  I've done it three times in the past and it was always a great experience.  And later in the month, at the same school, I'll be participating again in the "Human Library" where I will represent myself as a book about being a writer.

So my life is full.  Really, I work every day on my writing and lately have made myself take a break, so I started back to the gym, go to waterfit twice a week and on the weekend I try to go on a good long walk.  Sitting at the computer for too long is very hard on the eyes and body!

Meanwhile, I'm working on my summer plans.  In spite of the upsets lately -- the unexpected news of my apartment sale and some other sad news about friends passing -- I have decided to take charge of my life and go ahead with my plans for summer.  So this week I'll be checking in with my travel agent and applying for a renewed passport.  Time to hit the road again!


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Wednesday, March 09, 2011

HOW SERIOUS ARE YOU ABOUT YOUR WRITER'S LIFE?

This is where I spend anywhere from 4 - 8 hours a day (or more)

This blog was prompted by a recent comment made to me by another writer suggesting that the reason I wasn't accepted into a big writer's organization was that perhaps I was not considered to be 'qualified', but simply a 'hobbyist."   This really riled me, under the circumstance, when I have been working pretty well full-time as a write for the past few years. Even before that, when I worked either full-time or part-time in daycare, I was careful to spend all my extra time at the computer composing, teaching writing classes, attending workshops and marketing my work.

For years now I've kept a daily 'time sheet' to monitor the time I spend writing or in writing-related activities.  This isn't just for my own benefit, but because yearly I declare a self-employment income as a writer and in case I should be audited I need to prove that I'm conscientiously attempting to make a living from my writing.  At the same time, I've warned people who sign up for my travel writing courses and tell me "I want to make a career change", not to quit their day job.  Because chances are, especially in this day and age with cut-backs in the print markets and very little (if any) pay for on-line writing, unless you are employed by a publisher you will not make enough to live on.  I only manage by earning money teaching writing and by collecting the measly pension allotted 'retired' people.  The money I get back yearly from my tax refund is what buys my ticket for another trip.  And if I'm going to join a big writer's organization, I'm not going to pay and arm and a leg to join when I could never afford to fly across the country to their conventions or go on their comp trips.  I do belong to one local writer's organization that I find helpful and beneficial and once again this year got chosen for their Off the Page Program, to go into school and talk writing to kids and get paid for it.  The other group I belong to, the travel writers, has provided a couple of winning tickets for trips but other than their name on my business cards, not much else.

When I've tried joining this other big organization I've been told they did not accept on-line writing (at least not until recently and it all depends on the traffic on the site); they do not consider the fact I edit and publish my own travel 'zine (same reason) and don't recognize that I teach travel writing at night school (though at the moment I don't have a Travel class, just creative writing).  For the last few years I've written daily for another on-line travel 'zine (the Vancouver Guide. www.istopover.com)  and been paid fairly well for my efforts as well as having some print publications (paid) and other on-line publications (paid).  But apparently this isn't good enough and I am therefore labeled 'not qualified'.  Well, piss on that!

I went through my work (on-line links as well as print publications) just to see how many stories I've published since my very first story went into Arrival Travel & Leisure back in 1983 (for which I was paid about $150.)  I was amazed at my body of work.  Everything from shortened pieces in local free newspapers (that paid a whole $5) to my biggest achievement in a glossy magazine that got me $700. including photos.  I made this list not only for my own benefit, but because on my new website, which is to introduce me to potential agents/publishers as I start my journey trying to market Shadow of the Lion, I wanted to have a list of published work available.  It includes the work I did on the APA Insight Guide travel book of Vancouver & Environs in 1993 for which I also got paid a pretty penny and got to learn how to use a computer.

It's true, that if you want to be a writer (and especially if you expect to collect a self-employment rebate on your taxes) you need to prove you are a serious writer trying to make a living.  This means you have to be sending stories out and getting the work done.  Which is, writing more than once or twice a year or giving your work away to these publications (there are too many) who expect you to contribute your work for free while they glean benefits from their own site.  (The reason I started Travel Thru History www.travelthruhistory.com  was because I got sick of being bullied by an on-line editor who did just that.  I decided to start my own site where I could mentor new writers, pay them a small stipend and let them at least get 'rewarded' for their efforts.  No, I don't make money on my site other than what I get from the google ads.  But I find it rewarding enough to see the great stories that get contributed to my site each month and to know the thrill first-time writers feel when they see their work in print.

Besides my travel writing I do other work and recently completed a long historical fiction novel that required tons of discipline to write and many hours of research.  That has been my biggest achievement so far and it will be the biggest thrill of my life when I see Shadow of the Lion in print.  But there's still lots of work ahead, besides the final editing, the marketing process.  Meanwhile I have to get those travel stories written that I've had on hold, and plan new programs for my Spring classes. 

Writing for me IS a full time job.  I spend anywhere from 4 to 8 hrs a day at the computer and sometimes much longer.  That's not counting the time I spend at classes or going to and from classes on public transit.  And then there's my own critique group I belong to each week.  We have to produce writing for that. It helps keep you focused to belong to a writer's group and I've found my Scribblers group to be invaluable as I struggled through the long epic saga of Shadow.  Now I'm ready to start finishing that other novel I'd set aside so long ago to write Alexander's story.  It's an exciting new prospect and one that will be sure to keep me at my computer hours at a time when perhaps I'd rather be out strolling in the sun or watching TV.(The TV doesn't go on in my house until the 11.30 pm news).

Yes, my writer's life is a full time commitment, and I will not let anyone suggest to me that it's otherwise.  I know I am qualified.  My track record for publication, recognition by other writers and by those who have successfully completed my courses and published their own work tells me that.
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Sunday, March 06, 2011

REVISITING OLD SARUM

Old Sarum

Last night I took my boxes out of the storage closet and found my box of manuscripts, some of them written when I was just a teenager.  The most important one I was looking for was the manuscript of my unfinished Celtic novel, "Dragons in the Sky".  I had half finished this novel before getting bogged down and setting it aside to write "Shadow of the Lion", which at the time was intended as a juvenile historical.
"It'll only take me about a year to write," I thought.  All these years later I finally did finish it and now I want to return to finish Dragons.

Inside the manuscript folder were pages of notes I'd made during my research, in particular for the last part of the book which (yes!) takes place in Greece.  Yes, there is an Alexander connection with this story!  And I found a copy of the MSS and a note I'd written to my dear Aunt Grace who wanted to read it. 
"Dragons in the Sky" is a story about sacrifices - both the literal and personal types.  It's the story of a young girl whose life is spared for the service of the gods and of the sacrifices she makes in her life from the loss of her innocence to her maturity, and eventual motherhood when she must give up her own child in order to return to her homeland.

The story is a first person narrative, the story of a Celtic girl, Olwen, who's 'voice' I have heard from the very first time I sat on the earth mount at Old Sarum on the Salisbury Plain and knew at that instant that this was the place the story took place.  In the novel, I call it "Caer Gwyn".


Iron Age village,  St. Fagans, Wales

Last summer I visited St. Fagans Heritage Park in Wales and was thrilled to tour through an iron age 'village' much like the one Olwen lived in. Two years ago I had revisited Old Sarum although I'd like to go again when I'm not so rushed and alone.  I'd been there twice before, the first time by accident when I'd noticed a sign in the bus depot about the Iron Age hill fort, and decided to walk there.  I knew instantly, when I arrived that this was where Olwen's story began.  I went there once again a year later and spent a lot of time wandering about catching the spirits. 

Me, in front of one of the wattled huts like the one Olwen lived in.

Writing "Dragons in the Sky" was as if I was actually channelling the spirit of this girl, Olwen, who wanted me to tell her story.  Maybe her story was mine from another lifetime.  The strange thing was,  Olwen's father had come from Senghenydd (an ancient holy centre in what is now Wales).  When her mother died and her father brought her to the stone circle on the Plain and she was cared for by the Druids, and became an acolyte of the Raven clan.  I didn't know at the time, until my father told me much later when he read the first part of the novel, that my great-grandfather was from Senghenydd and had died there in a mining disaster at the turn of the century.  There were many such deja-vu kind of experiences for me during the writing of that novel.

I was worried, when I took that manuscript out of the box, that perhaps after so many years the writing would not be so good, and the story wouldn't be as interesting as when I started writing it and listening to Olwen speak.  But I started to read through it and was amazed at how her voice 'sang' to me -- the cadence of the prose and the beautiful story unfolding.

I had original written it on a portable typewriter.  Now I must transpose it onto the computer and will do editing as I go along (as well as workshopping in my critique group).  So Olwen's voice will be heard again.  And this time I hope her story is completely told!  I can hardly wait to begin again.

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Friday, March 04, 2011

Some Endings, Some New Beginnings

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The end of 2010 was exciting for me when I finally finished writing "Shadow of the Lion".  Starting off the New Year, I took a little break from the novel and continued with other writing, tried to catch up with some long-delayed travel stories, and of course my weekly writing for Planet Eye (www.iStopOver.com) which I've been doing since 2008.

In February I went on a little trip to the mountains, a lovely ski resort "Sun Peaks" and when I returned I prepared to write a special assignment story about it for Planet Eye. The day after I returned from my wonderful family holiday in the mountains, I was shocked to learn my landlord had put my apartment up for sale.  The night before, when I arrived home after my short vacation, I had marvelled at how much I loved my dear little place and how happy I have been here for the last 4 1/2 years.  Then the bomb dropped!  I have been living in limbo ever since, not quite sure if or when I will have to move, or what I'll do next.

I did get the assignment story ready for Planet Eye written and also a couple of other travel stories which I intend to market.  Meanwhile, I also began the editing of Shadow of the Lion.

The Acropolis from the Pnyx 

Today I completed Part IV,  revisiting Pella in Macedonia and Athens.  It was interesting reading back the dialogues between the new Regent and his Assembly,  the antagonist Kassandros and his crew as they plot to overthrow the Regent, and the Senators in Athens arguing about how they will get the Macedonians out of their city.  I've been enjoying my journey back to these old familiar places with the characters I grew to know so well.

I'm looking forward to travelling again and hope that the disruption of my impending move does not interfere with my plans to return to Wales and Greece this summer.

Meanwhile, my work with Planet Eye has ended after a long stint with them (since 2008) because iStopOver is no longer publishing their stories.  I will use this new 'free' time to catch up on travel writing.  And as soon as I am able to I'll dig the old manuscript of "Dragons in the Sky" out of the closet and start retyping it into the computer with the intention of finally finishing it. (I had quite working on it when I started Shadow) 

There's lots to look forward to even though I will be regretful at having to move from my cozy little apartment.  Who knows when that will be?  I just have to wait and see and anticipate a bright new beginning.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

RED-PENCILLING MY WAY THROUGH: Another Part of a Long Journey

PELLA

My journey through Alexander's world didn't end when I came to the final chapter of the novel. Now I'm retracing my steps, red pencil in hand, this time not as a writer, but as the editor.

I've actually been making good progress.  The first two parts went quickly with not many notes or edits.  Then from Chapter 18 on it began to bog down somewhat and I was marking more parts with 'OMIT'
There are places in Part 3 where I did a lot of research and wanted to use the information which I found very interesting.  Of course now I see where it was not necessary and although I had fun writing it and developing the characters further, it did not move the plot forward and in fact slowed down the pace.

I knew from the start I'd have to cut lots of the novel as it is much to long to be acceptable, so I am able to be more critical and wield that pen like a sword cutting, cutting, cutting, slashing my way through clunky prose, bits of dialogue and internal thought that are too mature for a child's mind, entertaining passages like the Persians celebrating their New Years, which was fun to write but does nothing to increase the tension.  I'm trying to be tough as a warrior here, mowing down all those unwanted passages.

Then I got to the Interlude for Part 3 and again the action picked right up.  I thought that interlude might be too long but it is packed full of action and violence ramping up the tension full-force.  And the last scene of that interlude, with the dying Regent sets up very clearly all the conflict that is about to happen in the last half of the story.

So progress is good and I'm enjoying the process, distancing myself from it as a writer but still having fun on the journey.  And because I haven't read much of it for some time, there are always surprises, and little trips down memory lane remembering when I visited places like Samothraki, Amphipolis and Pella, and I see how my research notes for setting details etc shine through and breathe life into those ancient places.

Once I finish the red pencilling I'll start working on the computer again.  And then there's things like checking name spellings, correct terminology for the Macedonian army officers etc.  It will take me awhile yet, but I can see that it is going well and that is encouraging.

Meanwhile, I'm not doing much other writing except for some travel stories.  And one of these days when I feel it's time, I'll dig the old manuscript of Dragons in the Sky out of the box and start retyping it.
Til then, I'll enjoy my journey through Alexander's world.  I miss my old friends there!



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