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Short Story?

I'm feeling good holding a first draft of a (far too long) short story in my hand.  I've packed it and can't wait to start revisions while sitting on a beach in Florida.  God willing, there will be sunshine and warm weather!

I'm sure this will only be the first of several revisions.  I'll want to go back at it again when I've completed "Writing Fiction" but am going to take a first run through to clean it up and cut the excess.  I love the characters but I think I've said all I have to say about them in 15,000 words which doesn't bode well for extending it to novel length...hence, I believe it to be short story material. Meh, I think I'll leave that to be decided on the beach with a Marguarita in my hand!

I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves.  ~Anna Quindlen, "Enough Bookshelves," New York Times, 7 August 1991

My fourteen year old daughter (pictured here reading "To Kill A Mockingbird") has, between Harry Potter and Twilight, been fitting in books that most of her friends are not yet reading.  She and her sisters have grown up experiencing both the books of their generation as well as books my husband and I have introduced as favorites from our youth.

We started with such classics as "Where The Wild Things Are" by Maurice Sendack (all time best book to read out loud at bedtime) and then went seeking adventure with Mr. Toad in "Wind in the Willows" followed by the 'hare' raising "Watership Down". Eventually the time came to spend time with Judy Blume and the other young adult writers.

We've now reached an exciting stage in her reading interests.  We are starting to feed her suggestions of books that we loved from high school.  Last summer it was "Chrysalids" followed quickly by "To Kill A Mockingbird".  She enjoyed both books, but she specifically shared my love for "To Kill A Mockingbird".  Her review? "I heart that book".  That's tantamount to a five star review in pre-teen 'speak'.  What I loved was that she's now at an age where she can think critically about books beyond just reading them for pleasure.  She was able to connect that both books had similar themes and spoke to, among other things, how we fear what we don't understand or what is different.

Although I find myself missing the days of her childhood as she speeds toward becoming an adult, I also feel terrifically proud to see her becoming an intelligent and relatively well-read young woman.

Showing and Telling

I'm working my way through Chapter 2 of "Writing Fiction" which is about showing versus telling. It covers some very interesting ground. I thought I understood the difference but found in reading this chapter that I didn' least not fully.  I'll touch on this more once I've gotten through the chapter.

I'm celebrating today! I've finished a short story and I like the material alot.  I'm going to print it and take it with me to Florida (two more sleeps!).  It needs alot of work but it feels good to have the first draft done.  I look forward to sitting on the beach, pen in hand, doing the revision.

Cooking With My Hubby

Yesterday was, of course, Valentine's Day. My husband, who is well known to my friends as a "manly man", is also a stay at home dad. My gift to him yesterday was a cookbook. Not just ANY cookbook, but Julia Child's (et al.) "Mastering the Art of French Cooking".  I love the irony that this cookbook was targeted at 'stay at home moms' when it was published.

Now, some may say that this gift is paramount to giving him a vaccum cleaner, which would be accurate if he hadn't specifically asked for the cookbook by name.

Truly, neither of us are the type to swoon over Valentine's Day or to give gifts.  In fact, we are more likely to forget to pick up a card and, in doing so, exchange our cards a day late.  This has advantages.  Cards are much cheaper the day after the holiday.

Therefore, considering that he specifically requested the cookbook, I made an effort to deliver it on time.  I was successful with the book yesterday but, as per my past pattern, I sheepishly delivered a mushy card to him today. I should have bought the card at the same time as I bought the's embarrasing. I tried to put a positive spin it with the idea that he's my Valentine every day...not just on February 14th.  Lame, I know.

I must say that this gift turned out much better than I had expected.  Although I know he'll take some flack from his "paintball" buddies about the gift, he really liked it. Last night, for the first time that I can remember, we cooked a meal together (stuffed boneless leg of lamb with roasted potatoes and braised carrots).  We had some trouble with our meat thermometer and the meat was a bit over-cooked, but we had a blast testing the new cookbook and working together on the meal.  Oddly, it was rather romantic.  Way to go Julia...

From "Writing Fiction", here is an exercise from Chapter 1.  It's a device borrowed from the Pillow Book of Sei Shonagun. Sei was a courtesan in tenth-century Japan. She kept a diary of the goings on at court which she hid in her pillow (hence "pillow book").  In it she made categories of lists of often quirky things.

Here's my attempt at "things I've done on a hammock":

* Got entirely lost in a book
* Used it as a swing (even though that's against the rules...)
* Watched my girls glide into shore in their kayaks
* Watched the flames skitter, dance and snap across a fire pit
* Absent mindedly stroked the dog with my face turned towards the sunshine
* Held a peanut in the palm of my hand until I felt the tiny tickling claws of a nervous chipmunk
* Hung upside down with my daughter while she giggled
* Criticized my hubby while he chopped wood
* Made love swinging in the breeze (as an apology?)

The Banff Centre

I met Heather on twitter in September 2009 while we were both participating in the 3 day Novel contest. Unfortunately, neither of us won the contest this year. Not only is Heather a great girl and a knitter extraordinaire, she's also a published author (unlike me).

Most recently, her work is included in a collection of vampire short fiction called Evolve. That's the great thing about the 3 Day Novel contest, anyone can participate.  Even an unpublished writer (am I a writer if I'm not published?) can participate.

I mention Heather, not just because I find her success inspiring, but because she has been at the Banff Centre this week on a writing residency.  I've been living vicariously through her blog posts this week wishing I were there too.  She's managed to get quite alot done in the past week, including finishing her collection of short stories which she hopes to submit to the Hudson Prize.

Her stay at The Banff Centre has inspired me to set a goal to go there.  I'd like to participate in a self-directed writing residency similar to what Heather is doing this week, but even more so, I'd like apply for the Leighton Artists' Colony for Independent Residencies (some of the studios are pictured in this post).  That's a pretty big goal considering that I haven't even managed to publish a short story up to this point.  Having published your work and being able to provide references is one of the criteria for being able to apply for a residency in these studios. It's a worthy goal that I can work towards.

Man, I feel like a bit of an idiot talking about my goals considering that I haven't published anything. Is that doubt that I hear creeping up behind me??

Whatever Works

The first chapter has been an introduction to the process of writing.  There is no question that writing is hard.  Really hard.  That's likely why, out of all the people who TALK about doing it, so few ever do.  What I do know is that this very hard work can also be joyful and that's why some of us persist.

Burroway speaks to the fact that a writer needs a routine or a habit of regular writing, but there is no doubt that every writer's routine is different. I don't know what my routine will be but I'll start small with a goal to at least write five posts a week. Is blogging the new way to journal? Perhaps.

Burroway speaks to journal keeping, but she also speaks to free writing.  This is a really interesting concept.  Perhaps I'll try it this weekend.  I may even do a post in free writing to try it out. She also speaks to finding something to write about--choosing your subject.  That's an interesting thought.  I've rarely had difficulty thinking of something to write about.  My issue tends to lie in finding a way to make the story compelling and readable.  However, I do like her thoughts on how truth in a story isn't always credible. That a story you tell, even if it is true, can be found unconvincing by the reader.  Sometimes fiction can speak to truths better than reality can.  This is one of my favorite quotes from the chapter:

"A short story is a writer's way of thinking through experience...journalism aims at accuracy, but fiction's aim is truth. The writer distorts reality in the interest of a larger truth." ~John L'Heureux
She continues in the chapter to discuss reading like a writer and to discuss the benefit of writer's workshops.  Quite frankly, though I see the value of the workshops, the very thought terrifies me.  I guess I'm not quite ready to lay myself bare in front of strangers yet.  When I think of a writer's workshop, I have an odd vision of sitting in a living room adorned with lace doilies and ruddy faced farm women with poetic aspirations offering me short, sharp criticism while they anxiously look to move the meeting forward so we can finally address their, most inspired, works. That's what I imagine a writer's workshop might look like in rural Ontario.  I recognize this is hardly realistic, but can't help the thought.  It's quite odd that the first vision to mind isn't of a workshop at the Banff Centre where I'd love to spend some time in a self-directed writing program.

I'll leave here with another quote from the text that I thought was rather powerful.  I am a creature of habit and so I relate to her advice on creating habits that drive your writing forward:
"Forget inspiration.  Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you are inspired or not.  Habit will help you finish and polish your stories.  Inspiration won't.  Habit is persistence in practice."  ~Octavia Butler

About the Book...

So here is the textbook I will use as my starting point.  It's the most expensive paperback I've ever purchased ($98) but will be worth it if it delivers some much needed insight on how to wrestle my writing into shape.

This edition lists multiple authors, the main author being Janet Burroway.  I'm aware that the text is used in at least one Canadian University for one of their creative writing courses so I will trust that this it contains quality information.

I'm in the process of reading Chapter One and will recap the insights in my next post.

Wish me luck?

The Journey

After participating in my third attempt at the 3 Day Novel contest in September 2009, I realized one thing: that writing (not winning, not publishing--nice as that would be--but the actual process of writing) is something that fills me with indescribable happiness.  When I write I am a better wife, lover, mother, friend, and human being.  And so it follows that I've decided to actually put some focused effort on learning to do it well.

Yes, I have much to learn.  What I have written has, so far, failed to earn even an honourable mention in any contest where I've submitted work.  Am I disheartened? Of course not.  My ideas are good.  My work, however, is not.  At least not yet.  I've accepted that I'll write very badly before I'll write well--and I'm ok with that.

In knowing that I have much to learn, I've decided to begin by working through the book "Writing Fiction" by Janet Burroway.  It has come highly recommended as a resource to improve my creative writing.  What follows is my journey through that textbook along with any personal musings and a list of what I'm reading. If I feel particularly brave (which I must warn you is unlikely) I may even share snippets of what I'm working on. What happens after that...who knows...

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