Brussels Bound & Making Use of Member Benefits (WCDR)

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I’ve mentioned this in the past, but it’s always good to throw out a reminder to WCDR members that they should take advantage of all the benefits membership opens up to them.

For those who have not yet heard of one of Canada’s most vibrant writing communities, the WCDR stands for Writers Community of Durham Region. Durham Region is JUST east of Toronto, Ontario. The group for writers is over 300 strong. Membership is open to all, whether or not you live in the area…though if you do live in the area you would more easily get to participate in many of the writing events that take place there. They have an almost monthly Roundtable Breakfast Meeting in Whitby, reading events, workshops, small writing circles, etc, etc, etc.

By taking part in some of the member benefits, writers can gain experience, knowledge, connections, publishing credits and more. One of the best benefits is the Wordweaver Newsletter that the organization puts out. It is ONLY open for members to submit to, and it’s a paying publication. This benefit gives new writers a great opportunity to gain publication credits, as well as helps to offset the cost of membership.

Another great benefit that WCDR members have is access to the great array of writing grants. Their Grants & Scholarships Program is open only to members and they are always free to apply to.

As well as all of these things, there is always a discounted member fee on the workshops and writing programs on offer through the WCDR. And it’s always a good idea to upgrade your writing skills by attending workshops.

So, if you happen to be a WCDR member and you’re not taking advantage to all the benefits the organization has to offer you, start doing so today. Hit any of the links above for more information on the things I listed, or navigate the WCDR at your own pace to discover everything there is to know about the organization. It’s a powerhouse on the Canadian writing landscape. Take advantage of it.

This brings me to the fact that my upcoming trip is fast approaching. 19 days before I depart for Belgium! I will be spending a week in Brussels in lieu of attending the Muskoka Novel Marathon this coming July. I wanted to shake things up a bit this year. I still plan to marathon a novel, but I thought I would try it on my own this time, see how my self-discipline is holding up. ALL writers desperately need self-discipline. It’s the thing that makes the difference between success and failure sometimes. Skill is only part of the equation. You can have all the skill in the world and do all your writing in the form of Twitter tweets and Facebook updates and Instagram posts. When the chips are down, what you really need to do is get BUM IN CHAIR and write. And that’s just what I will be doing in Brussels.

But I’m not crazy. I’m not going halfway around the world to lock myself in a room to write. NOT ONLY. I booked two days in which to see the world around me. A walking tour of Brussels and a walking tour of Bruges. And in between I hope to write not ONE but TWO novels in a week. If I can write the better part of one in 72 hours, I don’t see why I can’t stretch myself to write 2 in 7 days. I’m sure the math doesn’t work that way, though…but it’s not going to prevent me from trying.

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This picture is apropos of nothing, really, except maybe my desire for wanderlust. Life is a journey…get out there. Explore! Find your passion–your path–and take it.

Another thing about Brussels. It was the impetus for me to finally consider applying for a WCDR writing grant. I always thought I’d leave the grants and scholarships alone…leave them for others to use. After arranging my writing schedule for the trip, I thought, why not? So I applied. And I was awarded a grant this past Saturday. SO it is with much appreciation to the organization I have already come to love so much over the years that I thank the WCDR for their contribution to my solitary European writing retreat. I will be writing with the knowledge that the organization stands behind my efforts. For that I am grateful.

I’m sure I’ll be back to tell you how it went. I won’t say I’m not nervous. I get this nervous every year before I head to the Muskoka Novel Marathon too. What if I sit down and I have nothing to write? What if the muse does not appear? What if I become too distracted to write? What if? What if? What if? You can’t live your life by what ifs, though. I will get to Belgium, I will sit down in a strange place and I will open my laptop and I will write.

On the Horizon – Events of Writerly Interest

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Every now and again I write a catch-all post to include some of the things on my writerly horizon. The ones in my immediate future may be of interest to those of you in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area for visitors from elsewhere on the globe).

Event #1 – Ontario Writers’ Conference FESTIVAL OF AUTHORS

Originally birthed at the Ontario Writers’ Conference, this legacy event of the now defunct annual conference promises to be an exciting evening out for writers and readers alike. The event takes place at Creative Math & Music (1064 Salk Rd., Units 5-7 Pickering, ON, L1W 4B5) on Friday March 31st, 2017 from 7;00pm-10:00pm. From the OWC website:

The Festival usually features:

  • entertaining interviews and inspiring author readings (see below)
  • opportunities to mingle with Canadian Authors, fellow writers and avid readers
  • voting for the winners of our Story Starters Contest
  • exciting prizes !

Announced thus far for the festival is the amazing TED BARRIS as emcee and award winning debut novelist ANN Y.K. CHOI. You can read more about the festival, including bios for both announced authors at THIS LINK FOR OWC FESTIVAL OF AUTHORS. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Ted Barris, and of seeing him in action as an author interviewer and interviewee. An evening with Ted Barris is worth the price of admission. And I am right in the middle of reading Ann Choi’s KAY’S LUCKY COIN VARIETY from Simon & Schuster Canada. It’s a lovely coming-of-age story that takes place in Koreatown in Toronto in the 80s. I’m thoroughly enjoying it and hope to have it completed by the Festival on the 31st. Here’s a brief synopsis of the book from Goodreads:

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A bittersweet coming-of-age debut novel set in the Korean community in Toronto in the 1980s. This haunting coming-of-age story, told through the eyes of a rebellious young girl, vividly captures the struggles of families caught between two cultures in the 1980s. Family secrets, a lost sister, forbidden loves, domestic assaults—Mary discovers as she grows up that life is much more complicated than she had ever imagined. Her secret passion for her English teacher is filled with problems and with the arrival of a promising Korean suitor, Joon-Ho, events escalate in ways that she could never have imagined, catching the entire family in a web of deceit and violence. A unique and imaginative debut novel, Kay’s Lucky Coin Variety evocatively portrays the life of a young Korean Canadian girl who will not give up on her dreams or her family.

Keep watching the OWC website further further author announcement. And get your TICKETS soon, as they just may sell out!

Even#2 – WCDR Words of the Season

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This is a regular feature of the Writers’ Community of Durham Region. It’s an evening of readings from WCDR members and it features fiction, poetry, memoir, non-fiction, etc. Taking place this time around in Whitby, Words of the Season will happen on Tuesday April 4th, 2017. This is an open event and anyone is invited to attend. Simply show up at:

La Rosa Ristorante
3050 Garden Street
Unit 102
Whitby, ON

Arrive as early as 6:00 pm. Socialize, eat, enjoy a beverage – food and drink available for purchase. Performances start at 7:00 pm. Fully accessible venue.

Maaja Wentz will be emceeing this event. Members read, but anyone can come and listen. And stay for a meal.

I will be one of the readers this time around, reading from an upcoming novel.

Event #3 – April WCDR Roundtable Meeting

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WCDR Blue Pencil Extravaganza

This mostly monthly breakfast menu for the Writers’ Community of Durham Region is always lively…and always filled with approximately 100 writers from Durham and the rest of the GTA–an amazing feat in itself for a Saturday at 8:30am.

The APRIL meeting will feature what the WCDR is calling a BLUE PENCIL BONANZA. Foregoing the usual format of a GUEST SPEAKER, April will be set up as a hands-on critiquing meeting. Each table will feature a different genre and a professional in that genre will facilitate the table through a critique of sample pages submitted by members at the time of registration. Meeting attendees could either choose to participate by submitting their work ahead of time OR observe at the table of their choosing. Please note that NON-MEMBERS will not be permitted to submit samples. This is only open to WCDR MEMBERS.

This event takes place:

BISTRO 67 – Durham College, Centre for Food
1604 Champlain Avenue, Whitby ON

REGISTER TODAY!

ALL DETAILS ARE HERE.

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE:

The May 6th WCDR Roundtable Meeting will feature Guest Speaker TREVOR COLE. He will talk about “the early days of organized crime in Canada, before the First World War, when the Italian criminal underworld was known as the Black Hand. He’ll describe how it dovetailed with the beginnings of prohibition and led to the rise of Rocco Perri as the most powerful bootlegger and mob boss in southern Ontario.”

If I wasn’t leaving the continent on the very day this event is happening, I would most certainly be there. I hate to miss it.

Mr. Cole will also facilitate the AFTER-BREAKFAST MINI-WORKSHOP on May 6th >>>

How to Write Great Dialogue with Trevor Cole

I See a Ship in the Harbor…

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I can and shall obey…

Ear-worms are fingers tapping your soul asking you to remember.

And I still find it so hard to say what I need to say.

What follows is mere rumination.

I’ve been imagining myself a playwright of late. Again. I’ve begun project after project…and even completed a couple (DETAILS TO FOLLOW IN THE COMING WEEKS).

When I started writing poetry, which may in fact be my first calisthenics endeavor with words, I thought, ‘this must be the hardest thing to write.’ Then I took on the short story and discovered poetry was easier than I thought…because the short story was near impossible. From there, I took on the novel…because it’s only MORE of a short, right? A longer short, if you will. How much more difficult could it be?

Was I in for a surprise! Culottes are not pants. The novel was difficult in its own unique way. I came upon issues that had nothing to do with the short story, even though they resemble one another in so many ways. I might argue that the short story is more difficult than the novel overall…because of what you have to put into it and the confined perimeters you are given and forced to squeeze those ingredients into. It’s a bit of a magic trick, really. But the novel…the endurance one needs to see it through to the end! The novel is almost a physical feat. It’s so exhausting.

All these word trials combined can’t really prepare one for playwriting. If novel writing is bringing a story to life, then playwriting is bringing characters to life. It’s about getting your characters to say precisely what they need to say. No FAT. No un-wanted words. It’s the novel without the movement, for the characters themselves perform the movement. You don’t get to DESCRIBE…you just get to talk.

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The great W. Somerset Maugham, 1942. Because he said a novelist can become a playwright…I write.

My ‘mentor’ and idol, W. Somerset Maugham, once said, “Thank God, I can look at a sunset now without having to think how to describe it.”  (Read his THE SUMMING UP) This was said in a sort of elation as he had moved from novel writing to play-writing. He was thrilled to be spending more time in dialogue and less tedious time building up the area around the talking. And I agree with him fully and completely.

But there is also an element of playwriting that is terrifying. It’s like removing all the trees the novel provides for shading. You are starkly naked against the stage. The reader is not going to be taking the description you wrote and running it through their imaginations and making it even bigger and better than what you originally gave them…AND crediting you with the entire picture formed by the marriage of your prose and their imaginations. The characters literally need to carry everything forward in a play. If it’s not seen and heard, it doesn’t happen.

And THIS is what I want for myself? THIS is my ultimate goal as a writer? To write conversations that must have the fortitude to stand alone? I must be crazy. Poetry makes the world prettier, short stories and novels makes the world vivid and in front of you and alive.

Plays, for the playwright at any rate, give only bodies talking. Theatre does not end with the playwright. Theatre merely begins at the end of the playwriting. The breath gets blown into the play via the director and the actors, and the dramaturge before that. The play is merely mud until those elements mould it into existence–words on paper. The playwright provides the mud and the director and actors mould it into the golem. The whole is a collaborative effort. Where a novelist needs no collaboration outside of those who polish their piece and make it its most presentable, the playwright needs a stable of people to carry their work forward. The novelist has to imagine a person sitting in a room, lounging in a chair, book in hand…their imagination knitting with the words on the page to form something greater than the sum of the novel’s parts. The playwright needs to count on the faith of many believers taking to the stage and presenting their words to a person sitting in a room, sitting in a chair, eyes wide open taking in the show. The playwright needs to step back and allow what it is they wrote to take on a new life, to become something other than what it is they wrote…something better.

I suppose there is always a collaboration. The novelist and the reader’s imagination. The playwright and the busload of people injecting the words with imagination, movement, and the business of performing them. I really must be crazy, because I do both of these things. But both are wildly rewarding in their own way. Each one gives back as much as you give into it. To see your words brought to life by actors on the stage is an alchemy I’ll never get used to. And to hear that your novel has touched a reader…untold joy. Every once in a while I reach a place of reflection and realize what these things mean to me. They are everything. The word is the light, indeed.

I’m writing a play right now, writing the conversations that will hopefully be brought to life on the stage. One must believe in that eventuality when writing a play. It is the only way for the play to be born…it must leave the page. Its characters must take flesh.

And with every line of dialogue, I remind myself that nothing can be extraneous on the page. They NEED to say only what NEEDS to be said.

And I still find it so hard to say what I need to say…

 

 

 

 

Bringing Levity to a Serious Issue -A Reluctant Playwright Tackles a New Play

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lev·i·ty
ˈlevədē/
noun
noun: levity; plural noun: levities
  1. humor or frivolity, especially the treatment of a serious matter with humor or in a manner lacking due respect.

Whenever I attempt to tackle a serious life issue faced by real-life people in my writing, my aim is always to intersperse the message with a brand of levity that is neither offensive to the reading/watching audience nor disrespectful to the target subject facing the real-life issue being tackled (I apologize for the run-on sentence). This task is not as easy as it probably doesn’t sound, especially when I am a member of the target group I’m writing about. But I tackle issues. It’s one of the things I like to do with my writing. I don’t shy away from the task because it is difficult to accomplish. I embrace it. It’s a challenge a choose to take on.

Back in 2012 I wrote a blog post about Childhood Sexual Abuse and where Toronto area men could go for help to overcome the side-effects of this devastating crime (Sadly and happily it is google search-and-found almost daily by those seeking help–sadly, because it’s heartbreaking to think there are that many victims out there and happily because I’m glad they are finding help through the provided links). I wrote about a miracle worker who has made it her life’s work to heal men and help them recover their lives from the morass of their broken childhoods. Lynne MacDonell brings men from victimhood to survivorhood to thriverhood. She does this with individual therapy and guided and thriver-led group therapy.

 

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I built this Inukshuk on West Fork Trail on Oak Creek just outside of Sedona, Arizona, this past September. It’s a symbol found in abundance in Lynne MacDonell’s office. I built it for my group brothers…

I am now YEARS into my own personal healing journey. One day, while awaiting the commencement of a group therapy session, a conversation about plays and theatre led to a discussion about a play which takes place in a therapy group session. The guys know that I’ve been writing plays for a few years now. At first, it was a bit of a joke. “And we can have the guy who…” and we would outline all the shady/crazy/funny/sad characters that would take the stage in the play. We had all the archetypes covered, all the stereotypes, all of US. It was a discussion of life imitating art imitating life imitating art.

A funny thing began to happen about ten minutes in to our conversation. I got that warm flush of excitement I receive when a kernel of an idea begins to grow and take possession of my creative brain. The downhill snowball effect of the creativity engine kicked in and I became excited. “And we can make it funny–I mean, fucking hilarious, right–because look at us. Even we know there are funny things about us. We’re a cesspool of fodder for funny.” And someone else said, “At the same time, we could educate. We could get a message out. We could immobilize.”

And then, inevitably in discussions such as this, someone swung into that dangerous territory where they spurted out something like, “We could change the world!” And the conversation kind of fizzled out at that point because we all felt just a bit foolish for getting excited about something we were dreaming up as a sort of joke to pass the time as we were waiting for all the others to arrive.

The thing with creativity kernels, however, is that they fester. They live in those dark halls of the mind where a writer’s fictional worlds get built. They occasionally come out of their rooms and clutter your everyday thoughts. They say, “Hey! Remember me!” like they are drugs and the writer is the junkie looking for a fix.

That play idea has been battling for head-space ever since we concocted the idea. It whispers to me while I’m writing other things. It walks across my thoughtscape holding placards that read, “Don’t you forget about me!” It campaigns to be taken out of its cell and allowed access to the playground. Sometimes there is nothing one can do to stop the growth of an idea. Nothing, that is, but write.

So now I’m faced with a large task. Write a play about childhood sexual abuse that audiences would actually want to see. We are talking about an issue that is avoided like the plague. BY EVERYONE. Don’t talk, don’t talk, don’t talk. You spend your life hearing that mantra. You live by it. You swallow the pain. You attempt–incredibly failingly–to convince yourself that you’re okay, that you don’t need to talk about it. You attempt to talk about it and you are silenced. It is THE topic not to be touched. NOBODY WANTS TO ADMIT IT HAPPENS. EVERYBODY WANTS IMMUNITY FROM ITS EXISTENCE. Let the victims deal with it…why should we? It didn’t happen to us.

But this thing in my head won’t be silenced. Some bonehead in my men’s childhood sexual abuse recovery group made a tiny little suggestion one day a year or so ago, and like that tiny fucking piece of metal in the woods in Stephen King’s TOMMYKNOCKERS, I stumbled over it. I have fallen victim to it. I have been digging. And, ladies and gentlemen, it is getting bigger. The synopsis of TOMMYKNOCKERS goes something like this… After a writer discovers a piece of metal sticking out of the ground in the woods behind her house, she starts to dig — and dig and dig. For me, that little piece of metal was the flip suggestion that I put our experience on a stage. AND that I make it funny. But more poignant than funny, because what would be the point of making it a comedy? I believe the term dramedy was bandied about.

Enter LEVITY. Enter LAUGHING. Enter ‘Make it respectful’.

Enter a fine-edged sword. It’s a monumental task to walk the edge of a sword without getting cut. But I think I have found my next project. Or, rather–and this is totally WRITER TALK talking here–my next project has found me. My mission, should I choose to accept it–like I have any choice in the matter–is to write the play. To make it funny. To make it eye-opening. To make it a topic of discussion for those imagined audiences that may or may not ever see it. To open the door and shed the light. To make us real but not pathetic, lovable but not pitiable, funny but not caricatures or stereotypes, endearing but not detestable.

THE TRUTH IS some see US as contemptible and unappealing, pariahs who would invariably perpetuate the cycle of what we have endured. Some are incapable of stripping VICTIM from our personhood. Or, even worse, they are incapable of stripping PERPETRATOR from our personhood. They believe in the monkey-see/monkey-do ness of the crime, the dreaded VAMPIRE MYTH. That look we sometimes get…like the person looking at you has already determined your guilt. Or, even if they don’t determine your guilt and your potential of perpetuating the crime-cycle, that other look…the suspicion of your complicity in what happened to you.

YEP. These are all things. And here I am about to jump into the waters of this idea that will not rest. Here am I about to attempt to write a play that may never have an audience because of its potential ICK factor. I am also aware that the therapy group setting has been done…successfully. I go into this with only one wish: WRITE A POIGNANT WITTY SOMETIMES BREATHTAKINGLY SAD KNEESLAPPINGLY FUNNY PLAY THAT WOULD APPEAL TO A LARGE AUDIENCE. No biggie. Thanks for planting the kernel, guys. I’ll now attempt to hit this one out of the park for the brotherhood…and for our incredibly fearless champion, Saint Lynne of the Broken Boys Healing Club. With levity.

LIGHTS UP…