Further to the WCDR lovefest, I will be reading from my latest novel at the next WORDS OF THE SEASON. I will be test-driving Pride Must Be a Place, my new LGBTQ young adult novel.
This regular event takes place at the Bear and Firkin pub in Pickering, Ontario…just east of Toronto.
WORDS OF THE SEASON IN POETRY, PROSE AND SONG
Date: Friday, September 25th, 2015
Time: 6:30 pm
Location: The Bear (A Firkin Pub) located at 1294 Kingston Road, Pickering (Liverpool and Kingston Road).
Admission: Free! Food and drink are available for purchase.
My friend Kate Arms will be emceeing the event for the first time. Really looking forward to Kate’s voice at the helm.
All the slots for readers are booked, but this is the first WOTS event where there will be an open-mic for poets. So, if you’re a GTA poet with a desire to read to the assembled masses…this would be an excellent event to show up to. You do not need to be a WCDR member to participate, either as an open mic participant or simply as an audience member. Hope to see you there!
When I discovered the Writers’ Community of Durham Region (WCDR) around the turn of the millennium, I didn’t even have the courage to identify myself as a writer. Watching WCDR announcements in my local newspaper was the extent of my connection to the group for the first two or three years. I thought it was an organization for ACTUAL writers, so I kept my distance. I imagined attending their events and becoming a member. I read the ads and articles over and over again…with a great sense of anxiety and desire.
Me? A writer? No way…nope. Not me.
Then the desire just got too strong. I could not fight it. I sent in my membership request. I actually used the Canada Post to do it. Old school! With the membership cheque, I submitted the form. I am still embarrassed by the way I filled out that form. I know it was a pleading missive. I articulated my anxiety on that form. I’m surprised to this day that they actually accepted my membership plea. Had that form come across my desk, I might have flagged its author as insane. I would have stamped NOT FRIGGING LIKELY across the form before forwarding it on to the RCMP for the investigation.
But they said yes.
And the love affair began.
The Writers’ Community of Durham Region (then called the Writers’ Circle of Durham Region) opened so many doors for me that I have since lost count. Just being a part of that community allowed me to eventually accept the title of writer for myself. I made connections professionally, I learned how to read my work in front of an actual audience, I have made lifelong friends, I had many many publications as a direct result of my membership. The benefits are non-stop. From the moment I became a member, I felt indebted to the organization…just for accepting me among them.
The group is 20 years old! I have been a member since—I believe 2003, but it might have been 2002. It’s hard to recall. I was a silent member for quite awhile. After gaining the courage to send in the membership form, it took me quite a while longer to gain the courage to make actual contact through workshops, breakfast meetings, etc. So my actual start year has always been a bit foggy.
For ALL GTA (and beyond) WRITERS (and supporters of writers), the WCDR is having a birthday celebration! I suggest that you attend. It is sure to be an amazing night in celebration of words and community. If you’re an area writer and you are not yet a member of the WCDR, I encourage you to check it out. They will do wonders for your identity as a writer. They welcome all writers…whether you are a beginner or a national bestseller. There is nothing like finding your place in the world. Being a part of one of the world’s most vibrant and active writing communities will enhance your writing life beyond measure. Whether you jump into the deep end or just dip a toe in to check the waters, I assure you…you won’t look back. It’s infectious.
DETAILS ON THE UPCOMING BIRTHDAY CELEBRATIONS ARE AS FOLLOWS:
Come celebrate 20 years of The Writers’ Community of Durham Region with an evening of friends and festivities in the lovely, eco-friendly environment that is Bistro 67 (Durham College’s Centre for Food).
Champagne toasts and a satisfying sweet-table will tempt your tastebuds and the companionship of fellow writers will warm your heart.You won’t want to miss the party of the season:
Visit the WCDR WEBSITE for more information and to book your tickets!
Don’t be shy. You will be accepted with open arms. There are no secret handshakes. They take your word for it if you say you’re a writer. They don’t even punish or admonish non-writer friends. Take that first step into the community of writers…it’ll be the best step you ever take.
It’s been a while since I made a list here. I’ll try not to make this one too preachy or ranty. I will preface this list by saying it’s all been said before and you probably already know it all if you’re a writer. We should often remind ourselves of the important tools we have…because it’s so easy to forget the obvious.
What should every writer be equipped with? What are the necessary accoutrements to the handy box of tools they should always carry around with them?
Vocal Cords – Seriously, this one cannot be stressed enough. What is one of the best things you could do for your writing? READ IT OUT LOUD. Where you hitch, fall, slumber, stall, falter, or stumble is where the reader will do the same. However you want to name it, if the flow derails while you’re reading aloud…there’s a good chance the same thing is going to happen with your reader. More than anything else, reading out loud allowed the writer to ensure that they are saying what they mean and meaning what they say. This is true of whatever you write…be it poetry, articles, plays, novels, short stories…what have you. It’s especially useful with dialogue…but don’t discount it with narrative. READ OUT LOUD.
Always carry SOMETHING with you for note taking. When I first started out, the something was a pocket sized notebook and a pen. Now, it’s my Smartphone. I can just haul it out and jot a quick note for later. It’s not just for Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Use your phone as a writer. If, that is, you would prefer it to the good ole notepad. Whatever works…just don’t be without SOMETHING. Sometimes you only get one chance at grabbing a fleeting idea. I know this because I have lost a few in my time. “Oh, I’ll remember it!” has so often become, “Shit! What was that great idea I had for my next novel. It was SO good. What the hell was it?”
READ. READ. READ. Be inspired by the work of others. Read in the genre/market you like to write in. THEN…read in genres/markets you don’t particularly care for. All good stories are fundamentally the same when you look at them through the eyes of a writer. You can get from them craft and style and wisdom. Don’t discount whole genres…if the story is well written it will be elevated from the genre in which it sits. It will teach you how to be a better writer.
See 1. BUT find a way to do this in front of an audience. Find an open mic for writers in your area. Once you have read the work aloud to yourself–and made necessary edits based on how the words sounded to your ear–read it aloud to others. If there are no venues supporting open mic for writers in your area…organize one. Or read in front of volunteers. Another idea would be to have others read your work aloud TO YOU. That way, you can follow along with a second copy and see where they stumble. Edit as you go. I can’t say enough how important a step it is to HEAR what you write.
Keep a file somewhere (either in the back of a notebook, or on your computer or some other device) called POSSIBLE TITLES. Dump your spur of the moment nuggets into this file. I don’t know about other writers, but for me…I ALWAYS have titles come to me randomly. Maybe in passing dialogue, or ads, or newspapers or websites…you see a string of words or hear a string of words and think, “Hmmm…that would make a great title.” Or, out of the blue silence of your interior monologue will come up a title fully formed. Latch onto it…jot it down. Use this file as jumping off points. If you’re struggling to begin something, read the titles and see if any of them speak to you. They could be novel titles, poem titles, article titles…what have you. The point is, they rose up to the surface and you had an aha moment. Save it for later. Use it. That’s what writers do.
THE GOLDEN HOUR – Have a golden hour in every single day of the year. Dedicate this hour to WRITING. Don’t deviate. Sure, find a seven hour period one day in the fall where you write non-stop and amaze yourself with that day’s word count. But still…always have that one dedicated sacred hour. You will understand the need for it once you’ve been doing it for a number of weeks, months, years.
See 3. Only this one is perhaps a bit more fun. GO TO THE MOVIES. Enjoy the movie with popcorn or nachos or whatever it is you gorge on when you’re at the movies. But go! And truly, enjoy it…but also bring your analytical writer mind with you. Have it sit in the seat beside you. Share your munchies with it. Make sure it is paying attention to the dialogue and the space between the dialogue while you’re laughing or crying or whatever it is the words are making you do. Every story has a story to tell the writer. If you pay attention, you will receive it. It could be what to do or what not to do. It could be megalithic or it could be subtle. PAY ATTENTION. Writer mind will watch the movie with a critical eye, even as you are busy filling your face with popcorn.
Be aware of who you are. Know thyself. I say this because only when you know yourself will you be ready to hear WRITING ADVICE. When you just aren’t sure…you will attempt to follow ALL WRITERLY ADVICE blindly. And, my friend, you will drive yourself batty in the process. Do this, don’t do that…the advice is rampant and most of the time it comes across as absolute. THIS IS THE ONLY WAY is the ugly trapping of quite a lot of the advice for writers floating around out there. ONLY WHEN YOU KNOW YOURSELF can you call bullshit to the advice that doesn’t work for you. AND NO MATTER HOW SUCCESSFUL THE WRITER GIVING IT IS…DON’T LISTEN TO IT IF IT DOESN’T WORK FOR YOU. Don’t discard it as bad advice…don’t ever do that. If someone is considerate enough to give advice, it probably comes from a place of good intention…it is probably something that has proven to work for them. BUT writing advice is a tricky thing. Not all advice works for all writers. You have to find your way. It’s great to read how-tos or, say, lists like this one…BUT there is no BIBLE OF ALL THE RIGHT ADVICE THAT YOU MUST FOLLOW OR DIE. There is only YOU…and your words. So be kind to yourself when you are seeking writerly advice. Try it all if you want, but do not be rigid in your stubbornness to follow it all. That would just be impossible. KNOW THYSELF.
As novel titles go, I kind of like it. Pride Must Be a Place. I thought it spoke to the struggle my latest main character, Ezra Caine, dealt with in his journey to coming out and being out in his high school. Ezra, along with a couple old friends and some new ones, starts a gay-straight alliance club in his high school. Why? Because he’s had enough of the bullshit. Will Severe has attacked Ezra’s friend Alex Mills one too many times. Sometimes, the only way to have things around you change for the better is to create the platform and environment from which that change can eventually happen.
I think there are some fantastic LGBTQ young adult books in the marketplace today. Quite a few of them are amazing. But…there’s not enough. I think there’s room for more LGBTQ young adult novels. The issues facing young people, both in their high schools and at home, are perhaps better than they were twenty years ago…but they’re not good enough. There is still bullying. There is still homophobia. There is still suffering.
I think a great place to begin a dialogue that will hopefully bring about change in the landscape of the future is through literature. We, as humans, have been doing this for millennia. I have been dealing with YA issues for a few books, now…I thought it was time I tackled this particular issue. Like Ezra, I feel that it’s time for a change.
I wrote about half of Pride Must Be a Place at last month’s Muskoka Novel Marathon. It was my eighth such novel writing marathon. I went in with the hopes of some grand story wherein Lorraine Segato of Parachute Club makes a cameo at the end. I was even able to secure her blessing…not to mention the fact that she gave me some great ideas about what her ‘character’ would potentially do.
But then the inciting incident which would have opened the door for that ending wasn’t as big as it had to be in order to make that happen. As is often the case, the story got away from the idea and it went off on a tangent and changed wildly from the original vision. I had to admit to myself that the place where I brought the story to did not allow for Lorraine’s cameo. And it was going to be a legen–wait for it–dary cameo.
BUT! I did keep to the original vision that had my main character, Ezra Caine, obsessed with the 1983 hit RISE UP. That hit was an anthem for so many groups. It was Pride, though, that latched onto it in a big way. Ezra was called to action mostly because of the hassle his friend Alex was receiving at the hands of the bully, but also because of the power of the lyrics of his favourite song.
I finished the novel at the end of July. I’m excited about it…I haven’t yet had the time to worry over its scars and blemishes. It was one of the easier novels I ever wrote…the message was an easy one to write about. But I did face the most difficult challenge the YA author has when dealing with YA-issue story-lines. What’s that? Writing a novel with a message without beating the reader over the head with the message. People want to be entertained. Nobody wants to pleasure read only to find that they are being lectured to. It’s such a thin line to skate…harder when you’re close to the issue you are writing about.
It’s in the vault now…only time will tell if I treated it correctly.
For now, it’s on to the completion of other projects. I’ve had a lazy year and a half-ish. It’s time to finish the three or four other novels on the table waiting for my attention. With the success of getting this out of my system, I think I’ll be good to go on the next, and the next, and the next. To think…two short months ago I was considering the fact that I might be finished as a writer.
But I still have a few stories left to tell. Pride Must Be a Place is only one of them…
I was never one to write the fantastical. I never felt as though I had it in me. The past few years, however, I’ve been unusually adventurous in this department. It started with a brief and fleeting encounter with badness in my short story >> Rabacheeko.
I wrote Rabacheeko based on a friend’s nightmare. Then I entered it in a short story contest and was thrown for a loop when it received honorable mention. I mean, I did NOT like that story. It was too weird. I thought the made-up language and brushes with the bizarre were far too unfantastically dealt with. So much so…when the contest organizers invited me to read my piece at their anthology launch, I kind of said, “Yeah, sure.” I even considered going…but I was too humiliated by the piece. I could not read that in public.
Even after the sheer humiliation of having people read that short story, I still hadn’t had enough of world building. I wrote a Middle Grade novel called Dubious Pickles and the Space Between the Walls. Here’s the synopsis for that novel:
Everyone in Dobber Corner is afraid of Dubious Pickles. Everyone that is, except ten-year-old Arbour Lévesque. After an encounter with Dubious at the local thrift shop, Arbour knows there is nothing to fear. But when he follows Dubious home and peeks inside his windows, he discovers the world of impossibilities in which Dubious lives. Arbour witnesses a walking talking plastic man, a flying cat and a staircase that does everything twice.
Arbour decides to befriend the shy Dubious, but he knows it won’t be an easy task. He badgers his friends to help him infiltrate Dubious’ magical house. Inside, they discover that Dubious lives in a maze of secret passageways that honeycomb his mansion’s ancient walls. Afraid of their attention, Dubious attempts to scare the boys away. When drowning them in a room of pearls doesn’t do the trick, he tosses them into a cavernous abyss that takes them all to Nowhere Fast. Arbour’s brother Newton, a card-carrying genius-inventor-extraordinaire, lends a hand and the boys are able to overcome every obstacle Dubious throws their way.
The boys eventually convince Dubious they mean him no harm, but coaxing him out from behind his walls is but a short-lived victory. Bad things begin to happen in their town and the adults are quickly vanishing. Arbour knows that only the childlike Dubious can help him save the town from a threat more menacing than Dubious Pickles ever was.
Writing that novel took everything I had. I can dream up otherworldliness…sure, no problem. But to actually write it?! The task is as tiring as it is perplexing.
You would think I would have had enough. NOPE.
I am now knee deep in trying to complete the world I created for my 2014 Muskoka Novel Marathon novel, now renamed MY BOOK OF DREAMS. In it, the main character spends time in a bookstore that is NOT actually there. He has contact with a book that nobody else can see. Worlds keep shifting, time bends in odd ways. I don’t live in this world…so it’s not merely a stretch to imagine it…it’s hellish trying to get the vision from the fluidity of the brain’s landscape to the rigidity of words.
Don’t ever take world building for granted. If you watch a movie or read a book where it steps out of the everyday mundane reality of contemporary modern life…just know that whoever created that piece HAS DONE A LOT OF WORK CREATING THEIR WORLD FOR YOU.
I’m crawling through this piece, where I run through everything else. Difficulty level is at 11.
And who knows how convincing the realities of my story will even be for the future reader?! I’m asking for their suspension of disbelief, obviously…I hope I’m up to the challenge of giving them a new world to peek into.
Every year at this time I try to dedicate a post to wishing Andy Warhol a Happy Birthday. He’s been a huge inspiration to me. I just get him. This year, he has a place in Toronto! An Andy Warhol exhibit is ongoing on Bloor Street, just west of Bay. I recently purchased a season pass to the exhibit. I plan to wander the Warhol memorabilia and art often before the exhibit closes in December. Or, maybe I’ll just go to hang out on the silver couch and read while surrounded by everything ANDY!
Just what makes that little old ant think he’ll move that rubber tree plant? Anyone knows an ant can’t move a rubber tree plant.
If you were alive in the ’70s you will remember Laverne & Shirley singing that song…possibly even more than you would remember Frank Sinatra singing it. You see…it was their TRUE theme song. Not the show’s theme song, but Laverne & Shirley’s theme song. Whenever anything seemed hopeless, one of the two would remind the other that anything is possible. Laverne would start the first few lines to spur on the defeated Shirley…and within a couple lines Shirley would catch the bug and come to believe it…soon they’d be singing in unison…
HE’S GOT HIGH HOPES!
And high hopes? Well, they were enough. High hopes would see the girls through all their trials and tribulations. And as a kid watching my favourite show, I’d buy into it. I’d feel their hope…and the ant’s hope. I always knew an ant could move a rubber tree plant. IF he tried hard enough.
My high hopes as a writer have ALWAYS been— SAVE ONE PERSON.
That’s it. Make one single solitary reader walk away from my novel lifted. Saved. Understood. I truly believe that we can spark change in fiction.
This past weekend I submitted my newest novel, PRIDE MUST BE A PLACE, to my agent. I’m hopeful that the message in this new novel is heard by someone who needs to hear it. #YASaves and #BooksSaveLives We have to believe this. Why else do we write?