I thought I would add a few direct links to some poems that have been recently published. It’s not always easy for me to find them once they’re out there.
(The following piece originally appeared in WORD WEAVER.)
FINDING FOCUS IN NAIROBI – Part II of III
Polepole (rhymes with—and means—slowly, slowly). This is the method by which Kenya moves. I first experienced this when I boarded the 12‐seater for my return to Nairobi. The pilot promised a non‐stop flight. Ten minutes in, however, he announced a change of plans. He said those three words no airsick mini‐aircraft; neophyte passenger wants to hear: “We’re going down!”
It was Independence Day in Kenya. The celebratory air show at the Nairobi airport meant “no fly zone” for us. We had to land at Siana Airstrip and stay grounded for an hour. As we touched down, I saw a herd of gazelle leaping across the runway, mere feet from the plane’s nose! It was a horrifying, heartbreakingly beautiful sight. After narrowly avoiding the herd, our pilot assured us we could have safely crash‐landed to the side, if need be.
As a peppering of Masai emerged from the surrounding trees, I forgave the air show that kept us from our destiny. We were having a moment! Every day in Kenya carries with it a magical moment. To see it, all you have to do is surrender to the beat. Pole, pole.
After an hour of sharing stories with the generous Masai, it was almost painful re-boarding the plane. But we said our goodbyes and took to the air once again.
Navigating the country on my own was wonderful, but I was excited to be back in Nairobi. It was time to meet my fellow writers and begin the SLS fiction program.
My instructor, Catherine Bush, made me realize the importance of focus in storyline, something I never contemplated while writing. She broke down the process and explained how the writer should consider the reader’s expectations. If you give them one strong thread to follow, they see that thread as your storyline…throw in too many and confusion ensues.
Catherine assured me I could do this and carry on writing in the freefall style that I love. I was afraid I would have to sacrifice my “NO OUTLINING” rule but all was good. With her guidance, specific to my own manuscript, I was able to retackle my story, find the strongest thread—the story’s essence—and run with it. Catherine equipped me with the tools to help me do this. It was as though she came into my windowless house, created windows and then helped me to fling them wide open.
Our classes were held on the outside patio of a hotel in the heart of Nairobi…with fragrant breezes swishing our pages and intoxicating our lungs. If Nirvana is a place, it’s filled with writers, acacias and yes, even shouting taxi drivers. The outdoor classroom had its limitations, but they only added to the vibrant atmosphere.
You can live concurrent lives in Kenya. We were steeped in words but we also inexplicably saw everything in and around Nairobi. We took in the Rift Valley, the Ngong Hills, the Giraffe Centre (complete with sloppy giraffe kisses), an elephant orphanage, a reading by some of Kenya’s top literati, a chaotic downtown Nairobi Masai market, museums, parties and barnyards.
I cried while our bus travelled the Uhuru Highway en route to the nearby Ngong Hills, as I watched a shanty-town blur by. Children played in the dirt, inches from our tires as we whizzed by at 100km per hour; goats bleated; vegetables collected poisons from black exhaust bursting from every vehicle; thousands of rusted ‘n shacks—strung with uncountable lines of miraculously pristine laundry—crowded together like rotten teeth in a mouth too small to hold them.
My sadness at seeing the crumbling shantytown was double-edged, though. Every face held a smile, every life a beat you could feel. My heart ached during the entire trip…but with what? I couldn’t quite place it. The melancholy I felt…was it for the people of Kenya or for myself and the people back home? People who have not yet surrendered to the comfort of a ‘me no clock could hold. Polepole…slowly, slowly.
After a long week of writing craft and exploration, we were ready for the last leg of our journey…Lamu Island. I couldn’t imagine it topping Nairobi…but I was about to discover there were no limits in Kenya.
While I was participating in the 2010 Muskoka Novel Marathon this past Saturday, I received a contract offer for my Young Adult novel, Summer on Fire!
Summer on Fire will be published in ebook form. The tentative release date is July, 2011.
I’m extremely excited about this publication. I worked long and hard on this one! It began as a NaNoWriMo project in 2003, my first NaNoWriMo attempt, actually. And I’ve been working on it on and off since then.
The quick blurb on Summer on Fire:
Zach Carson is a loyal friend. But is loyalty enough to keep best friends together when one of them sets fire to the rural barn they use as the local hangout?
Zach, Jeff Barsell and Arnie Wilson struggle to pick up the pieces when news spreads that a body was discovered in the burnt out shell of the neighbouring home. When the word murder is used by the local police, the stakes grow even higher. When the police start searching for their most likely suspect—none other than Jeff’s older brother, and nemesis, Marty Barsell—the boys decide to join forces and come up with a way to prove his innocence.
But just how innocent is Marty Barsell? When Marty admits to being at the scene of the crime, the three friends enlist the help of Zach’s annoying sister, Sherry, as well as the sympathetic town eccentric, Ms. Halverton. But can they keep it together long enough to save Marty, and themselves, from eminent catastrophe? Summer on Fire is the story of friendships, and the lines we are asked to cross in order to keep them.
I will be posting all the details soon.
Now…on to the editing process for the novel I wrote during the Muskoka Novel Marathon. ** 72-hours — 52,000 words — Young Adult Novel — Half Dead & Fully Broken **
I’m just back from the 2010 Muskoka Novel Marathon…and boy, am I tired!
What’s a novel marathon, you may ask?
Novels in progress…that’s what the marathon is all about—from a writing perspective.
30 writers commit to writing a novel in one weekend. They put B.I.C. (Bum In Chair, for the uninitiated) and they WRITE!
There is a duo purpose to the marathon, though. It is also a fundraising campaign for the Muskoka Literacy Council. In order of importance…this reason is the marathon’s TOP priority. When you’re there, though—in the thick of it, pounding away on your keyboard in a mad race to get to the end of your novel before the weekend ends—it’s hard to remember what it’s all for. What is it for? The marathon was created to allow WRITERS to help READERS.
Check out the Muskoka Literacy Council website. Theirs is the important job. There mission—“Our Mission is to empower adults in our community to reach their full potential by providing the tools and programs to support functional literacy and essential skills learning.”
The Muskoka Novel Marathon novel writers find people to sponsor them while they spend their weekend writing. Those sponsors support the literacy council’s efforts. And it’s not such a bad deal for the writers, either…it’s a wonderful weekend where you actually get to B.I.C. to your heart’s content…chase those words out from the dark corners of your mind and help them to blossom onto the page. And you get to do it in the company of other writers. Yes…it’s true. The organizers are able to rustle up 30 writers willing to take part in the marathon every year!
I’m home now…exhausted from lack of sleep. But do I want to rest? Not really…the inspiration one gets from a journey such as this doesn’t really allow one to stop to take a nap. I want to read what I wrote…I want to EDIT what I wrote. I want to WRITE. What a wonderful weekend!
In September, all the participants will have a reunion–just like in previous years–and awards will be handed out. There will be a BIC Award, as voted by fellow marathoners, for the writer who, well kept their Bum In their Chair the longest. There will be a Spirit Award. Best Novel Awards–as decided on by a panel of judges. It will be a celebration. And it won’t matter at all who wins what—because we ALL won. We all helped raise needed funds for the Muskoka Literacy Council. We all helped to give a voice to literacy issues faced by thousands.
And we all wrote! There’s also that. (0:
There are a few things going on at the moment. Time for a short list!
1) The Writers’ Circle of Durham Region is a fabulous writing group that I have held a membership in since 2003. They have helped my writing path in far too many ways to mention. I would definitely not have experienced most of my successes without this vibrant group behind me. A truly wonderful ballast for any writer—anywhere! They have changed their name. They will still be known as the WCDR (the acronym remains the same), but they will now be known as the WRITERS’ COMMUNITY OF DURHAM REGION. A name change the organization felt was needed to reflect the growth and popularity it has seen in recent years. A circle suggests a small tight-knit group of writers at a table…not what the WCDR is. We are a vibrant community approaching 300 members strong. The group is now known throughout the world…and it has members far far from its umbrella hub of Durham Region, Ontario. Hence, the decision to change its name. Still the great nurturing organization it has always been…just a slight name change to reflect its burgeoning-ness. (-:
(Check out the community at the above link. Any writer looking for a group to join that will help propel their writing need not look any further than the WCDR.)
2) Today I was notified by a representative of the Parliamentary Poet Laureate that one of my poems – When Venus Takes a Ride – will be featured as Poem of the Month on the Library of Parliament website. The poem will be added to their website on September 1st of this year. It’s such an honour to be recognized in this way…and for a poem that means a great deal to me. I wrote it on the day of my arrival to the island of Lamu, off the coast of Kenya. It was such a magical time for me…and to be able to share the poem on such a prestigious site is a thrill!
(check out the website for the Parliamentary Poet Laureate here: PARLIAMENTARY POET LAUREATE)
3) I am crossing my fingers. I am hoping that I am chosen for a play writing gig that I submitted to. If chosen, I will be writing the play in September and it will also be performed in September. I will find out on or before the 21st of June if I made the cut. Fingers crossed! More to come…
4) I did a reading this past Saturday at the WCDR breakfast meeting. Nerves like crazy…I have to get more comfortable with this kind of thing! I read an excerpt from my completed YA manuscript Summer on Fire…which is currently being considered. It felt like the reading went well, but who knows. At any rate, I did not pass out!
(Originally appeared in The Word Weaver)
Before I left for my recent trip to Kenya, my only thought was writing. I was going to AFRICA and I only allowed myself to think of one thing: WRITING. How pathetic is that? I was so anal about attending my first writing program, I allowed it to overshadow the fact I was going to the most beautiful place in the world.
Thankfully, I came to my senses the moment the plane landed in the mossy sweet heat of Nairobi.
Joseph, from Wonders of Africa, picked me up at Jomo Kenyatta. His kamikaze driving was all that stood between me and certain death. The streets and roundabouts of Nairobi are the most beautiful arteries of controlled chaos I’ve ever been thrown into.
Joseph dropped me off at the Kivi Milimani Hotel. The Summer Literary Seminars organizers were there to greet me but in my post-flight zombiehaze, I only wanted to crawl upstairs to my room and sleep.
Day 1. 6 a.m. Woke up, packed, ran downstairs and met up with Joseph. We hit Nairobi’s death-defying streets again for a trip to Wilson Airport for my flight to Masai Mara.
After four take-offs, five landings and much retching, I was ready for solid ground! Another capable Joseph, my safari guide for the next two days, greeted our 16-seater at Keekorok Airstrip.
Before the safari, however, I detoured to Keekorok’s backyard hippo pool—home to 39 hippos! I watched as they frolicked and I stared in awe at the elephants and giraffes roaming the nearby hills. I attempted to be a poet but discovered I would rather eat the dirt…jump into the hippo pool, shoot its mud into my veins. I was in Africa—the future home of my heart. It was already happening.
Safari time! But after a full day in the acacia-dotted Masai Mara savannah, it was the Masai people I first wrote about when I made it back to my Keekorok room.
A journal entry: The Masai warriors almost made me forget the safari. The most amazingly beautiful sight. Hearing their singing makes you want to burst into tears. It’s guttural and filled with haunting. Longing. Joy. Goosebumps. Their shouts seemed random, mixed in song, but each one was perfectly timed. The rhythm matches something inside you. Shatters it. Latches on. Takes you with it. Such an incredible experience! You can feel them in your chest as they lift miraculously in dance. They had my heart!
A journal entry: Elephants/1, Lions/3, Giraffes/2. There was folly in this menagerie inventory system. After these first sightings it was on to a pride of 13 lionesses and cubs. A herd of zebra, not a mile away, grazing with elands. Bones and skulls everywhere, beacons in the vast open plains. When I spotted a cheetah, Joseph yelled, “Duma! Duma!” and called the other groups on his CB radio. Their trucks soon converged on our paradise, photo lenses extending to capture a mother cheetah with her cubs as they chased a herd of gazelle. Two hundred gazelle moving in perfect unison, nature’s finely tuned miracle engine in motion. Traps your breath! This is where God is. Hundreds of buffalo, beautiful birds riding their massive haunches…ready to steal the bounty of insects their shuffling feet lift from the browned savannah grasses. A warthog. A herd of eight elephants. Giraffes can kill a lion with their hind legs…one swift kick!
But majestic beauty as they dine upon the upper leaves of trees, unconcerned with the killer beasts at their heels. Wildebeests. In the distance, Tanzania. 8km away. The Masai hills in the background—named for their similarity to a lying-down Masai warrior.
My safari was over but my adventures were just beginning. It was only day two. I had a writing program to attend in Nairobi and Lamu. Kenya had begun to enter my bloodstream. I was going to allow myself to make this about Kenya first—writing second. It was the only way to take Kenya home with me…so I could write about it later.
Back to Nairobi.
I’m getting excited about the upcoming Muskoka Novel Marathon. It’s a great experience, writing non-stop for 48-72 hours. One of the best things I ever did as a writer. This year will be Marathon #3 for me. I wanted to share a link to the FLIPBOOK movie that was made about the marathon. This showed on Canadian television on the Bravo channel. It’s made entirely of stills:
“An animated short about the Muskoka Novel Marathon, this Stone by Stone Production supported by Bravo!Fact was conceived by Bruce Pirrie and Sue Kenney, shot on over 12000 photos by Darren Lum, and assembled by Vanessa Shaver and Matthew Krist. Support Literacy!”
Visit the new MUSKOKA NOVEL MARATHON website. You can find it in my blogroll.
It’s that time again!
Every July the Muskoka Literacy Council hosts the Muskoka Novel Marathon. This is a benefit that raises funds and awareness for the literacy council. It is also a HUGE benefit to the writers who take part in the marathon. We get locked in for 3 days and write like crazy. At the end of the weekend, those who wish to submit their manuscripts to the marathon contest are encouraged to do so. The manuscripts get sent to industry judges and Best Novel awards are handed out in the fall. This is win, win. The writers get to raise funds to help support the council and the council offers us a friendly active atmosphere in which to do the thing we love to do—create big brave new worlds of fiction!
Visit the Muskoka Novel Marathon website.
I will be heading up for the marathon again this year. I took last year off, as I was preparing for my December writing program in Kenya. But this year, I made sure the dates were free. It’s such an amazing event…such an opportunity, that I really couldn’t imagine missing another year!
I will have a few poems published online in the near future. Look for them here:
HAZARD CAT will feature ‘Postcards from the Road‘.
MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE POETRY MAGAZINE will feature ‘Masai Adumu at Keekorok‘.
EVERYDAY POETS will feature ‘Whispers of Sandburg from a Poet Now Silenced‘.
BLUE SKIES POETRY will feature ‘Miramichi Remembered‘.
All should be posted either this month or next month.
Also, Newfoundland’s Memorial University’s PARAGON JOURNAL 3 is due to hit the shelves soon. I have 3 poems in the issue – ‘Newfoundland,’ ‘Queen Street Turnaround,’ and ‘You of Two Spirits‘.
Masai Adumu at Keekorok
Their voices lift
like gazelle in fright,
swell your insides
to heights that burst
and bleed in rivers red.
hit that place inside,
cracks it into pieces,
that place you did not know,
you did not dream you carried.
Their dance beckons,
screams your name
and you are left in tatters,
feeling loss of life,
your old life slips away,
you lift with every jump and neon yelp,
to stretch yourself complete.
Their red shúkàs sway,
entice ancient longing,
scream to all who are present,
we are, we are,
we are Masai.
I will be attending the Wicked Words Anthology book launch at J.P. Fitzpatrick & Son restaurant in Whitby, Ontario on Monday May 17th, 2010. The event takes place between 7:00pm-9:00pm. I will be reading from my short story, Rabacheeko, which I have published in the anthology.
The Wicked Words anthology is the result of the Writers’ Circle of Durham Region’s Wicked Words Prose Contest. My story received an Honorable Mention in the contest and was included in the anthology.
The contest winners are as follows:
First Place – Dorothy Sjoholm
Second Place – Mary Cundy
To see more about the book launch, visit the WCDR website. You must R.S.V.P. ahead of time.