Wrap-up/Kick off

It’s a sort of sad/happy occasion at the downtown library this coming December 11th, a pass-the-torch ceremony culminating in the announcement of two brand new Writers-in-Residence for the Edmonton Metro Libraries Federation.

But between saying good-by to the many wonderful writers I’ve met over the year, is an opportunity to hear the words of folks who have used our creative service in the last 12 months. My colleague Jason Norman and I have invited various “writers on the cusp of awesome” to share their work and their experience of working through the deconstruction of text with a trained professional. It’s not always easy and it’s not always pretty, but the results will be evidenced in some staggering readings.

Jason and I will also read, sharing a portion of the manuscripts we’ve been working on this last year in the lovely solitude of the libraries.

And, the best thing of all, an opportunity to be on the ground  when two new writers –with new energy, new ideas and new visions are introduced to the city and outlying communities. Writers Take Wing!

Come say good-bye. Come celebrate!

Diamonds in the rough

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I’m from the Northwest Territories, the diamond capital of Canada. I don’t have a lot of diamonds, and, at this stage of the game, don’t really desire any. I do, however, know that writing, laying down that first awkward draft, is much like mining, bringing up to the surface the unlovely bits that, with spit and polish, revision, are gems.

I speak a lot about the reptilian brain, the subconscious that dictates the words, memories and ideas we chose when facing the blank page. We decide unknowingly and sometimes in the spur of the moment what to write and we learn about why we chose that particular word/image/idea in the act of revision.

I tell my students and clients there are gemstones in their writing and I don’t say this lightly. It’s work to get something on the page but you can’t fall in love with the unfinished rock, the chunk of text that surrounds the yet-to-be revealed diamond. The shale, the granite, the grey powder must be chipped away, the stone manipulated, tumbled, refined and then polished and polished again. It’s there. You have chosen to write about something for a certain reason and it may be a reason that is unclear to you. Trust the process. Mine your image, find the beauty beneath what first appears and  keep working it. As in all things, the light, the meaning, the reason for the writing will appear and dear writing friends, in has the potential to be very, very bright.

Blogging: Beyond Self Promotion

I’m not a natural blogger. I think it has something to do with the old adage my parents repeatedly insisted: “Don’t talk about yourself, don’t blow your own horn. Let your works and your ways speak for themselves.”

My job as Writer-in-Residence at Strathcona County Library demands that I blog, so I’m sitting in the passenger seat, this time around, and learning from co-Metro Libraries Federation WiR Jason Lee Norman. He’s our guest lecturer at SCL in March  and his topic is — you guessed it — “The Blogosphere”. I’m looking forward to learning more about social media, about the voice of the blog and how to be “out” on the net, engaging in meaningful dialogue about life.

Jason’s talk is one of a series of FREE workshops offered by the four libraries that make up the Federation:  Strathcona County, Edmonton Public, Fort Saskatchewan and Saint  Alberta Public Libraries.

Here in Strathcona County, where I’m happily ensconced until the spring, we’re hosting a more or less bi-eekly circle of between 12 and 16 keen writers  who explore together various elements of the writing life. Jason Norman will be our guest in March, but,before that, there’s the Big SpeakEasy.

Dust off your Great Gatsby flapper dress and come out to protest censorship. Hummmm, perhaps that’s something I need to  blog about …

 

Getting the Goods

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It’s amazing,the variety of writing that comes into a Writer-in-Residence office. I’ve had fan fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, memoir, short stories, excepts from novels, random musings, young adult literature and pure poetry. All of it is interesting but, so far, only one piece has kept me up at night.

I’m not going to name the author or the genre, but it’s so stirring when a piece of writing stays with you and, in this case, becomes unshakeable. The author has a confidence and a completely activated voice. You can’t help but engage. Nothing is explicit, everything is shown instead of told.

I’ve taught about metonymy and the importance of having a story be bigger than the self. “In transformative writing, the Reader learns as much about themselves as they do about the character, ” is one of my standard take-home quotes. But when it happens on the page, when something happens between you, the Reader and the story, when there is an exchange of energy, when the story lodges in your head (and yes, as a nod to St. Valentine’s Day, in your heart) it truly is magical.

Which is a round about way of saying, I’m still learning. I’m in a position to pass on learned experience to fellow writers. I help them see their work differently as, together we unpack the text and explore what is said and unsaid. But I’m also learning. And it’s being transfered into my own work. For that,I am very, very grateful

 

Fight or flight? Concepts in Conflict

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I hate conflict. That’s one of the reasons I’m a writer.

In real life, conflict is met by the fight or flight response. Depending on the situation,  I’m all about flight. I know, I know, I sound like a total wimp, but that’s the case. Yeah, I’ll fight for certain things, but like most people, I think, I prefer to avoid major conflict and confrontation.

Call me a mamby-pamby, call me a peacemaker, but don’t call me a conflict avoider when it come to the professional job of filling the blank page with meaningful and eloquent words. Stories, in all their myriad forms, demand conflict!

Where there are people, there is conflict.

It’s quite a concept, but once unpacked,  a concept that is perfectly true. I’m conflicted in these very statements. How can a conflict avoider like myself insist upon increasing conflict on the page?

Art may imitates life, but it isn’t life, is it?  It’s a reflection of life; a muddied, manufactured, crafted, drafted, redrafted, refined and repurposed reflection that mirrors our own humanity back to us. That, fellow writers, may be the secret.

We are allowed — indeed, encouraged — to invent on the page. We may be people- pleaser in our daily lives, but in our writing lives we can have characters who, frankly, don’t give a damn. We can occupy the skin of another, transform a version of our shrinking selves into a triumphant conflict fighter, all through the act of invention.

Come out  this Thursday, January 30th to Conflict and Catastrophe: Getting your Characters in and out of Crisis, at  Stratcona County Library and we’ll carry on the conversation. Bring a sharpened pencil or a laptop and we’ll experiment with raising the  the stakes, ramping up the conflict. Let’s  Mark it on your calendar now so there’s no conflict, except on the page!

 

Memory and Memoir: trying to cage the Shapeshifter.

Having a quick coffee with my youngest brother this morning, I gained new insights into the phenomena of collective memory and personal memoir, one of the things I’m writing, writing about, and researching and presenting as part of my work as a Writer-in-Residence at Strathcona County Library.

To boil it down, I realized perspective is everything and our memories, despite being shared with family members, are as unique as the markings on our own skin. What events struck and stayed with me, in those long, and decidedly dark, night of our shared childhood, flew off my  brother’s back or imprinted upon him  in an entirely different way. We may well have been raised by separate parents:  an odd fact, given the scant year and a half that separates our births.

But this is the mystery of memoir. As Betsy Warland so eloquently put it in her instructive book Breathing the Page, “Our memory is our material.”  And, perhaps our material is also our memory. In looking further into something I’m calling “the ownership of experience,” the who-sees-what-and-why, I’ve discovered there exists a different and more profound symbolic truth in the necessary inventions that support the unequivocally true memory (if such a thing exists). This is what shapes our writing, gives us the greater truth that underpins all good memoirs.  It’s as though in the writing we discover what it is we want to say. And, here’s, the rub: the inevitable  inventions around memory are as essential as the windy, vague, punctured, whirling memory bank itself.

Come to my first RWiR workshop, How to Write About Your Family….and Still Have One, Thursday January 16th at SCLibrary to engage in dialogue about this incredibly interesting topic and explore your own collective memories.

“One thing I do know for sure,” said my brother, at the conclusion of our enlivening  coffee conversation. “You’ve sure got the title of your workshop right. You’ve written about us, and you still have us.”

Reassuring, but, maybe, I’m remembering it wrongly and that’s not what he said at all.

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Different voices, same song

One of the joys of this job — and I’m just discovering them as they unfold — is reading work outside my regular scope. I’m talking about the material that’s pouring in over the transom now that the job has officially begun: kids lit, fan fiction, post apocolyptic writing, even the odd poem. It’s great digging into the work and discovering the many genres, voices and styles out there.

I think knowing there are others wrestling with the pages, trying to make sense of their world through writing, makes all of us feel a little less alone. We’re writers, uniquely gifted and compelled to put our myriad thoughts down on paper. Today I’m celebrating the fact that each voice is so unique and each piece of writing varied.

I’m glad to be reading and I’m hoping to meet some of you face to face Saturday Jan 11th. Come out to Strathcona County Library and say hello. We’ll have a cup of coffee and talk writing. I, personally, can’t think of anything else I’d rather do.

The Writer-in-Residence is IN

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Lucy-van-pelt-1-A bit like Charlie Brown’s nemesis Lucy, with her lemonade/psychiatrist stand, comic book creator Charles Schultz nudged his readership towards radical communication and deeper conversations with each other.

Strathcona County Library and, indeed, the Metro Edmonton Library Federation, has done the same thing by establishing their Writer-in-Residence program as an opportunity for anyone to pull up a chair and have a conversation with either myself or downtown WIR Jason Norman about their writing. Aspirations, edits, problematic areas, post modernism, genre writing, graphic novels, dramas, publishers, or rejection slips, it’s all wide open {just like the view from my Sherwood Park office} and I’m keen to share ideas and energy with you.

A week Saturday is the “official” meet the Writer in Res here at SCL, but I just wanted to let you know, like Lucy,  the Regional WIR is In.

Drop a line, fire off some writing and lets get acquainted. /mm