The Last Post of 2015

SFE_120108_0721Hello dear readers:

I will be doffing this cap as writer in residence officially at 11:59 pm on Thursday, December 31, 2015.

It’s been a grand year.  I thank all of you who trusted me with your words and who took time to visit or attend workshops and special events.  Truly, it was an honour and a privilege.

2016 will see me returning to my own writng regime and travelling to Serbia, Croatia, and nearby countries to research my novel.  I also hope to finish up my book of poetry.  Of course, I will still be mentoring writers in my role at YouthWrite and beyond.  It is a role I take seriously.  If you have a few moments, please read this very fine essay by Nick Ripatrazone.  I found it a piece of truth and beauty, wise words for any writing mentor or English teacher:

“You need to love words. You don’t need to love a certain type of book or a particular writer, but you need to love letters and phrases and the possibilities of language. You will spend most of your days dealing with words, and students can sense if words do not bring you joy.” – 55 Thoughts for English Teachers

I wish you peace and joy this season.  May 2016 see us open our hearts and minds to this world, its creatures and people.  The world could use a little more compassion.

Best wishes for your writing,

Gail

www.gailsidoniesobat.com

sobina@telusplanet.net

www.youthwrite.com

info@youthwrite.com

This week’s great un-/ undersung CanLit title worth checking out:

The Gardens Where She Dreams Rebecca Luce-Kapler explores the dimensions of a woman’s experience from early memory through young infatuation toward deepening insight as an adult. A beautiful and lyrical reflection on the life and art of Emily Carr.  Quintessentially Canadian!

Writing Quote: ““I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.”
― Douglas Adams, English writer (1952-2001)

Writing Tips:  “Vigorous writing is concise.” ~William Strunk Jr.

Writing Prompt: Whilst digging in your garden, you find a…

Image by Stuart Freedman:  UK – London – A performer (Mummer) dressed as the Holly Man – the winter guise of the Green Man – processes along the Thames in a traditional ‘wassail’ ritual to welcome the New Year

 

Wine and Words – You’re Invited!

wine_and_words_inviteLiz Withey and I are delighted to host this evening featuring the words of four of our 2015 clients and the music of ALL(most)JAZZ!

Hope you can join us!

PLEASE NOTE – I AM NO LONGER ACCEPTING MANUSCRIPTS.

This week’s great un-/ undersung CanLit title worth checking out:

The Hunter and the Wild Girl Pauline Holdstock In 19th century France, a deep gorge in a small village divides two people: a feral girl living in the forest and a lonely hunter, forever scarred by a terrible accident. When they meet, they form an unlikely bond and their lives forever change. A moving book about friendship, connection and freedom. (Just listed as one of CBC’s 2015 Best Books.)

Writing Quote: “A writer never has a vacation. For a writer, life consists of either writing or thinking about writing.”—Eugene Ionesco, Romanian-French playwright (1909-1994)

Writing Tips:  “During my very early writing, certainly before I’d published, I began to learn characters will come alive if you back the f*** off. It was exciting, and even a little terrifying. If you allow them to do what they’re going to do, think and feel what they’re going to think and feel, things start to happen on their own. It’s a beautiful and exciting alchemy. And all these years later, that’s the thrill I write to get: to feel things start to happen on their own.

So I’ve learned over the years to free-fall into what’s happening. What happens then is, you start writing something you don’t even really want to write about. Things start to happen under your pencil that you don’t want to happen, or don’t understand. But that’s when the work starts to have a beating heart.”—Andre Dubus III

Writing Prompt: In “Mermaids and Matryoshkas: The Secret Life of a Poetic Sequence” by Sandra Beasley in the November/December issue of Poets & Writers Magazine, Matthea Harvey talks about “harvesting words from the dictionary… to create the vocabulary bank for new poems.” Grab a dictionary, flip through it, and put your finger down on a random page. Record the word you land on and go to the next page and write down the word that appears at the same spot, repeating until you have accumulated a vocabulary bank to work from. Write a poem by constructing surprising associations, perhaps thinking of familiar words in an unexpected way, or drawing a personal connection to a new term. (http://www.pw.org/writing-prompts-exercises)

Don’t Miss the Chance to Meet 8 of Edmonton’s 11 WIRs!

For those of you who may not know it, Edmonton (and area) has an embarrassment of riches in the form of ELEVEN writers in residence.  And so to celebrate and collaborate and to share our words in convivial fashion, Fred Stenson and I invite you to this event featuring eight of the WIRs (presented by YouthWrite®):

writers-in-residence-webAn Evening with Edmonton’s Writers in Residence!                                         Monday, November 30th from 7 pm – 10 pm                                               Yellowhead Brewery – 10229 105 Street  

Visit https://www.facebook.com/events/1492888224347604/ to RSVP to this invitation.                                                                       

Join Fred Stenson (U of A Writer in Residence) and Gail Sidonie Sobat (Metro Edmonton Federation of LIbraries Writer in Residence) as they host an evening of readings from Edmonton’s incredible array of writers in residence! Listen to and learn from Fred and Gail and these other fine experts:
Elizabeth Withey – EPL Writer in Residence
Steven Ross Smith – CAA Writer in Residence
Kimmy Beach – forthcoming CAA Coach in Residence
Suzanne Harris – CAA Coach in Residence
Nicole Moeller – Workshop West’s Playwright in Residence
Theodore Fox – Latitude 53 Gallery Writer in Residence

Cash Bar – featuring Yellowhead’s fantastic brews ($6.25 pints, $6.25 hi balls, $7.25 red/white wine, $2 pop/juice)

$2 From every beer goes to YouthWrite! www.youthwrite.com

PLEASE NOTE – I AM NO LONGER ACCEPTING MANUSCRIPTS.

This week’s great un-/ undersung CanLit title worth checking out:

AfterallLee Kvern  At a dinner party, Beth—36, single, and working overtime—impulsively announces that she’s going to spend a night on Vancouver’s mean streets in commiseration of the homeless. Unexpectedly, her hosts’ son Mason whispers in his mother’s ear that he wants to go with her. Mason’s parents, good limousine liberals that they are, reluctantly allow him to go. Disaster, of course, ensues. “Lee Kvern’s spirited, funny and poignant first novella Afterall takes us for one night into the plush world of Vancouver’s Kitsilano in a kind of literary equivalent of Martin Scorsese’s Soho nightmare film, After Hours.” – VueWeekly

Writing Quote: ““The road to hell is paved with works-in-progress.”
Philip Roth, American novelist (b. 1933)

Writing Tips:  “Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind, is written large in his works.”—Virginia Woolf

Writing Prompt: “I remember my own childhood vividly…I knew terrible things.  But I knew I mustn’t let adults know I knew them.  It would scare them.” – Maurice Sendak   Consider this statement and Virginia Woolf’s writing tip (above), and respond.

It’s a New Dawn!

d-motta_fuentes-quote-page-003Welcome to the post-election blog.  This lovely fall day welcomes a new chapter in our country.  The coming four years promise to be very interesting.

Robert Dahl, Sterling Professor of Political Science emeritus at Yale and the author of many widely cited books on democratic theory, “has always insisted that free elections, the most obvious criterion of modern representative democracy, must be complemented by a number of other criteria involving universal suffrage and individual freedoms.”

Individual freedoms, clearly, include the freedom of the press and the freedom of expression – the role of the writer, whether one agrees or dissents from the ruling government’s positions or ideolog(ies).  As you, gentle reader, no doubt know: “In Canada, section 2(b) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects “freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication.”

For nearly 10 years, you and I have borne witness to the eroding of our freedoms of the press, scientific thought and expressions of dissent. As a writer, I’ve taken special umbrage with this dangerous erosion.

wdqFAP2FAzar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Tehran, argues that fiction is democracy’s oxygen. Her latest book, The Republic of Imagination, is “a celebration of the power of fiction and its importance to a vibrant democracy.”  Here are a few comments from her conversation with CBC’s Anna Maria Tremonti: 

AN: In a democracy, we need to provide our citizens with a greater education where they will fulfill their passions and the meaning that they want of out of life and not simply making money….Just take the simple fact of voting….If our children, if we do not have enough knowledge, if we do not know about our country, what it was based on and if we do not know what we want of this country–take history, take fiction out of our curriculums (sic), out of our public spheres, how can we vote for the kind of a person who would be good for us and for our country?

AMT: You write that in Iran you discovered that you need democratic imagination in order to have individual rights and the right to free expression.

AN: What is it that the non-democratic state first of all targets?…women1-ken-saro-wiwa-300x225, minorities, culture.

AMT: In fact, how many times have we seen in history people burning books, jailing the authors, jailing the playwright, those are the people they shut away….

AN: It is because when we are deprived of every respect for humanity, when we see the worst actions that human beings do to one another we instinctively turn to the best that humanity has to offer and that is the works of the imagination….

AMT: Why do tyrants understand the dangers of democratic imagination more than our policy makers appreciate its necessity.

AN: Because it’s so immediate. Because of the fact that as soon as you come to power, who is it that is not saying what you want them to say? Who is it that gives voice to your enemies?….But that is why they hate it, because they can’t control [writers, the press].

Let us hope that starting forth on this new day, Canada’s new government will not muzzle the press or our scientists or underfund our artists and writers.  The future of Canada as a democracy depends on it.

 

YouthWrite® Turns Twenty: 

If you don’t already know, YouthWrite® is a camp for young writers and has been a passion of mine for 20 years.  Over two decades, I’ve seen difference it makes in the lives of the thousands of kids who have attended. Please consider donating and to passing the word about our campaign. We have some fun perks!  So past participants (or parents of YouthWriters, past or present) of YouthWrite or JustWrite, consider making a young writer’s dream come true by donating to our Indiegogo Campaign. We need your support to keep our writing camps going in perpetuity!                           Screen Shot 2015-10-23 at 8.54.09 AMhttps://www.indiegogo.com/projects/youthwrite-s-roaring-20th-birthday/x/156479#/

This week’s great un-/ undersung CanLit title worth checking out:

Half-WorldHiromi GotoMelanie Tamaki is human—but her parents aren’t. They are from Half World, a Limbo between our world and the afterlife, and her father is still there. When her mother disappears, Melanie must follow her to Half World—and neither of them may return alive. Like a Hieronymous Bosch painting come to life, Half World is vivid, visceral, unforgettable, a combination of prose and images that will haunt you.

Writing Quote: “Reading and writing, like everything else, improve with practice. And, of course, if there are no young readers and writers, there will shortly be no older ones. Literacy will be dead, and democracy – which many believe goes hand in hand with it – will be dead as well.” – Margaret Atwood, Canadian author (b. 1939)

Writing Tips:  “It’s doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.” — Jonathan Franzen

Writing Prompt: Imagine you are a citizen of a society where free expression and dissent are forbidden. Write a piece in which your dissent is coded or camouflaged in your language.

Happy Thanksgiving!

giving thanksautumn-mountain-ash-yellow-leaves-natural-berry-hd

in gold and

red glory the

mountain ash greeted you this

morning as you tripped down the

stairs breathless with

designs of the

day as if all that

mattered were your

errant heart with its

arrhythmic timing and the

frantic pace of

living through ticking

ticking time except

that the mountain ash stopped you

and your eyes filled with

wonder at its

fractal gilt leaves and

bobbing red berries

in autumn’s

gold-plated

light

© 2015 Gail Sidonie Sobat

Another beautiful thanksgiving poem by Joy Harjo, “Perhaps the World Ends Here.”

This week’s great un-/ undersung CanLit title worth checking out: 

I Should be in ChainsKathy Fisher – Fisher experiments with sound – weaving audio, be it live music or ghost voices, in and around her poetry. She is a wordsmith, research lawyer, documentarian, biographer, oral historian and explorer, and always creates with attention to the ear and eye.

Writer’s Quote:Thank you’ is the best prayer that anyone could say. I say that one a lot. Thank you expresses extreme gratitude, humility, understanding.” – Alice Walker, American author (b. 1944)

Writing Tips:  On writing a gratitude journal or keeping a gratitude list (excellent fodder for other writing):

1. Hand-write your gratitude list. The kinesthetic experience of actually writing is valuable for several reasons: First, the physical act helps imprint the feeling of gratitude at the cellular level. Also, since it is a slower process than typing, writing by hand provides more time for contemplation, which makes for a more thoughtful list.

2. Set a realistic goal. Avoid immediate collapse by starting off with a reasonable number of items. If you set out to enumerate some insane number like 50, you’ll end up including stuff that not even the most zealous gratitude junkie would list. Better to limit yourself to one good reason than to dredge up sludge from a too-deep well.

3. Fake it, if necessary. Don’t worry about actually feeling grateful for anything, especially if during your formative years you confused gloom with sophistication. Until you are consistently inclined to see the glass as half full, act ‘as if.’ In other words, start by pretending that you are an authentically grateful person and write down what this alter ego is thankful for. If even this feels like too much of a stretch, maybe you’re getting stuck on semantics. Instead of calling yours a gratitude list, title it “Hey, it could be worse” and take it from there.

from Utne

Writing Prompt:  Think about a troublesome person in your life and craft a piece about why you are grateful for that individual.

 

A Writer’s Education

Liberal-Arts2There’s an old joke that many of my writer friends know well:

A neurosurgeon and a writer are introduced at a party, and the neurosurgeon hovers near the writer, “So what do you do?”

“I’m a writer.” Warily, she takes a sip of her wine.  “And you?”

“I’m a neurosurgeon, but when I retire I think I am going to take up writing.”

“Funny”, the writer drains her glass, “when I retire I was thinking of taking up neurosurgery.”

The truth is that I’ve been writing since I was a child, as have most writers I know.  And, like so many writers, I have spent thousands of dollars and many, many years on my education.  As would any neurosurgeon.

For those who adhere to the 10,000-hour rule, while this blog in no way means to discourage you, it’s important to note that recent years have seen disclaimers and caveats to Anders Ericsson’s original study (see Time and BBC News).

While I do believe in practice, when it comes to a writer’s education, I am a passionate advocate of a liberal arts education. I applaud Alan Wildeman’s recent Globe and Mail article, “We ignore liberal arts at our peril.” Wildeman writes, “as a multicultural country playing in the global arena, Canada needs a citizenry that learns and studies human differences, social behaviours and cultural traditions. It needs a citizenry that encourages respect for human rights, and encourages artistic creation and appreciation of the arts. The humanities and social sciences engage in these intersections and contribute to what makes us human.” If one wants to be a writer, a liberal arts degree is one of the best preparations: “with its focus on the broad spectrum of human endeavour…. to ensure that our self-reflections are broad…and that we do not forget the importance of enlightenment and reason.” Above all, a liberal arts education forces one to read and read widely, often difficult texts that make one think hard and critically. I cannot stress how important this is to the craft of writing.

If one has not had the benefit of a liberal arts degree (and even if one has), then if one wants to write, there’s a good deal of book larnin’ to do – and not just the kind that offers to help you sell and market and write your novel or poetry. Reading. Taking liberal arts courses. Engaging in critical thinking. Challenging comfortable assumptions. Reading the masters. Reading. Reading. Reading. (The Importance of Reading)

Or try neurosurgery instead.

This week’s great un-/ undersung CanLit title worth checking out: 

Santa RosaWendy McGrath “What is real when seen through the eyes of a child? When does the harshness of reality transform idyllic memories? The young narrator…seeks the answers to these questions as she tries to make sense of the disintegration of her parents’ marriage—a process echoed by the slow disintegration of their neighbourhood. In subtle poetic prose, Wendy McGrath evokes afternoons at the fair captured in overexposed photographs, and a family’s disquieting day at the beach as moments that exist apart from time, in a place where every sense is heightened, and where every memory is sharpened as if in a lucid dream where understanding lies just beyond reach.”

Writing Quote: “I quickly saw the immense power of a liberal education. For me, the most important use of it is that it teaches you how to write. In my first year in college, I took an English composition course. My teacher, an elderly Englishman with a sharp wit and an even sharper red pencil, was tough. Now I know I’m supposed to say that a liberal education teaches you to think but thinking and writing are inextricably intertwined. When I begin to write, I realize that my “thoughts” are usually a jumble of half-baked, incoherent impulses strung together with gaping logical holes between them. Whether you’re a novelist, a businessman, a marketing consultant or a historian, writing forces you to make choices and it brings clarity and order to your ideas.” – Fareed Zakaria, Indian-born American journalist and author, host of CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS (b. 1964)

Writing Tips:  “Reading before writing… becomes a way of conversing with other writers.”- Stephanie Vanderslice   “You must try to know everything that has ever been written that is worth remembering and you must keep up with what your contemporaries are doing.” – Richard Bausch

Writing Prompt: Inviting __________________ to dinner. (e.g. Shakespeare, your favourite author, Tommy Douglas, Lady Gaga, etc.)

Funke-y Self-Publishing – Is it for You?

pink-typewriter1-1Sooooo… best-selling children’s author, Cornelia Funke, has created her own publishing company, in essence, turning to sophisticated self-publishing strategies to gain creative control over her work.  In a Publisher’s Weekly article, Funke “cites creative differences with her U.S. publisher [Little, Brown],” as the motive behind her decision.  Not only did she see her Reckless series as better suited for ages 14 and older (and she argued with her publishers about pigeonholing her for younger readers for seven years), Funke was adamant that her first chapter remain where it was and her ending remain as it was.  Also intending to publish her backlist through the newly minted Breathing Books, her arguments for this bold move make such good sense:  “I want to be a sailboat so I can fit into other places. If I have to figure this out myself, good! I feel I’m at a time in my career when I can afford to do this, and where I can say, as long as I cover my costs, I’m fine. I have many traditional publishers in Europe, Asia, and South America who still earn me money. And I can finally be a storyteller for all ages.”

What a fine example of why self-publishing or, in Funke’s case, taking the publishing bull by the horns is such a fine new model.  One can’t help but admire her and, for those who write, hope to emulate her.  But, of course, I must offer a caveat.  Cornelia Funke has sold 20 million copies of her traditionally published books worldwide.  (The very article that I cite above was shared 1.4k times in but two days; Facebook cites 19,733 likes for her author page and she has thousands of Twitter followers.)  She is adored and loved and followed and tweeted about on a daily basis. Her audience is loyal and eagerly awaiting, so there is every likelihood that this new venture will prove a resounding success (and if it is not, she will not starve in her Beverly Hills home).

Those who want to self-publish are seldom as well-placed as Funke.  So necessary to successful self-publishing are the co-joined investments of time and money in order to create a professional product, market and sell it. If you don’t have Funke’s resources or a similar fan base, the road to a self-published bestseller is hard, indeed.

As writer Hugh Howie shares in Publisher’s Weekly, “successful authors work their butts off either way. There is no such thing as a lazy successful author. With a publisher or not, the author will be expected to market themselves. They will do interviews and go on grueling book tours, or they will be asked to write blog posts, to read and blurb other books from the publisher, and so on. Both sets of authors will be expected to engage with their readers on Twitter and Facebook. They will do signings at bookstores, or they will sit at craft fairs. The ones who eke out even a part-time living will outwork their colleagues who don’t. Forty hours of writing on top of a full-time job and caring for a family is the norm.”

Phew!

But hats off to Cornelia Funke for her derring-do!  I wonder if the same might be accomplished with a handful of intrepid and audacious CanLit authors who’d link arms and create an independent publishing company for publishing their own books.  It’s been tried to some success before…

This week’s great un-/ undersung CanLit title worth checking out: 

Food for the GodsKaren Dudley   “Dudley has quite elegantly and creatively taken a classic Greek myth and woven it into something unique. The base idea of taking Pelops, someone who had been served up as food for the gods, and making him into a chef, is brilliant. It is the ultimate source of all of the conflict in the story….The author’s love for mythology is apparent in this story, through simply defining it as a fantasy does not do it justice. It is equal parts mystery and comedy, not to mention being raucous thanks to a certain pair of gods who are just trying to help.” – Winnipeg Review

Writing Quote: “The good news about self publishing is you get to do everything yourself. The bad news about self publishing is you get to do everything yourself.” – Lori Lesko, self-published American author

Writing Tips:  “If you have market aspirations for your book, buy your own ISBN (International Standard Book Number) and create your own publishing company.”

Writing Prompt: “Empathy is first of all an act of imagination, a storyteller’s art, and then a way of traveling from here to there. What is it like to be the old man silenced by the stroke, the young man facing the executioner, the woman walking across the border, the child on the rollercoaster…?” from Rebecca Solnit’s The Faraway Nearby

Some Really Good (under appreciated) Canadian Books…Part One

Some books get all the street cred. They win awards and hoopla. Their authors are invited every-which-where and are added to lists (CanLit, writers-to-watch, top 100, etc.).

However, like musicians and artists (in all disciplines), there are those writers and books that escape notice for whatever reason. The authors aren’t in the right circles or the right time and place or they simply miss out on luck. No denying there is a lot of luck involved in getting noticed as an artist of any stripe in this world.

I think about my numerous friends in the arts, too many of whom are devastatingly talented but heartbreakingly unrecognized or under-recognized. I’d like to take this and the nextreally-good-literature-is-seldom-appreciated-in-its-own-day-the-best-authors-die-poor-the-bad-ones-make-money-its-always-been-like-that-walter-moers blog to recognize just a few of these fine people and their fine titles. In fact, this week, CBC stole my blog idea and created this list: 12 Underrated Canadian Novels.   But here’s mine– cultivated with a little help from my friends–of summer reading suggestions (with brief annotations) for under-read Can Lit*:

The Next Margaret – Janice MacDonald   “The very first Randy Craig Mystery was published in 1994 and is the ‘lost book’ of the series. We first meet Miranda ‘Randy’ Craig as she returns to grad school to do an MA in English literature at the University of Alberta focusing on novelist Margaret Athers, a reportedly  reclusive figure who can only be contacted through her publisher. But all is not as it seems. Soon, Randy must use her literary deductive skills to prove that the Department of English is harbouring a killer.”

Doubting Yourself to the Bone – Thomas Trofimuk  “A story about the nature of grief, about what it means to be a parent in the face of great sorrow, the idea of re-invented love and hope. Set in Paris and a small town in the Canadian Rockies, the novel is propelled forward by a horrific car crash that reverberates for the victim’s husband and daughters….this story serpentines through the labyrinth of grief and pain as the victim’s husband wrestles with the question, was the car crash an accident or intentional?”

The Betrayal – Henry Kreisel  “This swift philosophical thriller explores the role of North Americans as witnesses to global history. With rich allusions to Joseph Conrad The Betrayal traces the effects of the Holocaust to Edmonton, Alberta, an unlikely spot for a moral showdown–or so one would at first think. A classic of contemporary Canadian literature.” – Goodreads

Allegra – Shelley Hrdslitschka  “[An] absorbing exploration of contemporary teen life…Hrdlitschka (Sister Wife) realistically depicts teenage emotional turmoil as Allegra’s growing obsession with Mr. Rocchelli combines with despair at her parents’ separation and the ups and downs of her new friendships. The main characters’ devotion to the arts enriches the drama.” – Publishers Weekly

Road Tripping – Conni Massing  “Every summer for the past 10 years, Conni Massing and a gaggle of her theatre friends have embarked on raucous road trips throughout their home province of Alberta….Massing’s funny, compelling, and educational account of these trips….may even inspire a bit of envy on the part of her readers. How can people have so much fun, one wonders, with so little? How do people make a pit stop for beef jerky an adventure?….Her love letter to her home province, is both funny and inspiring.” Quill & Quire

Delusion Road – Don Aker   “A taut, gripping murder mystery thriller… a page-turner that will leave readers both breathlessly cheering for the protagonists and eager to (re)experience the Bay of Fundy’s shoreline and all its rocky, majestic East Coast splendour. Aker excels is in his storytelling, creating vividly believable scenarios rife with razor-sharp tension, all wrapped up in an edgy, realistic portrayal of loyalty, the lies we tell, and the strength of the human spirit.” National Reading Campaign

A Wake for the Dreamland – Laurel Deedrick-Mayne  Friends William, Robert, & Annie are on the cusp of adulthood while the world is on the brink of war. Every arena of their lives is infiltrated by the war, from the home front to the underground of queer London to the bloody battlefields of Italy. Even in the aftermath, these friends fight their own inner battles: to have faith in their right to love and be loved, to honour their promises and ultimately find their way “home.” 

Ghost Messages – Jacqueline Guest  In pursuit of stolen treasure in 1865 Ireland, 13-year-old Ailish winds up trapped on the Great Eastern as it sails! The vessel’s mission is to lay the fi rst undersea telegraph cable across the Atlantic Ocean. On the journey, Ailish, disguised as a boy tries to track down the hiding place of her father’s treasure. With her trademark storytelling skills, Jacqueline Guest has fashioned a nail-biter of an historical seafaring action adventure.

Instruments of Surrender – Christine Wiesenthal  In this poetry collection, “Wiesenthal reveal[s her] mastery of craft and mature sensibilities. [She is an] excavator of past and present: … mining the uncertain terrain of childhood and youth, the hazardous surfaces of adult experience…[who] sees the wide world and record[s her] knowledge of its brutality. [She] write[s] of paternal betrayal with the same unsettling frankness they bring to day-to-day events.” – Antigonish Review

Gwen – Carolyn Pogue   Not only is Gwen a fantastic historical source with its references to Yonge Street, the St. Lawrence River and national heroes including Miss Pauline Johnson and Joseph Brant, it’s also a captivating story of a young girl determined to pursue her dreams and traverse new lands. Gwen is young, but her sensibilities and optimistic character are bound to evoke emotions from all age groups.

You Haven’t Changed a Bit – Astrid Blodgett Edmonton-based Astrid Blodgett’s debut story collection is a complex and darkly tinged look into the lives of troubled characters and the traumatic, life-altering events of their lives.“You Haven’t Changed a Bit” has the complexity and texture you’d expect from a well-established short fiction writer. The fact that this is a debut collection is a remarkable achievement and should convince you to keep an eye out for more of Blodgett’s work.

Finton Moon – Gerard Collins  Set in the fictional town of Darwin, NFL, Collins “build[s] his themes: of cruelty and malice, intolerance of every kind, violence, poverty, repression, and the pain of growing up, especially in the closed and claustrophobic environment of Darwin. But it’s not all to do with struggling against the cramped and insular confines of a small town. In the context of growing up, the book is about friendship; the obligations of familial and romantic love; and the hard, but often thrilling journey of self-discovery.” The Western Star

Part Two – Next Week!

(And thanks to all who suggested The Book of Mary by me!  Shucks.)

* You’ll note a decidedly Edmonton/ Albertan bias, but that’s just fine.

 

Writing Quote: “Even to be a famous author in America is no piece of cake. There are no screaming lines of fans waiting hours for the new release, no instant recognition that accords respect, no government funding for the arts to speak of and a risky living to be made at best. And for the other writers, it’s a struggle that only a passion for stories and books, bred early and deep, can sustain.” – bookwritingworld.com

Writing Tips:  There’s a saying in publishing that the moment you spot a trend, it’s too late to join it. By the time you finish writing something you think will be popular because it’s popular now, that ship will have largely sailed. – Writer’s Digest

Writing Prompt: ‘Shh! Hear that?’ ‘I didn’t hear anything.’ ‘That’s right. That’s the sound of your own oblivion.’

 

 

 

 

CBC’s This is That Hoodwinks WIR

Yes, I’ll admit it. This week I was a victim of click bait on Twitter:

I saw this and mindlessly clicked:

Screen Shot 2015-08-05 at 4.34.49 PMI read the article with horror and spent the next hour constructing a passionate counter-argument.

Then I thought I’d better do a little research.  I could find no trace of either the Canadian Education Committee or of Harold Wright.  After more digging, of course, I found the link to CBC’s satirical This is That.

I felt my outrage go limp.

CBC had baited me, and I’d fecklessly fanned the flames of my righteous indignation to the point of indigestion.

I took a Tums.

But the entire episode left me thinking about children’s and young adult books that feature talking animals and anthropomorphized animals, in general.  As a teacher-librarian and a children’s literature specialist, I find children’s books featuring animal protagonists to be charming and illustrative.  As an educator, I’ve always felt that talking animals built empathy for animals and humans and indeed worked on the level of allegory for human behaviour.  I think of E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, Kate DiCamillo’s The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan to name but three of my favourites.  For me these are the precursors for more advanced study of such works as Orwell’s Animal Farm, Richard Adams’ Watership Down, Martel’s Life of Pi, and even those hobbitty creatures.

So I found the U of T research cited in Dominic Ali’s recent article, “When kids’ books feature animals with human traits,” troubling:

“…kids’ books featuring animals with human characteristics not only lead to less factual learning but also influence children’s reasoning about animals.

Researchers also found that young readers are more likely to attribute human behaviors and emotions to animals when exposed to books with anthropomorphized animals than books depicting animals realistically.”

Well, this sounded much like the claims of the fictitious Harold Wright of the non-existent Canadian Education Committee. I felt my ire rise again.

I do see the argument that an exclusive literary diet of talking and dancing mice can limit a child’s understanding of the natural world. I agree with the lead author of the study, Patricia Ganea, that a variety of books from magical realism to realistic depictions of the natural world are important. We need to feed the imagination and the intellect.  But I would argue that the imagination is better fuelled by stories featuring animals that talk and behave as humans than by the factual science book.  (And the notion of displacement seems a significant means for children to deal with how badly or kindly humans disguised as animals can behave.)

Missing in the study is any discussion of the vital role the parent or adult reader, teacher or librarian plays in guiding young minds to see the link between human and animal, or to understand the difference between reality and fantasy, or to grapple with the often harsh and cruel realities of the animal kingdom. Early readers need adult guides to help them understand, and they have such helpers in schools, libraries and at the bedside to explain these crucial distinctions.

I leave you with two lovely sites to consider:

The Guardian’s “The best talking animals in children’s books

and

PETA Kids’ “The Best Books for Kids Who Love Animals

Writing Quote: “What I mean is, things like that happen. They may seem might cruel and unfair, but that’s how life is a part of the time. But that isn’t the only way life is. A part of the time, it’s mighty good. And a man can’t afford to waste all the good part, worrying about the bad parts. That makes it all bad.” – Old Yeller, Fred Gipson (American author, 1907-1973)

Writing TipsTom Moorhouse, author of The River Singers and The Rising on writing about animals.

Writing Prompt: Musings on humans by your pet or choice of animal.

 

Happy birthday, Will!

shakes_bday_2009People often ask me to name writers who have influenced or informed my writing.  Hands down, that writer is Shakespeare. At last count, I’ve read 2/3 of his plays (all of the tragedies, most of the comedies, and a number of the histories) and all of his sonnets – some of these works multiple times, as I’ve taught many of them.  The bard’s words and rhythms infuse my own.  On several occasions, I’ve stolen directly from him:

  • a title as in A Winter’s Tale
  • lines of poetry (“by the pricking of my thumbs/ something wicked this way comes” and “’tis now the witching time of night” which I borrowed for In the Graveyard)
  • quoted lines used by characters such as Anise in Gravity Journal, who, as she cuts, cites Lady Macbeth’s famous lament:

    What hands are here? Ha! they pluck out mine eyes.                                             Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood                                                         Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather                                                    The multitudinous seas incarnadine                                                                      Making the green one red.     (Macbeth, II.ii.56-60)

I am an ardent fan. I marvel at his genius. I’d like to invite him to dinner or for a pint (my treat). But alack, he has “shuffled off this mortal coil” and “the rest is silence.”

You may find this interactive widget from Oxford English Dictionaries a lark!

shakespeare1

 

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Or you may find Stephen Marche’s book, How Shakespeare Changed Everything, enlightening (here’s a short overview.)

 

 

 

All jests aside, I do believe that reading Shakespeare makes one a better poet.  So often I am astonished by the number of poets who do not read poetry, the number of aspiring authors who do not read prose, the number of people who read neither.  Quite simply, as you no doubt know because you are reading this blog, a writer reads.  Widely.  Often. Across genres.

Today on Shakespeare’s birthday, in this month of poetry, it’s important we remember that poets in many places are revered and have been advocates for freedom, for the people, for social justice.  Some have been blacklisted or censored; some have been tortured or murdered. Why is that? Because a poet’s pen has power.

Today I remember these…
Ken Saro-Wiwa
Pablo Neruda
Victor Jara
Thomas McGrath
Langston Hughes
Pete Seeger
Dorothy Parker
Anna Akhmatova
Susana Chávez Castillo
Nadia Anjuman
Liu Xia
San San Nweh
and so many others…

Writing Quote:  “I keep reminding people that an editorial in rhyme is not a song. A good song makes you laugh, it makes you cry, it makes you think.” – Pete Seeger, American folksinger and activist (1919-2014)
Writing Tip: “If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.” – Dorothy Parker, American poet, short story writer, essayist (1893-1967)

Writing Prompt:  Take the lyrics to a popular song and rearrange them into Shakespearean sonnet.

Requirements:

  • Rhyme Scheme: ABAB/CDCD/EFEF/GG
  • Each line shoudl be 10 syllables long or 5 feet in length (pentameter)
  • The first two quatrains should be a question and then 7 lines of potential answers/reasonings
  • The third quatrain should be a twist
  • Include a rhyming couplet at the end that summarizes the sonnet as a whole