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Short-listed But Not Short-Changed

I’m baaaack! I’ve been away from my blog for almost a year now – and it hardly seems like 12 months has nearly passed.WordItOut-word-cloud-2263779

Something cool did happen in the last year in regards to my writing. I was short-listed for the Geist Magazine Can’t Lit Without It CanLit Short Story Contest.

Fiction is the art form of human yearning, no matter how long or short that work of fiction is.

Robert Olen Butler, from Short Short Theory, Narrative Magazine

I can still remember waiting for the bus in a drafty and frigid TTC station when the email popped up. Sometimes that little “ping” from my phone is the last thing I want to hear – but other times it’s the only thing I want to hear.

Hi Christine,  Hope this finds you well. Regarding the Geist Can’t Lit Without It CanLit Short Story Contest: your entry, “Beautiful Losers 2.0,” was named Honourable Mention! Thanks so much for entering, our editorial team really liked your work.

It was really thrilling to read I was short-listed but more thrilling was that the editorial team really liked my work! That really lifted my heart.

Everyone who submitted had to generate a story using the CanLit Premise Generator.

I kept generating premises until something took hold of my imagination.

Not a lie – but I knew that story was pretty good. It felt like it just came to my mind fully formed and I was simply typing as quickly as I could to keep up with it.

What’s also cool is that the competition was for Flash Fiction – stories less than 500 words.

TO BE BRIEF, it is a short short story and not a prose poem because it has at its center a character who yearns.

Robert Olen Butler, from Short Short Theory, Narrative Magazine

I highly recommend checking out a story premise generator if you’re feeling stuck and want some inspiration or direction for your writing. It was the first time I had ever used one and it was galvanizing.

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Witches, Revenge, White Walkers & Me

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Double, double toil and trouble
Fire burn and cauldron bubble

When it comes to story-telling I am unabashedly fascinated with the supernatural. Witches, warlocks, magic, dragons, angels, demons, ghosts, fairies, monsters, werewolves, vampires…you name it.

I was bit as soon as I was read my first fairy tale. As soon as I could read myself, I devoured all sorts of fairy tales by the likes of the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen and progressed to other books about magic children and otherworldly powers.

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I guess, if I’m honest, a big draw to stories of people with powers out of the ordinary, is because as a small child I often felt powerless. Not because I had a terrible upbringing or was mercilessly bullied in school…although I had a taste of it. I guess no one goes completely unscathed when it comes to bullying.

I think when you’re a little kid life often feels just plain unfair. I remember being told “you’re not old enough” or “just wait until you’re old enough” when there was something I yearned to do RIGHT NOW!

Sometimes I did run out and openly defy my parents or my grandmother Meme who helped raise my siblings and myself but I wasn’t exactly a wild child…except in my imagination. I often retreated into my own world and gave myself special powers, did whatever I desired and was whomever I wanted. At times, I was truly diabolical. Continue reading

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My Virtual Reality Trip

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The Lovely Room by Emma Burkeitt & Saffron Bolduc-Chiong

 

As I write, the oppressive heat and humidity of July in this city situated by a big lake has lifted momentarily – but a few days earlier as I tried to work on an outline for my novel – it was scorching. Inside my head, I was feverish – wrestling with choices for the direction my story was going to take. First I had to figure out my main character’s origins. If only it was so easy!  I had a small reprieve from struggle when I visited my osteopath. He’s a gentle man who twists and bends my body like a pretzel and luckily has an office with air conditioning.

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The Trans­fig­u­ra­tion by Universal Everything

Like so many people who use a computer for a living, I’ve developed RSI aka Repetitive Strain Injury that gradually leaves my body as stiff and unyielding as a cement block. My shoulders and arms ache and tingle and the muscles in my back seize up. If I had the ability to unsnap certain parts of my body and replace them with spares – like a Lego model, it would be a relief. But unfortunately, I’m no cyborg or plastic brick so that’s just not going to happen.

Instead I lie on a massage table and endure being bent and pulled one way and the other.   But that day, rather than concentrating on my body’s sensations, I decided to use that time to work out my writing problem. It was a little like astral projection. I rose out of my sore body and dropped into the futuristic world of my character and tried a few ideas out.

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TIFF LightBox POP 02

As I left my osteopath’s office, a blast of heat and humidity slapped me in the face the moment I was street level, but I was nonetheless feeling lighter in body and a bit lighter in spirit. I had managed to make a decision about my character’s origins and that was going to help where I take the story. Or where it takes me… Continue reading

Tempting Time Travel

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Time travel – it’s a concept that has caught the imagination of countless writers. There’s something so appealing, so delicious about being whisked to another time – whether it’s in the past or in the future. It’s something that I’ve always fancied…I think if I could I’d travel to the Roaring ’20s in Chicago – before the Crash of course! Or maybe the Swinging 1960s in London…

While I do think the Renaissance or Middle Ages in Europe would be fascinating – I have a plain old aversion to dying of a common flu or catching the plague. I like a time with antibiotics thank you very much. While the future holds mysteries – I’m a little hesitant about going too far forward into time. I’m not keen on landing in the middle of a dystopian future where food and water is scarce and there’s no law and order. Or worse, being attacked by mutant zombie robots or something.

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Okay, I admit I’ve probably read too many books and seen too many movies! The future could be a very boring place…but what’s the fun in that when it comes to story telling – am I right?

Now my fears are grounded in the possibility of whether I could actually time travel. Otherwise  by reading novels – whether the characters move in time or the novel is set in a different era or was written hundreds of years ago – I can time travel while sitting in my arm chair without hesitation.

“Reading…it draws you away from whatever life you’re living…a new aspect…something new to see or find out.”

I recently sat down with my friend and avid reader Susan to discuss the power of books and a tour of her personal Kobo library.  See our conversation below on YouTube. Continue reading

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DO YOU HAVE CHARACTER?

A number of years ago, I left my job and my country and moved to France. I had long held a desire to improve my French which I had taken throughout school and to experience a country I had a connection to via my father, aunt and grandmother who had emigrated there from Greece for a time before finally moving to Canada.

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I chose to study French in Montpellier, an elegant medieval city in southern France – not too far from Provence to the east and Spain to the west. It’s the capital of Languedoc and its university dates back to the 13th century. In fact, the infamous Nostradamus attended the university’s School of Medicine in 1529 – although he was apparently expelled very soon after his enrolment.

Montpellier is set in a beautiful region of France – in one direction lies the sea – the Bay of Lions and the seaside town of Palavas Les Flots where I languished many an afternoon after classes – and the other direction was rolling hills and vineyards. But more importantly I chose to apply there because my school housed the second largest English language library outside of Paris. I figured I could live without English television and movies for six months – but books? No way!

My time in France was in some ways extremely isolating. I felt that I got a tiny taste of what it was to be a new immigrant to Canada (something my parents and grandparents experienced) – not being a native speaker and being so far from what was familiar. Without my family and friends I only had myself to rely on and consequently spent a great deal of time alone. Slowly I made some new friends – other “older” students like myself. The majority of the students in my classes were Swedish and tended to congregate with each other. They were 18 and enjoying the sun – I didn’t blame them. But already having graduated university – I was kind of past the collegiate stage of life.

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Interestingly my isolation precipitated and improved my writing. I had lugged my laptop and printer across the ocean and I began working on short stories and articles.

It was an intense period – that continued when I moved to London and went to work as an office temp – but that’s a different story!  In the end it was an extremely rewarding time. I guess you could say it helped to build my character.

Now character is paramount when writing fiction. The people you create are what drive your stories and they’re who the readers invest in, relate to, aspire to be or learn they should never be like. Fictional characters – you can love or hate them but they should always be memorable and the very best are always multi-dimensional.

“Get to know your characters as well as you can, let there be something at stake, and then let the chips fall where they may”.

~Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

Now very occasionally characters can just leap out of your imagination fully formed – like the goddess Athena – but most times they are a process of investigation. Characters are built and the more foundation they have, the easier writing your story and/or novel becomes.

Some writers might learn about their characters as they move through their story or novel. For me, I often see and hear my characters in my mind first and get a gut feeling about their basic emotional essence and then I build the story around them. I spend time figuring out their name, their ethnic background and their family history but not so much about their personal tastes.

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When it comes to building fictional characters, here’s a few methods I’ve tried myself and also plan to try in the future:

The Proust Questionnaire: It wasn’t created by Vanity Fair magazine though they’ve been using it to interview subjects in the back page of their issues for eons. It also wasn’t created by Marcel Proust, the eccentric French author of “Swann’s Way”. Interestingly Proust is one of the authors I read in the original French during school in Montpellier. He could and did make a multi-page meal out of eating a cookie!

She sent out for one of those short, plump little cakes called ‘petites madeleines,’ which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted scallop of a pilgrim’s shell. And soon, mechanically, weary after a dull day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid, and the crumbs with it, touched my palate than a shudder ran through my whole body, and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary changes that were taking place. 

Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way

Proust is said to have popularized the questionnaire as a parlour game that reveals an individual’s true nature. Some of the questions are:

How would you like to die? On what occasions do you lie?  What is your idea of perfect happiness?

LINK TO FULL PROUST QUESTIONNAIRE

Interview the characters of your story or novel and see what they reveal to you!

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It’s a Tween Tween World

I recently sat down with my 12-year-old niece and chatted about reading and her favourite books. You can listen to our conversation on the Youtube link above.

While she’s not the utterly fanatical bookworm I was…and still am (I’ve got 2 paper books on the go plus a bunch on my phone, and more on hold at the library), she is discriminating and has some very astute observations.

She is currently re-reading the Harry Potter series and still has a soft spot for The Hunger Games series.

“I actually really like book series because I never like it when it’s just one book. I want more of the same series.” Continue reading

FLASH PEOPLE WITH YOUR FICTION

I’ve been knocking around the idea of fiction for the Twitterverse or more broadly the Social Media Verse.

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Courtesy of Pixabay

I was inspired by the New Yorker’s feature a few years ago of a story told in 10 Twitter instalments by Jennifer Egan, author of A Visit from the Goon Squad.   

Here’s the link to Black Box in its entirety.

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Courtesy of Pixabay

Here’s my first stab at what I’m calling TWITFIC. Stories in 140 characters or less.

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Writer’s Boot Camp: Kicking Word-Smithing Butt

At the end of my last post, I proposed a writing exercise and decided to take my own advice and get writing!Pen&ink copy

If you have a novel idea kicking around, give yourself 15 minutes, take a deep breath and write the opening lines. Don’t pause, don’t edit – simply write without stopping. Then take a look at what you’ve done…and I’m sure you’ll be surprised.If you don’t have a novel idea at this time – read the opening lines of a favoured book. Pick a minor character, make them major and write the opening lines for a novel featuring them.

I’ve been noodling around with a YA (Young Adult) supernatural novel featuring witches (I do love magic and not the kind that pulls rabbits out of hats)….so I put the timer on for 10 minutes picked up my Pilot GreenTechpoint 5, stared at the abyss and for a split second paused at the precipice.   Putting those first words to blank paper is frightening but also exhilarating. I guess it’s my version of an extreme sport.

Here’s the result:

She plunges her hand into the rich red fur of the fox. Somehow Leni knows this is a dream but the animal’s pelt feels so real. Her fingers nearly disappear into the thick fur, to touch the ultra soft inner coat, soft as feathers.

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Fun with First Lines: Serial Love

We’ve talked so much about the reader, but you can’t forget that the opening line is important to the writer, too. To the person who’s actually boots-on-the-ground. Because it’s not just the reader’s way in, it’s the writer’s way in also, and you’ve got to find a doorway that fits us both. I think that’s why my books tend to begin as first sentences — I’ll write that opening sentence first, and when I get it right I’ll start to think I really have something.

Stephen King

Something popular genre fiction does very well is series. Essentially it’s a number of books featuring a cast of regular characters. It’s for those characters that we keeping coming back for more and more and more…

My second installation of “Fun with First Lines” is all about “Serial Love”

 

Nancy Drew

One of my first bouts of “serial sickness” was with Nancy Drew books when I was about 8. They were terribly written really, but they were completely addictive. Maybe it was something about the familiar and the new all wrapped into one. It’s comforting and challenging at the same time…

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Novel Fun with First Lines

the-narrowsThe first sentences of a novel – whether you read online or pick up a book from the shelf at the library or bookstore – are extremely important.

It’s the doorway into the world of the story and the entrance can be as ornate, or as sparely beautiful and as varied as there are doorways in the world.

The first lines of a novel should do a few things:

It should hook you into the story

It can set the tone, the setting and introduce character

Above all it establishes the Author’s voice – a sort of singular DNA that runs throughout the entire story

Enchanting first sentences don’t come easy – they’re something that a writer works and reworks until it’s perfect.

Stephen King devoted an entire essay on the topic: “Why Stephen King Spends ‘Months and Even Years’ Writing Opening Sentences” in an article in The Atlantic magazine.

In the first of my video series Fun with First Lines, I picked 3 genre novels at random from my personal library (excepting all the books on my e-reader – I’ll do that next time around) and read the opening lines.

Take a gander. Try to figure out the genres…It’s fun!

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