So off I go to bed last night feeling pretty chuffed about this “project” Melanie and I have agreed to embark on this summer. Through the night, however, I woke up with a start and couldn’t get back to sleep. So I made a cup of hot chocolate, and sat in front of the fire in a half-awake, half-asleep stupor. Suddenly it hit me. Holy crap!
What I’ve done is conveniently put everything in a box somewhere in my mind … adding ideas and storing it there until we start the July project. What was I thinking? Come the first of July I’d suddenly be attentive? Instantly, be ready to take risks and reveal myself? Magically become more human? July was going to be marathon month. Not in terms of travelling physical distances perhaps, but the internal journey would be huge. Did I think I could simply walk in cold without rehearsing a bit or doing some warm ups?
Already I had started a list: spend time in a soup kitchen; invite myself on a swordfish boat; take part in some village socials; accept the invitation of a friend I’ve not seen for ages to come visit (she lives in an old house that was Yarmouth’s first hospital.)
I might find a secluded beach and swim in the nude. Or climb into a church belfry and ring the bells. I’d love to walk around one of our towns between midnight and 3 a.m. and see what’s going on and who’s around to chat with. Not your regular “touristy” things, but great fodder for a travel writer!
Then a little voice in my head piped up: Yeah, but those are action items: places to go, people to see, things to do. Doing “different” things is not the same as approaching things differently. That’s part of the deal. You promised to do things differently.
That stopped me dead in my tracks. I took a couple of deep breaths and let that wee “aha” moment crystallize. Congratulations old girl. You’ve just had your first lesson in paying attention. I finished the hot chocolate, went back to bed, and slept like a fish. (That’s what daughter Margo always said when she slept well because her gold fish never seemed to move during the night.) So I’d say the journey’s begun.
PS. The photos posted tonight are from Birchdale. One of my favourite places on earth, and only 30 minutes from where I live.
Oops. And I meant to ask, what does paying attention mean to you? I need to add some tools to my “pay attention” kit. Please hop aboard and join in the discussion!
Funny how serendipity steps in when you least expect it. A few days ago I read Melanie Chamber’s blog, Toronto bound. Melanie is a travel writer and colleague whom I admire. Her title intrigued me, as I know that Melanie lives in Toronto. So what on earth could she mean by headlining her blog Toronto bound?
Melanie opens by saying, “When I’m away, I become someone else. Instinct and spontaneity return. Without the stress of work, without the familiarity locking me into habits and patterns, I listen to my gut, which means, I also take risks. I become more, well, more me!”
I found myself nodding in agreement. By the time I finished reading her post, I felt as if my friend had pushed me off the deep end of a pool. I had a choice: reach for my comfy (and safe) water—wings—way of doing things, or tread water like a mad woman for a few moments then push myself to learn a new stroke or two that might take me to an inner island; a grand adventure to some uncharted territory.
You’ll see when you read her blog of March 15th, that she’s made a commitment to spend this summer at home in Toronto. Instead of trotting around the globe, she intends to scoot around in her own backyard. And, she plans on approaching things differently. At the end of her blog Melanie tucks in a wee challenge: “Move. Take a bite of something weird, talk to someone, reveal yourself, take a leap of faith, and grow.”
Within seconds of reading her post, I impulsively fired off a comment which said, in part, “Oh! Yes! Of course. Why not? Frikkin’ brilliant m’dear. You’ve inspired me to do the same. Right here in lil’ ole Yarmouth.”
Before I could digest what, exactly, I had committed myself to, my inbox pinged with an email from Melanie. Subject header: yes, and yes and yes!!!! The note went on to ask, “Ok … what about we do it together, starting on one day and do it everyday for 30 days? But, as travel a writer are you at home for 30 continuous days this summer?”
The thought of actually doing this left me feeling lightheaded. Giddy. Much like a kid about to explore a cave for the first time, or getting ready to board a plane for Timbuktu. I was excited! I was going to do something new, perhaps even risqué. I was also anxious.
You see, awhile ago I read Mary Oliver’s book Our World. At one point, Oliver talks about attention and what she learned by observing her partner, Mary Malone Cook (now deceased), whom she refers to as “M.”
Oliver writes, “Attention without feeling, I began to learn, is only a report. An openness—and empathy—was necessary if the attention was to matter. Such openness and empathy M. had in abundance, and gave away freely … Then M. instilled in me this deeper level of looking and working, of seeing through the heavenly visibles to the heavenly invisibles.”
I was so struck by these words that I typed them out and taped them to the bookcase in my office at eye level. This kind of attention has been missing in my work of late. Sure, I write some decent stories, take decent photos. But I’m stuck in one dimension. My reportage has become slack. I’m not seeing in 3-D anymore. It’s as if my eyes have hazed over and my senses have dulled. Lazy? Tired? Bored? I don’t know. I yearn to see the “heavenly invisibles” but I’m not sure where to start or even how to go about doing this. Sounds trite, but I’m not sure I even know how to really pay attention anymore, and that’s a bit unsettling.
Then, just yesterday, I read an article in the Star (written by Jim Coyle on March 15) about Jean Vanier being awarded the Templeton Prize. Vanier has been my hero forever. The write up mentions how 15 years ago, Vanier said, “We have universities, we have schools of technology. But where are the schools for love? Who will teach us to love? Who will help us to come out from the frontiers that we lock ourselves behind?”
Although I’m not exactly sure what the connection is between Oliver’s comments on attention/being privy to heavenly invisibles … Vanier’s plea for humanity to come out from the frontiers we lock ourselves behind … and Melanie’s challenge to reveal ourselves, take a leap of faith, and grow … I do know there is a connection.
Meanwhile, here’s the lowdown: after we yakked yesterday, we’ve both committed to taking the month of July to explore our own back yards, in ways we’ve not done before. For me, that will include going anywhere in the Tri-Counties, which includes Shelburne, Yarmouth and Digby. We’ll do field notes on a daily basis (journal/blog) for 31 days. Could be 50 words or 5000 a day. Matters not. What’s important is that we are committed to doing this, and doing things differently. Can’t define it more than that at the moment.
Right now, I have butterflies in my stomach. And I’m wearing a silly grin that’s about as wide as my ears.
I took these photos from my canoe on the Tusket River in front of our home around this time last year. The kaleidoscope mirror images had me mesmerized for a couple of hours. I look at these sometimes and wonder which way is up? Seems appropriate for this post. For sure on that day, I was privy to those “heavenly invisibles.”
Jamie Simpson loves old-growth forests. In fact, he’s so smitten that he’s been searching high and low for them for many moons. The result is a narrative guide titled Journeys Through Eastern Old-Growth Forests, published byNimbus.
Simpson has a background in biology, forestry and law, and has worked as a forester, writer and advocate for sensible forestry practices. He has received several awards for his conservation work, as well as the Elizabeth May Award for Environmental Service, and the Environmental Law prize at Dalhousie University.
The 40-year-old is also the author of Restoring the Acadian Forest: A Guide to Forest Stewardship for Woodlot Owners in the Maritimes, also published by Nimbus. Here, Simpson chats about his love for forests in general, and old-growth forests in particular.
For the complete Q&A go here: http://atlanticbookstoday.ca/smitten-by-old-growth-forests/
Folks, although I love interviewing authors and celebrating their stories, other things have come up that have taken my time/attention. I’ve come to accept the fact that I’m never going to catch up with Author! Author! so I’m letting go of the guilt and moving on. Over the holidays I will be revamping this site and adding a couple of new features. Stay tuned!
Meanwhile, here is a photo that I took in Battle Harbour this summer. It’s the second time I’ve visited this wee island and am totally smitten with the place. Working on a new photo gallery of Labrador which will be up by the New Year.
Seriously, I’m giving a Travel Writing Workshop at the Magnetic Hill Zoo (Education Centre) on Saturday, Sept. 27.
Participants can expect to be immersed into the world of travel writing. The workshop includes: an overview of opportunities, exercises to set practical goals, market information, how to break into travel writing (or expand your portfolio), tips for taking photos that editors want, how to sell more than one story from your trip–and more.
Carmel Vivier, President of the SW New Brunswick Chapter of Professional Writers Association of Canada (PWAC), and member of Travel Media Association of Canada (TMAC), says: “I took this workshop from Sandra a few years ago and it was instrumental in me getting enough published credits to join TMAC. Sandra has also presented other writing related workshops for our chapter and she is great in sharing information that will help your writing career–and take it to the next level.”
TIME: 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
FEE: $125 (includes HST)
INTERESTED? Contact me for workshop outline, or to register.
Would love to see you there. So would this tiger.
Shameless self promotion here folks so bear with me. A week from today I will be hosting a book signing, reception as part of the launch of my wee book, Maud Lewis and the Maudified House Project–The Story Starts Here. It’s primarily a photo documentary of a special project initiated by the Friends of the AGNS here in Yarmouth, involving the installing of 11 children’s playhouses throughout the town that were painted by local artists. They are getting lots of attention and will be auctioned off this fall as a major fund-raiser for children’s programs and gallery events.
Aside from seeing 190 photos, readers will find some interesting information about world renown folk artists Maud Lewis, a few stories from people who knew her, and other odds and sods related to this amazing woman. The book also celebrates the importance of volunteers, and shows how a community can rally around a common goal and make things happen.
As part of the launch, the Friends will be showing a half hour documentary about Maud Lewis filmed in 1965 and aired on CBC television titled “The Once Upon a Time World of Maud Lewis.” Showtimes 6:30, 7 and 7:30 p.m.
Once I recover from the launch, you can expect to see several new postings of authors as I have a dozen lined up between now and Christmas!
Meet Chad Norman. He recently completed his 15th book of poetry, titled Masstown, which celebrates the once-thriving dairy community just west of Truro, in Colchester County. Through his grandparents, Bert and Gladys, the poems lead the reader back onto the farm. But not just any farm. Masstown is a poignant collection showing memory at work, revealing “the way it was,” and lives lived on this multi-generational farm.
Chad Norman has been writing and publishing for 30 years. He’s a member of WFNS, the League of Canadian Poets, and is a former member of TWUC.
What is it about poetry that captures your interest? When did you start writing poetry, and why?
At one time I set my sights on becoming a musician/songwriter [and] began to hang around with “garage bands.” My friends, the band members would invite me to their garage gigs, to play, and quaff back their father’s apple and grape wines. Once I, and they, realized I was a “word man,” requests came for lyrics. At first, I never thought my lyrics would catch anyone’s attention, but I kept on writing. Eventually I came to realize words were very important, and contained great power if placed in a successful way on an empty piece of paper. I came to know quickly the difference between lyrics and poems, but I certainly didn’t believe I was writing either, especially poems. When I did, around the age of 23-24, what captured me was how poetry could accomplish so much with so few words. And, without a doubt, I knew it was all about Imagination, Feelings, and how to capture Time.
My poems evolve through what I call disturbance. Because I have to chase a paycheque by holding down a clock-punching job, when the rattle of the words begin, they have come to disturb that mundane pursuit. Another reason I was chosen to write and honour poems, is that I despise money. Hey! Don’t get me wrong, the disturbance can always lead to a few bucks, I don’t have a problem with that, but there is something about living and surviving as a poet which has very little to do with the “filthy lucre.” In terms of process, in most cases I have a few words jotted down in the notebook I pack around, or a very limited idea or image at the beginning. So, yes, many poems unfold, reveal, try to deceive me, or stand strong in confidence, as I write, and I get down what is in most cases a draft.
Do you have role models? Poets or people you’ve loved/learned from in the past?
Throughout the years many poets taught me in many ways. Mainly it has been the women. I know this comes from when I was a boy and my mother took me to tea parties. I sat there and listened to the women tell their stories, which were filled with emotions, harsh truths, and clear paths on how to feel. And I have learned a lot from, and appreciated visits with Dorothy Livesay, Gwen MacEwen, Anne Marriot, P.K. Page, Pat Lowther, and Anne Szumigalski, Al Purdy, Joe Rosenblatt, Fred Cogswell, Louis Dudek, Irving Layton, Doug Jones, Patrick Lane, to name a few. (Note: all Canadians!) Poets of today would include Paul Zann, Peter Sanger, Laurence Hutchman, Phil Thompson, Penny Ferguson, Carmelita McGrath, Leone Gom, and Susan Musgrave.
I would love to hear your views about finding the right publisher, and what’s involved.
Oh, boy! Being a poet, it comes down to, not the “right” publisher, but any publisher. At present it is a tough and draining game. I have dealt with a range of publisher and editors over the years. Some decent and helpful, others complete idiots. But, fortunately, during the past year and a half, I have found the publisher for me. We have enjoyed nothing but mutual respect. So at the moment, I feel like I am “in,” so to speak. At least, I feel as if I can approach my publisher with enthusiasm in regard to my next title, instead of feeling unconnected, and simply sending a manuscript out, led by nothing but hope. One must be prepared to really stand up for one’s manuscript! How do I know this? Because my latest book, Masstown, was rejected by numerous presses … it took me four years to sign a contract!
The biggest challenge is finding the time and belief to keep on writing. At this point in my life, being 55, I admit there are dips in my faith, meaning I wonder if people actually care about poems, or poets. Over the years I have had little support from the ones I needed it from most. This has prevented me from celebrating my path as a poet. But, time and again, I overcome, due to a relentless ability to persevere. I learned a long time ago it will be up to me if anything happens for my poems, for my books.
What is the biggest reward?
Being able to read the poems aloud! And when someone comes up to you and says, “This is my first poetry reading, I never imagined I would have liked it so much” this is very satisfying. Also, when someone you’ve sold a book to tells you what they enjoyed about it. I always enjoy seeing a poem accepted by (and appearing) in a publication, and I really smile when a cheque comes with the complimentary copy!
Chad welcomes questions, so fire away in the comment box. Let’s get a dialogue going!
Author! Author! is back on track. It was great to have Laura Best come on board to lead the brigade this spring. See her interview below and be sure to check out her comments for more insights.
There’s a great lineup ahead. Aiming to post interviews twice a month.
Also, I’ve started uploading new photo collections. Click “Photo Gallery” on menu. The latest addition is a series of unusual shots titled “Reflections Tusket River” … taken a week ago from my canoe. The shot you see here is from that collection. Totally weird and wonderful. And, no, they have not been photoshopped. I don’t have that program, nor do I know how to use it.
However, for some photo shoots I use a technique called HDR which means high dynamic range. Anyway, I take three quick consecutive shots using the AEB (auto exposure bracketing) feature on my camera. One is underexposed by two f stops; one overexposed by two, and one on regular setting. Then I meld the photos together. This way, I get all the high and low tones possible, which gives the photos depth.
Normally, I would be using a tripod for this. Handheld is not recommended when doing HDR stuff as there’s a possibility of hand shake and “ghosting.” As I headed out in my canoe, it didn’t occur to me to bring a tripod. So these are not 100 percent without shake, but the ghosting is almost non-existent, and I’m thrilled with the results.
This weekend I’ll work on a collection from Battle Harbour, Labrador.
Laura Best lives in East Dalhousie, Nova Scotia. Her first YA novel, “Bitter, Sweet” was short listed for The Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young People. The author of over forty short stories, her work has been published in literary magazines and anthologies across Canada. Flying With a Broken Wing, is her second YA novel and was published last September.
The story’s main character, Cammie Deveau, begings life with a few strikes against her. She’s visually impaired, abandoned by her mother at birth, and her father was a casualty of the Second World War. If all that isn’t enough, she’s being raised by her bootlegging aunt.
When Cammie learns about a school for blind and visually impaired children she becomes convinced a new life is waiting for her in Halifax, but how will she ever convince her aunt to let her go? With the help of her best friend, they devise a plan to blow up the local moonshiner’s still. But Cammie has not managed to change her luck, and things get worse than she ever imagined.
How did Flying With a Broken Wing come into being?
For a very long time I wanted to write a story with a visually impaired protagonist. My mother is visually impaired, and so I was inspired to create a character that had visual problems as well. My mother taught me very early on that we work with what life gives us and make the best of the circumstances we have. If we want things to change in our lives we find a way to do it and that’s exactly what Cammie Deveau sets out to do in Flying With a Broken Wing.
So the book began with the idea of a strong, visually impaired character who dreams of having a brand new life. When I started writing this book, I had no idea why this young girl was so determined to change her life. I knew there would have to be special circumstances that would warrant this deep desire other than her eyesight. Luckily, Cammie was quite forthcoming with all that information. Cammie loves to tell a good story! Once I started writing, she filled in all the blank spaces. She was such a joy to write.
Tell me about the writing process.
For me, the writing process usually begins with a vague idea of where the story will begin and where it will end. I then allow my characters the freedom to develop as I write, and the story slowly unfolds as I go. I tend to do very little planning ahead of time. Occasionally I have a certain scenes or situations in mind that I want to take place within the story, but I never know exactly how it will turn out until I’m actually writing it.
Perhaps the biggest challenge in writing for this audience is taking that step back in time to when I was a child, remembering the things that were important to me, and how I viewed the world. I want the stories I write to be believable and real for anyone who reads them. Since I like to write in first person I often describe my writing as playing “make-believe.” I become the characters I write about. I feel their hopes and fears, their determination. They often have conversations with each other in my head as I work through the dialogue.
If I had any tips it would probably be to find a story you want to tell and make it your own. Write about what’s important to you. Don’t just write to be published, but write to fill that deep desire to express yourself through the written word. Don’t give up. You might not get the story right the first time, but if it’s a story worth writing it should be a story worth rewriting—again and again if necessary.
PS the third photo is of Laura’s mother (on the right) and two of her friends taken back in 1955 when she worked in the kitchen at the DawsonMemorialHospital in Bridgewater. She was about eighteen at the time. Laura finds the photo inspiring as it represents her mother’s determination to meet life head on, knowing that the limitations we face in life are the ones we set for ourselves.
Laura welcomes questions about her novels and the writing life, so feel free to post questions!
Join me for a roll-up-your-sleeves kind of day to figure out where you want to take your freelance business, and how you are going to get there–in both the periodical/online world, the corporate world, and other worlds where you can capitalize on your interests and expertise. Time will also be spent on the business end of things, including how to monitor what your time is worth, how to track story ideas/client lists, and how to manage your work flow.
Date: Saturday Jan. 11
Time: 9:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Place: WFNS, 1113 Marginal Road, Halifax
Fee: $135 inc. HST
Contact me a for a workshop outline at firstname.lastname@example.org
PS … tattoo and messy desk not pre-requisites!
Welcome! This is where I occasionally pluck and post a recent story or give a behind-the-scenes Commentary (when fit to publish). You'll also find notices about upcoming Workshops, such as memoir or travel writing. Anything else lands in Odds & Sods. Enjoy your visit and come back often. Better yet, subscribe!
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