Saturday, 24 February 2018

Ski Haiku

We woke up to the most beautiful winter scene this morning. It took some hunting, but I dug out my cross country skis and was inspired by these Haiku winners at the VanDusen Botanical Garden in Vancouver to try a winter Haiku.

Swish trickle quiet
Frozen puffy snowy pond
Sliding over seams

Sapphire light frozen
Cutting down a winter lane
Frosting on cedars

Sweet morning snowdrops
Slicing down island lanes
Bliss frosty morning


Saturday, 17 February 2018

An Interview with Liz Winstanley, Narrator of Expectations

Expectations on Audible
Cover by Jo-Anne Sieppert
In June 2017, ACX began offering its services to clients in Canada.
ACX is a company which helps authors turn completed novels into audiobooks.

Shortly after hearing the news, I submitted Expectations: A Continuation of Pride and Prejudice to ACX in hopes of finding a narrator with a British dialect. I was beginning to wonder if it would ever find such a producer when I received an audition from Liz Winstanley performing the first 15 minutes of my book. I listened several times, enjoying the warmth of her voice and her talent for voices. Then I made sure my husband and children approved and sent her an offer to record my book.

It has been a delight working with Liz over the past six months. She was dedicated to perfection and a pleasure to correspond with. She graciously suggested a few alterations based on her own knowledge of Regency and British customs. She was also a lovely person and so I asked for an interview which reveals a little more about this talented producer.

Sam: Tell me a little about yourself.

Liz: England was my home until I married an American in 1954, but I'm still a British subject.  Fearful of my acquisition of a North Country accent whilst at boarding schools there, I was given elocution and drama lessons which have served me very well, because in the workplace my so-called 'English accent' has secured employment, where other skills have been singularly lacking.

Sam: What made you interested in becoming a narrator for ACX?
Photo Courtesy of Liz Winstanley

Liz: ACX provides marvelous opportunities for bringing all authors and genres to the world via Audible books so the challenges and rewards offered appealed to me.

Sam: I believe Expectations is the first book you've narrated for ACX. How did you come to choose Expectations?

 Liz: The many movie interpretations of Pride and Prejudice gave me a great insight to the various characters, so I was delighted when I was accepted to be the narrator of this remarkable continuation of their pursuits! I couldn't have asked for a better book to be my first effort!

Sam: How were you introduced to Austen's works?

Liz: Jane Austen's house is located in a small village just miles from where we used to live, so naturally it was top of the list for us to explore. Her characters are so finely drawn and her careful descriptions of the mores and expectations of the genteel young ladies of that time continue to both enlighten and to entertain.

Sam: Do you have any future narration projects you can share?

Liz: I'm planning to try my hand - voice - at narrating some of the well known classics that are now in the public domain, for instance 'Alice through the Looking Glass,' which remains one of my all-time favourites.

We hope you enjoy the result, available now on Audible.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Finding a Publisher

On January 2, I received an email from the editor at CKN publishers. This is not an uncommon occurrence for me. For about 20 years, I've been sending out short stories, poems and manuscripts. For the first years, snail mail was the only option for submissions -- painfully slow and expensive. Then email submissions became more common and now I send my writing almost exclusively via the internet.

As usual, when I receive such emails, I took a breath, preparing myself for rejection, but then came
these beautiful words "We are interested in moving forward with publishing. . ." What?! I reread the email a few times to make sure I had everything right. Plus, they wanted to publish not just one but five of my books.

The editor sent along an 11 page contract for my perusal. We were travelling back from Christmas holidays and I read it on my tiny phone screen at the airport while we waited for our plane.

Two days later, I wrote back to accept the offer. Then I waited in suspense for the documents to arrive by mail for my signature. The package arrived on January 22 and that's when I finally believed it was real. That they would send the documents via Priority Mail meant they must be serious.

Since signing the contract, I have submitted an author photo and book blurbs for the five books. Today I received the first look at some of the book covers. Can't wait to share those! It's been a pleasant experience so far and I look forward to sharing the rest of the journey soon.

Saturday, 3 February 2018

Big Magic Book Review

This is a book that every writer needs to read. It is not only well-written and filled with inspiring stories, but it is positive and written to destroy most of the debilitating old chestnuts which crush creativity. In fact, the book is written for anyone pursuing creativity and I recommend everyone read it.

Author Elizabeth Gilbert is best known for her book Eat, Pray, Love, but what is remarkable is that she is still writing and enjoying writing after her major best-seller. If I still haven't convinced you to read Big Magic, check out her Ted Talk here:

Gilbert writes with humour and whimsy. She has the rare ability of making the reader feel they are not only reading a book, but making a friend. After 20 years of writing, I have come to many of the same conclusions she has. What I love is that she points out others I haven't yet learned. Here are some of my favourite inspirational passages:

"So take your insecurities and your fears and hold them upside down by their ankles and shake yourself free of all your cumbersome ideas about what you require (and how much you need to pay) in order to become creatively legitimate. Because I'm telling you that you are already creatively legitimate, by nature of your mere existence her among us." (p. 108)

"I firmly believe that we all need to find something to do in our lives that stops us from eating the couch. Whether we make a profession out of it or not, we all need an activity that is beyond the mundane and that takes us out of our established and limiting roles in society...Perhaps creativity's greatest mercy is this: By completely absorbing our attention for a short and magical spell, it can relieve us temporarily from the dreadful burden of being who we are." (p. 172)

"I believe that curiosity is the secret. Curiosity is the truth and the way of creative living. . .Furthermore, curiosity is accessible to everyone. Passion can seem intimidatingly out of reach at times -- a distant tower of flame, accessible only to geniuses and to those who are especially touched by God. But curiosity is a milder, quieter, more welcoming, and more democratic entity. The stakes of curiosity are also far lower than the stakes of passion." (p. 237)

I so enjoyed this book and will add it to my collection of books on writing to read again, along with Stephen King's On Writing and Julia Cameron's The Right to Write. I'd love to see them get together and discuss writing. What a treat that would be!

Saturday, 23 December 2017

Book Review: Room of Marvels
On one of our pastor's first Sundays at our old church, he said he and his wife wanted to reclaim the word and notion of "imagination". As a fiction writer, I was inspired and encouraged by his bold statement from the pulpit. I often felt my dabblings in creative writing were something to be slightly ashamed of.

Sometime afterward, I considered imagining heaven would be a worthy pursuit. I was excited to try, but once I began I came up with almost nothing. Golden streets, a big city, angels. I wanted to imagine, but I couldn't get far. I gave up. Unlike James Bryan Smith in Room of Marvels, I didn't consider meeting the people there. Smith does and in doing so, has written a poignant book. While his book is fiction and doesn't claim to be fact, it is a fascinating imagining of what heaven will be like.

The story behind Room of Marvels makes the novel even more important. Smith himself experienced the deaths of a close friend, his young daughter and his mother within two years. Understandably, he was left with deep grief and unanswered questions. This book became his therapy.

In the book, Tim, the main character, attends a silent spiritual retreat to help him cope with the deaths of his best friend, daughter and mother. He struggles with the stillness and silence but is encouraged by his spiritual director to rest and meditate on a passage in Luke. After a couple of days, Tim is still feeling desperate. He prays that God will speak to him and falls asleep. Then he dreams of a cottage where he meets his old barber, a kind and friendly man who died several years ago. The story continues with him being led through different exercises by various important people in his life which strip away guilt, shame, his mask of perfection and tendencies to control. These people and experiences help prepare him for entrance into the room of marvels.

I enjoyed this book much more than I expected. It reminded me of other books including Paul Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress, The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis and Henri Nouwen The Genesee Diary. It's a little bit raw in places, but it is heartfelt and deeply moving. I recommend it as a kind of friend to someone walking in grief or as a guide to someone wishing to better understand the process. 

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Write Brain Workbook Prompt Post #2

I posted yesterday about using prompts from The Write-Brain Workbook. Here's another. I've use italics to show the prompt provided.

Very Touching
From The Write-Brain Workbook
by Bonnie Neubauer

Late night city streets were the perfect backdrop
For ice skating across the smooth pond.
Sharp edges threatened to trip my companion,
But I sailed across the frozen surface
In circuitous formation,
Winding past pitted marks.
My mind flowing with memories
Scratchy scarves and mittens,
Pebbled lakes and rivers.
I choked on tears.
My partner noticed nothing,
Stumbling across the pond,
Staring at his feet.

I recently learned at a workshop on Critical Creativity with Amy Burvall that writing prompts work because "Creativity works better with parameters.

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Writing Prompts from The Write-Brain Workbook
I am so grateful my artist-friend Sylvia finds so many ways to encourage and spark my writing endeavours. For my fortieth birthday, she gave me The Write-Brain Workbook by Bonnie Neubauer. My Right-Brain wanted to tuck in and complete one a day right away, but work and other writing projects stymied my initial efforts and I shelved the book after February. Yesterday my poet-friend Susan suggested some small writing prompts over the holidays might be better than taking a total break. "I know just the thing," I said.

In true writer style, I feel the need to share even these small attempts. Here's one for today. I plan to share a few more.

"Describe the ideal place to write"

The post card arrived. I sat in the cafe along a cobbled street. The strains of a violin drifted from the window above, just a hind of Debussy. My tiny cappuccino cup clinked when I lifted it to sip the fragrant blend. I set it down and read the short inscription. "Dear Sam, We were overjoyed to see your latest book at the stand in Bath. We plan to join you soon. Am now delving into After His Heart." I flip the card, studying the photo of my mentor's former residence and return to my pen. I quickly disappear into my imaginary world of suspense.

Wishing you creativity over the holidays.