In my personal blog I recently posted a writing prompt:
You are having a dinner party for writers and you can invite five writers-
living or dead. Who do you invite and why?
Then I posted my first round of picks.
It will probably surprise no one that I can imagine a second dinner party that would be just as interesting (to me, at least):
Because of The Power and the Glory, and even later works like Monsigneur Quixote. And because of one line in The Third Man: “The graves lay under the trees like wolves.”
Because of the opening line in The Diviners. I like her work so much that I named one of my children after a Margaret Laurence character.
Because I love a big nineteenth century novel that is solid like a Studebaker. Middlemarch is like a parfait, it has layers.
Because her writing exposes the complexity of human emotions like a flensing knife exposes blubber.
Because Under the Volcano can be read as though it is a tarot card spread. Seriously, it’s a tour through the major arcana in the Rider-Waite deck.
And, just in case someone declined the invite (I’m looking at you, Alice Hoffman; I’ve heard you can be an elitist), I’d invite Tim Powers just because he wrote about an evil djinn that hovers over the city of Moscow and inspires the KGB to even greater acts of terror and wretchedness.
Welcome to the 1st Annual Valerie B.-Taylor (VBT) Writing Contest for emerging youth writers! This is a joint offering from the Federation of BC Writers and the New West Writers group. The winning entry will be published in an upcoming issue of FedBC’s magazine Wordworks, and its author awarded a certificate of recognition and $100.00 at the upcoming FedBC Youth Writer’s Conference in Surrey on Saturday March 7 2015.
- The VBT Writing Contest is open to all writers under age 30 as of March 1 2015. Federation of BC Writers paid staff, board members, and their immediate families are ineligible to enter. Members of the New West Writers group and their immediate family members are also ineligible to enter.
- All submissions must contain original material, and may not have been previously published, accepted for publication, or have been a winner in another contest prior to the deadline. Please note our internet policy: If a work has been excerpted anywhere on the internet it is still eligible as an entry, but if it has been published or posted in its entirety on a blog or any other internet site, it is not eligible for our contest, as we retain rights of first publication as a part of our mandate.
- This is a multi-genre prose contest: fiction, creative non-fiction, personal essays, micro-fiction, and experts form larger works may all be entered. This year, poetry, plays, and graphic novels are ineligible (Watch in future years, the award may be expanded and diversified to include other types of writing if interest merits it).
- Maximum length 1,500 words.
- Electronic submissions only, submitted as an email attachment. Use .RTF, .DOC, or .DOCX formats for the electronic document. Other formats may not be read.
- Blind submissions — the author’s name must not appear anywhere in electronic attachment, only in the body of the email, along with the title of the work.
Suggested email body could look like this:
Title of the submitted peice of writing
Contact phone number
Valerie B.-Taylor, a former president of the New West Writers group, wrote across a variety of genres and was tireless in her encouragement and support of emerging writers. Before her untimely passing in the fall of 2014, she was well-known in the Lower Mainland and beyond for her writing, her mentorship of new writers, and her kind and generous heart. The literary communities of B.C.—particularly New Westminster, her long-time home— now have one fewer sparkling star in their skies. The VBT Emerging Youth Writer Award was established by Valerie’s friends and colleagues to commemorate her life and the positive impact she had on emerging writers.
Skeletal– relating to or functioning as a skeleton. I think this word is best with the UK pronunciation “skel-EE- tel” rather than the US “SKEL-eh-tel”.
Amnesia– loss of a block of interconnected memories. The soap opera disease! A cliché plot point so hackneyed that it almost makes me want to use it, just in case it comes back into fashion. Even better is the adjective ‘amnestic’, as in “They were amnestic for the duration of their vacation on Secret Bloody Skull Island. They did not know exactly why. Privately, Charles suspected something terrible had happened.”
Harrowing – acutely distressing. Related to
- the archaic transitive verb harrow: pillage, plun der, torment or vex
- the noun harrow : a gardening tool with spikes, spring teeth, or rotating disks that is used for pulverizing, crumbling, and raking the soil.
Truculent – argumentative, easily annoyed or angered. This is most of the people I know. Yeah, that’s it, they are the ones that are truculent, not me.
Corporeal – relating to a physical material body; not spiritual.
Juggernaut – a massive force that crushes everything in its path. Derived from the Hindi name Jagannath, one of the avatars of Vishnu, Lord of the World.
Prestidigitation – slight of hand. Cobbled together from the French word preste (nimble), the Italian word presto (quick), and the Latin digitus (finger). Nimble Quickfinger! Nimble Quickfinger would be a great name for an androgynous, sexually voracious pickpocket in a high fantasy setting. Nimble Quickfinger, the scourge of all the brothels in King’s Landing! (apologies to George R.R. Martin).
Dropsy – archaic term for edema, swelling due to water retention
Endentulous – without teeth, as in “Grandad’s endentulous now, he finds it harrowing to eat a normal meal. He has become skeletal and truculent as a result. Furthermore, he can no longer practice prestidigitation due to his dropsy. It’s as though his corporeal body conspires against him and thwarts his every attempt at happiness. If it weren’t for his near-total amnesia, he’d be hell to live with; a real juggernaut.”
I spend the better part of most days reading and writing. In recreational reading alone, I average about 150 hours per month. (How do I know? My e-reader software actually tracks my reading hours.) When the time I spend reading things like paper books, the Interweebs, and work documents is factored in, I think the grand total would be closer to 275, or maybe even 300 hours a month.
Recently I performed a thought experiment on myself: if I had a whole day during which I had lost the ability to read and write, how would I spend it? What would I do all day?
First, I would use my voice-command smart phone to call in sick to work. “I’m sorry; I seem to have unexpectedly become unlettered, so I will not be in. I’ll be back to work soon with what I hope will be a written note from the doctor . . . you’ll have to tell me”.
Somehow I think I’d manage to fill the hours with:
Cleaning (I like to clean—weird, I know)
I think one unlettered day would likely be manageable.
More than one would be another matter. I think I’d get a bit squirrelly. I might start creeping around used bookstores, inhaling the scent of old glue from the book spines. Or I’d be found staring at a page of the newspaper, tears welling up in my eyes as I willed myself to understand. Eventually, I think I’d go to the library to see about some graphic novels. Looking at the pictures, I’d mutter what I would suppose the storyline might be. Eventually the librarian would get sick of my lurking and my muttering, and kick me out: “Get out of here, Chloe! You are always mumbling to yourself and cackling like a fiend. There’s no talking in the library, you know.”
Not a pretty picture, I know.
The writing demon is with me always. From the security of her perch on my shoulder, she sporadically rouses from hibernation to taunt me with grand ideas and inspiration. “Come on, Joanne. Give it a go. You can do it.” And in that moment, I believe her.
Inevitably, each and every tidbit of fiendish encouragement and support is rapidly reversed. “Stop, stop, Joanne, stop! What were you thinking?” And in that moment, I believe her.
For most of my life, stories germinated in my head, became tender sprouts upon blank pages where they withered and died under a fiendish drape of anxiety and self-doubt. With no faith in my own creative voice, I chose to explore the field of editing in my spare time. Every time I studied SFU’s Continuing Education Catalogue for the next course, my eye was uncontrollably drawn to the side-bar promoting The Writer’s Studio, provoking the imp. “Maybe, Joanne. You should try. No way – are you crazy, woman?”
In the spring of 2012, a different class caught my eye on the calendar’s list of possibilities. August offered a week-long intensive called Write, Write, Write. I couldn’t get it out of my head. My scoundrel and I battled wholeheartedly for a couple of weeks over the possibility of submerging myself in a world of writing for an entire week. “Yes, you can. A whole week? I don’t know, Joanne.” Hmm. “Just a week. It’s just a week, damn it.” I’d had enough. In an impulsive act of assertion, I gagged my resident meddler and signed up for five continuous days of I knew not what.
The first day I panicked and heard the demon’s whisper. “You’ll not last the week,” she hissed. I replaced her muzzle and dove into a world of self-enlightenment. I wrote stories and read them out loud. I listened to stories and was amazed. I laughed. I cried. I rejoiced. By Friday’s end, the urchin could barely raise her head when I declared “This is how I want to live my life.”
Come September, I actively sought information on The Writers’ Studio and devoted the hours, days, and weeks necessary to prepare my application and submit it by the October 31st deadline. When the call came informing me of my acceptance to TWS 2013, I was consumed by elation and fear, a volatile combination certain to stir the sleeping tyrant. But I was ready to let TWS change my life.
Change my life it did. I gained a firm belief in myself and now trust my instincts to write. My biggest success as a writer is finding the courage to face and subdue the demon on my shoulder. She will always be there, I know that. But now, I am more than halfway through my first novel and when my tormentor’s objections threaten to hinder my progress, I assert my confidence and power on. She can’t stop me now.
A man checks his roommate’s internet browsing history and finds searches for slow-acting, untraceable poisons and how long it takes to suffocate someone with a pillow. He knows his snoring’s gotten worse, but would she kill him for a good night’s sleep?
A woman asks her husband to duct-tape her wrists together and put her into the trunk of their car. Is she getting kinky on him, or maybe just losing her mind?
A teenager finds an article on common arson techniques and how to determine the cause of a fire. His mother has made notes on it and circled the key points. Is she planning on burning down the grow op next door?
In all these scenarios, the answer is no. It’s just a writer doing research. The most mild-mannered writer may have read about things, or even done things that would make you think twice about hanging out with them. But relax, it’s all in the name of good storytelling.
As writers, everything we see, read, do, hear (and yes, overhear), becomes possible fodder for that book we’re writing. Nothing is sacred. Though for the sake of our relationships, names have hopefully been changed to protect the innocent, or the guilty, as the case may be. Sometimes we even do our research by accident. Something happens to us and we use it, after the fact, to put some believable action or emotion into our writing.
Often the things we use in our writing are painful incidents, things most people wouldn’t dwell on. But not writers. No, we take these unpleasant experiences and hold them up to the light, study them, examine them from different points of view. And then we use them. I like to think of it as not wasting all that pain, inconvenience, and angst.
This past summer I sprained my ankle. Well, not just sprained it. I tore a bone chip off, smashed my face into a concrete wall, put two teeth through my upper lip, scraped my ankle, and got cellulitis which, if not treated promptly, can apparently be lethal. I spent 3 weeks commuting to the hospital twice a day in a wheelchair for IV antibiotics before I worked up to crutches, a cane, and finally being able to limp into my physiotherapist’s office. I was feeling pretty sorry for myself, but then it occurred to me. This was perfect research for the badly wounded protagonist of the novel I was revising! Suddenly, it was all worth it. Well, maybe not worth it, but at least now my injury has a silver lining.
So, if I start making notes while you talk about your messy divorce, don’t worry, I’m on your side. It’s just that I’ve got this new character, see….
The role of research in my writing depends on the piece.
My travel articles are all written during and after my visit to a particular place. Sometimes it seems like I am an integral part of the story, such as when I write either about people I have met or about the effect a place has had on me. On other occasions, the story can tell itself without my presence. I don’t or can’t add anything to the story and so the description of the place is enough. My research will consist of writing down my thoughts in a notebook and collating these words later when I return home.
My pieces that parody existing sports or traditions don’t require much research other than my natural interest and passion in those parts of life. My mind has stored many facts about existing traditions, sports, and travel around the world. A natural curiosity about how certain sports could be combined or about how some traditions could occur slightly differently has caused a synthesis of certain elements from these three interests and all I have to do is let the creativity flow until the story has been written.
My latest idea seems to be murder/mystery stories. I have read all of Agatha Christie’s books, and most of Dorothy L Sayers’s and Ngaio Marsh’s. I have seen all The Midsomer Murders on British TV as well as almost all the Marple and Poirot TV adaptations there are in existence. I didn’t do this as research, I was just fascinated by the intricacies of the plots. However. all of the reading and watching is now being used as research for my latest Goat Parva Murder Mysteries.
So my belief on research is that you should write about what interests you, because you have a passion for the subject and an enthusiasm for writing about it. You will always find out more about subjects that interest you. Your writing should be based on your interests as this is what your mind enjoys thinking about and a writer’s creativity is fuelled by enjoyment and passion.
The door is a weathered dark oak, with a worn cardboard open sign, dangling in the glass. My right hand grasps the well worn brass doorknob, I turn it slightly to the right and the door swings gently inward with the light tinkling of a bell. As I walk though the entrance, I am greeted with the pungent aroma of fir, the pitches long since dried. The planks of the floor of the entrance way are hollowed out from the years of foot traffic. Stepping further into the building, the floorboards yield a wonderful creak with every step that I take.
The ceilings are high and bare, revealing the beams that hold the building together. Solid, strong rough hewn beams, as dark as the wood of the door, tied together with massive black iron bolts. A few fans whisper silently from the beams. Paned windows, up near the roof, line the length of the building. Sunlight is streaming through some of them, not quite making it to floor level.
Columns of wooden cases stuffed with books, not an empty space to be seen, everywhere I look a book, a stand or a bookcase. Nostalgia floods in on me, memories transport me to my grandparent’s attic. I know this smell that is the trigger for me. That wonderful rich smell of years of experiences, trapped now in the scent of the wood.
The essence of the big little books, treasures from the forties, yellowed with age, fragile. Years gone by, my father’s childhood fantasies, hopes and dreams. Buck Rogers and the Moons of Saturn, the Phantom and the Sign of the Skull, the Lone Ranger and the Silver Bullets. I still have my fathers Captain Marvel membership card, back when he signed his name Jackie.
I wander over to the section of antiquarian children’s books. A familiar red binding catches my eye, the Scarecrow of Oz. Again I reach back into the past, my fathers deep rich voice reading to my brother and me about the Ork, a strange birdlike creature from the genius of L. Frank Baum, complaining that the candle bit him. The magic of books, igniting a child’s newly discovered imagination on fire.
For this, I love this particular bookstore, and its mystical ambience, allowing me an entrance to a portal within my mind. A secret place I don’t visit often enough. Only by the stirrings of memories, through the aroma’s of a time long since past.
Originally posted on Jojo's Poetry:
Live with passion,
That’s what they tell us,
That’s what they say.
Live with passion,
That’s what we want,
We must find a way.
More often than not,
We avoid those words and actions,
The ones that guide us to,
Live with passion.
Live with passion,
Do it today,
For tomorrow could very well be,
Already too late.
© Jo Martinez