Monday, August 30, 2010

Bottled Poet and the Dubious Occupation of writing

Reading is to writing like breathing is to yoga. Sage words from Alberta writer Aritha van Herk.

My writer friend Lori Hahnel (author of Love Minus Zero and Nothing Sacred and mother of Diorama Dan the author of Tofu Man) and I went to Aritha van Herk’s presentation of Writing: The Dubious Occupation at the Alexandra Writers' Centre.

Aritha is the award winning author of five novels and 3 works of non-fiction including the most recent Mavericks: an Incorrigible History of Alberta.  She is a professor at the University of Calgary.

Ariths says the profession of writing bears the weight of a lot of romantic claptrap, and there is a difference between being a writer and writing.

Being a writer evokes images from the beat generation of writers swilling whisky and smoking cigarettes in a dark lounge while wearing berets and reciting poetry. Aritha points out that the reality of writing is the exact opposite. It leads to numb bum syndrome from butt in chair time; you have to keep going at all odds; and, you have to get through a lot of bad writing to get to the good stuff.    

In order to become a writer Aritha says you have to do two things: write and read. Write is a verb and she can’t underline the word read enough times. 

The dubiousness of writing as a profession lies in the contradictions inherent in the reality of writing. Aritha outlines that writing as a profession can:

-       be a ruthless mistress;
-       lead to anti-social behaviour (butt in chair time);
-       create creatures of grumpiness ('cause our butts are sore from being in the chair);
-       lead to inactiveness (see: butt in chair time); and
-       lead to wildly and inappropriately social behaviour (like when we’re promoting a book).

I commented, in my interview on the Indie-Debut 2010 website that I’m either at home in my sasquatch writing cave wearing sweat pants, chomping on sour ju jubes, swilling chai tea with five days growth of leg hair, or I’m all cleaned up with fresh lippy applied and ready for my close up. 
Two more bits of sage advice Aritha offered up: tell lies with impunity and let got – stop all manner of restraint (again two things that contradict how one must act in real life but are essential for writing). 

With a nod to the ‘read everything in sight’ advice, including traffic signs, menus, cereal boxes – here’s a sign I read in Inglewood before Aritha’s presentation. It’s on the storefront of the local refundable bottle depot. And people say we don’t treat artist well around here – look we bottle poets! What more do you want?! I’d like to go in and ask them to take me to the shelf that has the bottled poet!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Jan’s adventures in jaywalking

Canadians are known to be infuriatingly law abiding. There’s a joke that fellow Canadian Michael J.  Fox tells. Picture this: downtown Toronto, huge Canadian snow storm – blizzardly white out conditions. The streets are bare, not a car in sight. One woman waits at the corner for the light to change before crossing the street. Funny stuff, right, because it’s true.

Typically I don’t jay walk (my friends in New York and London, England can attest to that as I’m usually about a block behind them waiting for the light to change.)

Downtown yesterday I was crossing the street where the light rail transit lines run. I looked west, not a car in sight, swore it was clear all the way to the pacific ocean, I looked east and wait, yup, caught a glimpse of the atlantic then proceeded to cross against the light.

That’s when I noticed the police paddy wagon coming down the street. It pulled over and met me at the other side. This is a snippet of our conversation:

Police: Ma’am I need to talk to you about your jaywalking.
Me: I know, right?!

Police: Ma’am why would you do it? What would possess you?

Me: usually, I’m very cautious, especially on the train platforms.

Police: Ma’am it’s not about the $60.00 fine I could give you – I just don’t want to scrape another body off the rails.

I promised that I wouldn’t do it again and he said that that was all he wanted to hear.

Wow, holy vigilant police officer.

If only the regulatory/police officers were as vigilant in the next Magabyte Mystery Dead Bird through the Cat Door, then the twin protagonists wouldn’t have to solve the mystery.

Here’s a little snippet of what they will be up to in the second in the series due to be released later this fall.

Dead birds? Stolen cats? C’est what? When Cyd and Jane’s cat Yin gets kidnapped – that’s when it gets personal.
Once again, Cyd and her animal loving twin Jane are up to their bird beaks in intrigue cracking the latest of the Megabyte Mystery. The director of the bird sanctuary, Aviary Finch, is stealing cats to kill birds. But why? Their new sidekick Todd – who’s side is he on anyway?
The twins use the latest technology and Shakespeare’s Macbeth to help crack the case. Methinks the culprits doth protest too much! Will Cyd and Jane save the sanctuary, free the birds, and return the cats to their natural habitat of their owners’ laps? It’s predator eats predator when evil meets crazy!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Go with your gut ... on Video Venesday

I'm in the process of doing revisions for Dead Bird through the Cat Door the second in Megabyte Mystery series due out later this fall. One note from my senior editor at Gumboot Books was to swap chapters one and two. Funny thing, chapter two used to be chapter one and chapter one was originally chapter two.  So I had a big go-with-your-gut moment. 

It lead me to find this video (since it's video venesday).  It was produced by y/a writer Jackson Pearce (I've played a couple of her videos here at Three Dead Moths .... This one is a remake of the whole 'wear sunscreen' convocation speech written in 1997 by Mary Schmich, a columnist with the Chicago Tribune (it was erroneously attributed to Kurt Vonnegut and everyone realized that anybody can post anything on the internet and everyone will see it - wow what a concept!).  

Three bits of advice I loved in Jackson's video were: listen to advice, confidence is not the same thing as pride, and if you love a book tell the author. I'm going to write Jackson Pearce after this and tell her I like her videos. 

Here's a recitation put to music of the wear sunscreen convocation speech. 


Back to revisions for me ;-J

Monday, August 16, 2010

On a blog talking about blogging

Do you know why this kangaroo is just sitting here? Well, it's because s/he doesn't realize that I've been interviewed on an Australian writer's blog. If this kangaroo knew that s/he would have hopped right on over to the blog and given it a read. 

Sally Murphy is an award winning and well known Australian children's author with 27 published books and another eight under contract. Wow! That makes me tired just typing that! 

She featured me on her Writing for Children blog on the Featured Blogger Friday spot.   

She interviewed me on her blog about ... well, blogging! 

Check it out! 

Next blog post: Go with your gut!

Friday, August 13, 2010

No Snoring at the Surrey International Writers' Conference!

I'll be going to the Surrey International Writers' Conference (SiWC) in October! If you follow this blog you'll know that SiWC played an integral role in my how I got published story

I've signed up for the Master Class with Donald Maass (note to self finish reading Fire in the Fiction his latest awesome book). Donald is not only the god of agents but is the master of creating tension (micro and otherwise). If you haven't read his book Writing the Breakout Novel - well, I just don't know what you're waiting for. 

I'll be hanging out with my good writer friend Jocossa of the Earrings (who took a vow last year to not cut her hair until she was published - and I don't mean until she had a contract - I mean a published book on shelf!) and the first 50 pages of her w-i-p was requested by the god himself. We've been following here progress on Three Dead Moths... (and measuring her hair) and we'll have an update before the October conference. Other than that, there will be tons of great workshops, lots of Surrey rain to dodge, familiar writing friends and new friends, agents, editors, blue pencil sessions and lots of good food. I'll also be hanging with my Senior Editor Jared Hunt and Publisher Crystal Stranaghan from Gumboot Books. Crystal will be taking appointments at the conference. 

The SiWC conference is not a snooze fest and there is no snoring allowed! I'm looking for a room mate, (contact me off line) and while I snore I will be wearing the anti-snoring device that my sister's company MPowRx licenced and produces. It was created by a Calgary dentist and in Canada, Health Canada has cleared MPowRx™ device as a Class I medical device for treatment of snoring and mild-moderate sleep apnea. In the United States, the FDA has cleared the MPowRx™ device for treatment of snoring only.

Here's a video to show you how it works: 

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

I can do anything good!

I hear that writers are plagued, from time to time, by lack of confidence (except for me - I have a huge ego and am probably borderline narcissistic - which is a good thing right!?).

We can all take a lesson from this four year old girl Jessica as she belts out her daily affirmations in the bathroom mirror. She likes everything about her life - including her hair and her hair cut - which we all know doesn't happen that often. She declares that she "can do anything good!"

This will make your day - we should all be so confident!

Alright, now go to the bathroom, stand in front of the mirror and repeat after me: "I can do anything good!"

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Reader feedback and the birth of a new blog!

I get emails and letters from readers and sometimes I like to feature them on my blog. Wording, font and icons are presented as is. I don't change them except for the odd typo (if it's a really odd typo!). 

This was from a grandpa who was reading it before passing it on to his legion of grandchildren:

“It is a little literary gem, beautifully and imaginatively written. And I’m sure in the best tradition of the Nancy Drew mysteries – though I doubt that their author had the anthropological background of Jan which she has used so resourcefully to flesh out the narrative.”

This was from a girl who received the book in a loot bag at a birthday party (books make good loot bag presents, much better than that dollar store stuff that just ends up in the land fill … just saying!)

I liked your book!
Thanks for giving it to me at Maya’s b-day party in the loot bag!
I want to buy the next one.
Sheridan (Maya’s friend)

I was invited to present at the Owl’s Nest Book Club last February where I meet lots of young readers including Sophia, one of the book club members.

This is the email she sent after the meeting:
Hi Ms.Markley,
I read your book, Dead Frog on the Porch for Juinior Owlets book club and I absoulutley loved it! please keep on writing! I can not wait for your next book!
I follow your blog and I think that it is really cool!
thanks for being a great author

Then there was this one a short time after:

Hey there Ms.Markley!
I love your blog soooooooooooooooooooooooooo
I think it is really cool and love you put blogging in to your books!
When are you going to do another entry on Jossica of the Earrings?
i loved the entry on how to sasquach yourself

Then this one:  


Then I went to the SCBWI Symposium in Bologna and the Bologna Children’s Book Fair. When I came back I had bronchitis and this email in my inbox:

Dear Ms.Markley
Where are you?
you have not updated your blog in 12 days!
I repeat, where are you?

After that, Sophia got fed up with waiting for me to update my blog and started her own blog. She blogs about her life and the books she loves to read (it’s a very long list!). It’s a great site for teachers, librarians and other kids to check out. She reviews books for kids 11 years and up.

She recently did a review of Dead Frog on the Porch.  So check out the blog and the review!

Next blog post: an insane amount of positivity! Curious!? ... I think so! 

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Where does comedy come from?

... the same place that tragedy comes from. 

This is one of my favourite quotes.“Trapped in a situation that you realize you can’t get out of, that’s where tragedy comes from, that’s where comedy comes from.” (I don't know who said it. Does anyone?)

Comedy and tragedy are awesome separately and powerful together. They can be two sides of the same coin (did I just use a cliche? - me! really?! you know how I feel about cliches). 

When a comic tragedy works it's brilliant. Such is the case with The Absolute True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. It's a y/a novel about a kid from the reservation, Arnold, who goes to school in the near-by town. You will be laughing uproariously one minute and then Alexie lands an emotional punch to the gut that will have you crying down-roariously (see the problem with using adverbs!) the next.   

Another example is the British sit-com Absolutely Fabulous which features two aging, raging vodka-champagne swilling former hippy friends Eddy and Patsy. One a wannabe celebrity and the other a publicist. Both living in the lap of luxury (yikes, another cliche) off of their ex-husband's alimony. You'll be in stitches one minute, then the emotional gut punch will grab the lining of your stomach and pull the next minute. Eddy has somewhat difficult relationships with her best friend Patsy, her mother and the daughter she never wanted Saffi (short for Saffron). Check out this short clip. All the episodes are available on DVD.   

Have you tried writing a comic tragedy? Are their points in your writing that tragedy can be softened by comedy or comedy can be made more meaningful by tragedy? 

Monday, August 2, 2010

Rainy days and Mondays ...

More like torrential rainy days and Mondays! 

It's a holiday here and I spent some time writing today. Then I spent some time on a ladder with a hoe during a thunder storm trying to unblock the down spout. Not so smart during a lightning storm! 

Anyhow ... I found this great clip of Stephen King giving advice to writers.  He talks about how important it is for writers to read widely. Love the peace sign shirt Stephen - totally grooving. 

And now, the original Rainy Days and Mondays by the Carpenters.