Guest Post: An Official Invitation

This guest post comes to you from Anna, an honorary member at our Spring writing retreat.

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One very cold evening this past February, I received an invitation in my inbox: “How would you like two full days of dedicated writing time where the only interruptions would be the songbirds (outside) and some free-flowing vino (inside)?”

Well, I am not really a writer, but I have always enjoyed the sound of songbirds and of course, have never been known to say no to free-flowing vino, inside or out! So of course, I said yes and this past weekend enjoyed a weekend as a guest member of the Restless Writers at the Andrew Logan House in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

What a privilege it was to join this super talented, generous and just plain nice group of women. There was such a feeling of peace and yes, as corny as it sounds, harmony.

In the words of one restless writer, “you decompress the moment you step in the door”.

We left everything behind (except of course for the copious amounts of food, drink and other “writing” supplies) and we focused on the moment.

There was plenty of space – to be alone and to come together. We read, we wrote, we reflected.

We cooked for each other, told each other stories, ate and drank together, encouraged one another and shared awesome “gifts of wisdom”.

Maria madcocktailse us special Algonquin cocktails – they are rye–based and every single one of us despises rye.  Yet we soldiered on, bravely sipping the concoction, pretending we were grownups in another era, before finally accepting defeat and ceremoniously pouring them down the drain. They came with a great Dorothy Parker-style story, so we had to try!

Sharon shared some beautiful lemon cream tulips and wisdom learned from her late Mom, advice she is still learning to perfect, about enjoying the deck liftulipse hands you, whatever it may be.

Beckie gave us special handmade quote books that included William Faulkner’s line, “If a story is in you, it has got to come out,” along with other thoughtful sayings and a few irreverent ones, such as the group’s mantra: write drunk, edit sober (Hemingway).

Andrea’s gift, a gratitude book, promises to start a new tradition, a brave attempt to capture in written form what this special group means to its members.

This past weekend, the birds did sing, the sun did shine, the wine did flow and the creative spirit was released (not to mention the visiting spirits from the graveyard across the street).

As Andrecakea shouted out spontaneously, “I’m happy to be here! Just for the record.”

Well said, Andrea! Thank you Restless Writers. I’ve never had an experience like that before. Even if the best lines in this post are the invitation, I’ll never forget it!

Anna

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Look out the window: An evening with Lawrence Hill

“Writers – and artists in general – need time and space to look out the window.”

This is only one piece of wisdom Maria and I heard from Lawrence Hill about a month ago. Author of the best-selling Book of Negroes (and a friend of mine from many years ago), Larry spoke of creativity, finding voice, research, injecting humour in serious subjects, and my favourite – needing time to stare into space.

I’m staring at my fireplace right now to craft this post. The comforting flame. The glowing logs. The soft heat they exude. I am mesmerized by their gloaming. My thoughts are centred on creativity and opening the mind to the possibilities. When he stared into space, Larry created in Aminata Diallo, a protagonist with the most to lose– a black midwife, stolen from her village as a child, later to bring new life into a world that beat her, abused her, hated her and every other like her. Larry found the voice of a teenage girl out his window. He reached far outside himself to imagine her – what she looked like, sounded like and how she felt. He imagined what she saw when she looked across the ocean toward her home. He imagined the questions she would ask; the anger she would carry; whom she would meet along her way and what they would mean to her. Much of his story was sparked by researched, yes, but he fleshed it out in his mind while he looked across his back yard or the lake at his friend’s cottage he sometimes borrowed for a week or two to write.

I stare at the flames and feel my mind quiet as I type. It is tonight’s window. I imagine my next installment to the Messy Art of Motherhood. So much more to come. I will return and find my creativity out the window. Maybe out their windows, Maria will create new creepy witches; Beckie new tormented teens; and Sharon new spirited children.

There is no limit to what lays beyond our windows or within the fire. We just need to let go and look.

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We are never ever breaking up, like ever

Warning: this IMG_20141220_202552is a fluffy post.

As we reflect on the past year, it’s been one of discovery, friendship, and productivity for the Restless Writers. We’ve made friends with inner nuttiness, embraced angels, found love, and drum-roll please… completed manuscripts, short manuscripts and long manuscripts–twenty five months in the making.

Our final meeting of 2014 has been described as epic. Best. Meeting. Ever. And it had nothing to do with the bite-size gingerbread arranged perfectly in its own gingerbread bowl. It was about us, as writers, and what we have accomplished and shared over many months and many bottles of–you guessed it–Prosecco.

We’ve been on this journey together for more than a few years now and it keeps getting better. Like some secret society, we’ve solidified this journey; we’re officially etched in glass and we are never ever breaking up, like ever.

Here’s what we look forward to in the new year:

  • One of us will have a new YA novel on submission.
  • One of us will be querying for the first time.
  • One of us will be getting our shit together.
  • One of us will be making space for creativity.glasses

You know who you are.

Look out 2015. Here we come with stories in hand!

BJas

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Chasing tales

Scary_roadMy feet tend to take me to dark places when I run. And not just because I run in the very early morning before the sun rises. The dark and quiet play games with my mind, and I have to talk myself out of my creepy thoughts.

I sometimes wonder if I should be running all by my lonesome when it’s so dark out. What happens if I sprain my ankle? What happens if I get hit by a car? What happens if that other runner over there turns out to be a serial killer?

My fellow early-morning runner raises a hand in greeting. Not a serial killer, as far as I can tell. I try to run with better form and less wheezing…at least until he’s out of sight. Soon it’s just me again.

There’s a rustle of leaves off to my right, and a rabbit darts across the street. What is that rabbit so scared of? Should I run a bit faster too?

My pace picks up a bit, until I manage to get my heart-rate back under control.

Good lord, is that a bear? No, it’s a hedge. A bear-shaped hedge.

A vaguely man-shaped figure appears out of the mist in the local park.

Sweet heavens, is that a zombie? No, that’s just an early-riser, taking his dog out to do its business. You say hello to him every morning. And everyone looks like a zombie before they’ve had their coffee.

“Morning!” I say. He says hello back. His dog hunches and watches balefully.

A few blocks further, a dark shape lurches towards me from the gutter. Gah, it’s a C.H.U.D.! Wait, nope, false alarm—it’s just a skunk.

Gah, it’s a skunk!

I pour on some speed and soon I’m at the half-way point of my run.

I glimpse the shadow of something gnarled and limb-like and sinister reaching across the sidewalk. My heart jumps into my throat once again—a gigantic spider!! Um, no. No gigantic spiders here. That’s a tree-branch. A tree-branch that someone really should move off the sidewalk.

Although, that tree-branch kind of looks man-made. Like machinery. Like maybe a drone, but one that short-circuited and then fell from the sky and smashed to pieces. Wait—did one of the drone’s appendages just move? No, it’s still just a branch, caught in a gust of wind.

Okay, maybe it’s not a drone today. But there could be drones here tomorrow, doing drone-y suburban tasks like delivering newspapers or surveying the golf course or baby-sitting small children. Soon they’ll be everywhere. Next thing you know, the drones become self-aware and demand better working conditions. Then there’s an uprising and a counter-revolution and the whole world goes to shit. That’s how Terminator happened.

My running route takes me through a stately suburban neighbourhood, where the biggest threat to public safety is kids riding their bikes too fast. Yet somewhere between minute 7 and minute 26 of my run, I’ve encountered enough beasts and ‘bots to populate a few new creepy short stories.

As I slow to a walk and approach my driveway, I wonder if this is how Russell T Davies gets his ideas.

And then I get writing.

Maria

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Time Out

Last weekend, the Restless Writers combined two of our greatest loves, writing and wine, at the third annual Restless Writers’ retreat in the beautiful Niagara on the Lake.

I, for one, look forward to this trip each year as a chance to recharge, stretch my writing brain and get inspired. And it did not disappoint. For four days, our laptops were put to the test as we polished pages, revisited old projects, and unearthed news ones.

Of course our trip would not have been complete without taking time out to sample the beautiful scenery and fermented grape goods produced in the heart of Canada’s wine country.

Here are some pictures from our weekend. Can’t wait to do it all over again.

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Popcorn Anyone?

I’m late getting to my blog post. This is nothing new but what I am switching up this month is my excuse. I’m not going to blame work, kids or even the hectic pace of getting my household back into a routine for a new school year. Nope. My blog post is tardy because I’ve been spending every waking moment outside of work, kids and getting my household back into a routine for a new school year reading Written In My Own Heart’s Blood, the eighth instalment of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series.

I love these books.

The series follows a married World War II combat nurse who mysteriously finds herself transported back to eighteenth century Scotland. Think hot Scottish Highlander, time travel and epic historical battles.

If the release of the newest Outlander book wasn’t enough excitement for this wannabe Sassenach, a new television series adapted from the books launched in Canada on Showcase on Aug. 24. Think hot Scottish Highlander, time travel and epic historical battles brought to life!

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While some may not be fans of novel adaptations to the big or small screen, I am. And that’s a good thing because movie and television book adaptations are plentiful right now – my fellow RW Andrea even featured one in her last blog post. From Game of Thrones and Orange is the New Black to The Hunger Games and Diary of a Wimpy Kid, it seems like there are more book-to-screen adaptations now than ever before.

For me, an adaptation is like Toy Story for adults. I get to see the characters and all the tiny details that live bottled inside my head come alive. And, in the case of a book like Outlander where it’s been more than a decade since I first read it, I have the joy of reliving my favourite parts of the story all over again. Think hot Scottish Highlander…okay, okay.

Granted, it doesn’t always work. There have been times after seeing an adaptation where I wished that I could shove those characters back inside the safety of my imagination and erase the movie versions. The Da Vinci Code comes to mind.

When it does work, it can be magic – the perfect word to describe one of my favourite book adaptations, Harry Potter. I was in my thirties when I read this series but that did not take anything away from the sheer thrill of seeing JK Rowling’s oddball sets and characters made real. The screen versions of her books surpassed my imagination.

The good news for us book adaptation lovers is that the trend is not slowing down any time soon. There is a long list of new movie adaptations set to hit the screens in 2015. I am especially looking forward to Still Alice.

In the meantime, get writing. The time has never been riper for the chance to see your characters and their stories given life.

What are some of your favourite book adaptations?

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Our gift as writers

I recently read A Fault in Our Stars by John Green and one line has attached itself to me like the scabies parasite that burrowed into my abdomen after one summer camp canoe trip at age 12. I was itchy and red and uncomfortable because these little mites had taken refuge in my body. Gross. It took days to get them out of my system, and even though I couldn’t physically see them, my thoughts were consumed by them simply knowing they were there, gnawing at me physically and mentally.

OK, so the line from Green’s novel that stuck with me isn’t gross nor uncomfortable like scabies, but it has been equally consuming mentally. Like the parasite in my abdomen, this line has penetrated and settled itself into my psyche and each day it gets itchy in thought, until now I’m compelled to write about it.

In the book, the main character, Hazel, is trying to figure out what she believes happens after we die. With all the suffering she has seen, she can’t imagine there is a magical place like heaven with harps etc, but she also isn’t comfortable with death just being the end. Her father thoughtfully responds to her saying “I don’t know if heaven exists, but I had a math teacher in college once say, ‘Sometimes it seems the universe wants to be noticed.’ That’s what I believe. I believe the universe enjoys its elegance being observed.”

I read those lines and I was instantly hit Batman style: “BAM!” “SMACK!” “WHOMP!” I had to re-read it a few times to really absorb the impact of the punch. “Sometimes it seems the universe wants to be noticed.” Yes.

Through A Fault in our Stars, Green deeply notices not only the harrowing experience of cancer, but the angst of teenage years, the complexity of family and friendships, and the intricacies of love. He elegantly describes both the destruction and beauty each leave in their wake.

When I asked my two teenage nieces about their reactions to the book, they said things like:

  • “It was practical and normal…and still I never got bored.”
  • “There was a truth to it…about what it’s like to be a teenager.”
  • “He didn’t trivialize the experience.”
  • “He didn’t avoid the pain. Pain happens, but there can still be beautiful things within it and in spite of it.”

Green noticed. He observed. And then, through the elegance of his words, the elegance of the universe came to life for his readers to take in and take pause. That’s the gift of great writing.

Whether it’s through the meticulous description of radiation treatment, a forest, or a heart breaking, we take the time to notice when others do not. We respond through our prose to the universe’s desire. And our words have the power to bring depth to a world where most scurry like rats foraging the surface for survival each day. Our calling is to remind others to stop and pay attention. You’re moving too quickly.

Many of us struggle to know if the sweat and tears we shed to find the right words really matters to anyone but ourselves, but I beg you to remember the last time you got Batman smacked by a line from a good book. Finding the right words means noticing. Really noticing. It is needed. It is essential. It is our gift to the world.

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