A story-teller like no other

101 days. That’s how long our house has been on the market by now. It feels more like 1001 nights!


Ferdinand Keller – Scheherazade and Sultan Schariar (1880)

As I was thinking of a topic for today’s post, trying to come up with something moderately meaningful and entertaining, I thought about Queen Scheherazade of 1001 Nights (a.k.a. The Arabian Nights). Here I am struggling to come up with one post per week, while this clever woman told a new story to her husband, the Persian King Shahryar each and every night for almost three years. Though she certainly had a more pressing motive than most other writers, she must be the ultimate storyteller of all times. Hands down.

There are many different accounts of how she did it, how she managed to keep her husband pining for yet another story. Writers, pay attention. What she achieved is any writer’s dream! How do we keep readers turning the pages of our novel, just like Scheherazade concocted stories that kept her alive another day and yet another, and so forth.

The story, dating to the early 9th century, goes that every day the King would marry a new virgin, and after doing so would despatch the previous day’s wife to be killed. This was done in anger, having found out that his first wife was unfaithful to him. He reasoned that all women are the same. By the time he was introduced to Scheherazade, his high-ranking political advisor’s daughter, he had killed 1,000 such women. Eventually the vizier, whose duty was to provide them, could not find any more virgins.

Against her father’s wishes, Scheherazade volunteered to spend one night with the king. Once in the king’s chambers, Scheherazade asked if she might tell him a story during the long night. The king lay awake and listened with awe as Scheherazade told her first story. The night passed by, and Scheherazade stopped in the middle of the story. The king asked her to finish, but Scheherazade said there was no time, as dawn was breaking. So, the King spared her life for one day to finish the story the next night. So the next night, Scheherazade finished the story and then began a second, even more exciting tale which she again stopped halfway through at dawn. So the king again spared her life for one day to finish the second story.

And so the King kept Scheherazade alive day by day, as he eagerly anticipated the finishing of the previous night’s story. At the end of 1,001 nights, and 1,000 stories, Scheherazade told the king that she had no more tales to tell him. During these 1,001 nights, the king had fallen in love with Scheherazade, and so he spared her life, and made her his queen.

I love this, because it’s a story within a story. A tall tale, you might call it. But think about some of the wonderful stories that Scheherazade thought up, night after night. Sinbad the Sailor, Aladdin, Ali Baba, Old Man of the Sea, The Fisherman and the Jinni, The Thief of Bagdad, and The Three Apples.

This last story, The Three Apples has in fact been described as a “whodunit” murder mystery with multiple plot twists. However, although the story has detection fiction elements it lacks a detective, in that the person charged with investigating the murder, does nothing to solve the crime, but in both cases sits at home awaiting his fate. Both times he is saved from execution by a chance revelation.

Or take The Thief of Bagdad. It tells the story of a thief who falls in love with the daughter

The Thief of Bagdad - N.H. Wilton 1924

The Thief of Bagdad – N.H. Wilton 1924

of the Caliph of Bagdad. Hugely popular, the story was made into an American swashbuckler film in 1924 and considered one of the most expensive films of the 1920s. Not a bad record for a woman who made up the story on a whim ten centuries earlier.

What’s so interesting about these stories for us writers is their structure. The Three Apples is a first level story told by Scheherazade, and contains one second level story, the Tale of Núr al-Dín Alí and his Son. It occurs early in the Arabian Nights narrative, being started during night 19, after the Tale of Portress. The Tale of Núr al-Dín Alí and his Son starts during night 20, and the cycle ends during night 25, when Scheherazade starts the Tale of the Hunchback.

It’s the layers of the stories that make them so effective, i.e. saving Scheherazade from literally losing her head. She tells just enough of the story to keep the King’s interest, promising to continue the next day. She then adds layers to the plot, introducing new characters, adding more complexities as she goes. (Footnote: What does that say about the need for detailed outlining? Looks like our clever storyteller was a true pantser).

I love those stories and I am starting to read them again, after many, many years. They are magical in the purest sense, and they show me some interesting things about pacing, plotlines, and a lot more. Whether fact or fiction, 1001 Nights has much to teach writers about the art of storytelling.

Enjoy what’s left of the Labour Day weekend.

Writing space

Joe’s Post #109 — I’m in the process of moving and have the opportunity to set-up a new writing space. In the next few hours, I’ll be dismantling my desk, packing up my computer and filing my files. I’m not the only one of the 5/5/5 to be moving. 3 of 5 of us decided to add this to our complex lives.

deskBut for some reason, the whole idea of setting up a new space is very exciting. Yes, I’m that lame. I get excited by things like new books by my favourite authors, a lovely place to sit and read, and (apparently) a new writing room.

So what will I do to make the new space awesome.

Here’s Joe’s top 5 things he needs in a writing room.

  • I need a table to create maps, to colour them and to spread them out. I can also use this table for my complex (some say insane) outlines.
  • my publicationI need wall space to hang maps, pictures of the subject I’m writing about and a place for my one small publication. I have it framed. It reminds me that I can do it (with a bit of luck and some damn fine writing.)
  • I need a lot of bookshelves for books. I have a small space reserved for me, but a huge space set up for the likes of Lee Child, Mr King, GRR Martin and Janet Evanovich. Oh, and a few shelves of non-fiction books. Maybe a little more than a few shelves.
  • I will need a door to close when I have to do serious writing. I can write a blog when I’m surrounded by family (albeit with spelling mistakes and grammatical errors), but to get into my head, really get in there and play around, I need no distractions.
  • I need a computer that will not crash when I have 40 odd windows open. Some will be chapters, some will be research, some will even be emails or articles I’ve read, but I love the instant access of this modern age and dammit, I’m going to take full advantage of it.

So, in 2 days, my new life begins. Give me a week to get that room set up the way I want.

Then let’s see what happens.


What would you need in your writing space?

Six reasons why writing isn’t a chore

Karalee’s Post #85

The word chore is defined as a small or odd job; the everyday work around a house or farm; or a hard or unpleasant task.



To me, housework falls into the chore category.

And as the years go by, cooking is becoming more of a chore too.




But not writing. Why?

  1. First off, writing is fun. I can safely say, a heck of a lot more fun than chores.
  2. Making up stories is pretty cool. What’s in my head can be completely off-the-wall, absurd, neurotic, scary, criminal, embarrassing, nonsensical, hilarious or anything in-between. That’s hugely entertaining to me and selfishly all mine. Chores definitely don’t fit in this category.
  3. I choose what to put down onto paper and that is satisfying in itself. Chores can be satisfying but are usually on the “have to do” list.
  4. Writing is not a small job, albeit it can be an odd job. Chores are often a collection of smaller jobs that can take up hours of time, but beyond a doubt, to complete a novel is a huge job and often take months or years.
  5. Although writing is difficult, it is not an unpleasant task to me.
  6. The process of writing – having story ideas, observing the world, asking “what if,” organizing story lines, and creating the story itself are pleasant activities and where my mind goes even while doing my chores, and is where I’d rather be.

The next time I feel frustrated at not making progress in my story or feeling stuck for whatever reason, I can put the moment in perspective and be grateful I’m writing and not doing chores.

How about you?

Happy writing!

Back in the saddle again


Silk’s Post #98 — Okay, I have to admit it. I’ve been playing hooky from writing all summer and I need to get back on that horse, pronto.

Like my 5writers friend Paula, I continue to live by an indelible mental calendar inherited from my school years. As I have a mild case of colour and spacial-sequence synesthesia, in my mind’s eye the “Summer Vacation” weeks between the end of June and Labour Day appear as a big, sunny, yellow arc in the circle of each year. It was years before I realized that other people didn’t envision and understand the calendar this way. Wasn’t it obvious to everyone that July and August are supposed to be designated exclusively for playtime?

Apparently not, as I learned all too well during my workaday years of mid-adulthood.

Now that I’m “retired” from my first career (in which the year was expected to have 12 months, not 10), my summer calendar has reasserted itself. I, too, have been more or less goofing off for the past couple of months – at least when it comes to writing productivity.

But now, as I gaze longingly out my study window at the still-bright sunshine and the splash of carmine geraniums spilling from my hanging baskets, I know the time has come to get back in the saddle. Like a reluctant kid who doesn’t want to trade sand-between-the-toes for that stiff new pair of back-to-school shoes, I’m resisting.

How to make a re-dedication to writing more appealing? More fun? More enticing? I know I feel exhilarated when I’m in the groove, so what’s the hold-up? I shouldn’t have to negotiate with myself to get back to doing what I love.

And I don’t want writing to become another item on an already way-too-long “to do” list.

Maybe this is the problem: after a couple of months of following the path of least resistance, facing the prospect of buckling down to the business of writing feels complicated, challenging, and suspiciously like Work! as Maynard G. Krebs used to exclaim with a shudder.

Maybe those simpler times, when TV only had 12 channels, can offer something instructive. Maybe the complexity of our sophisticated, privileged and “enlightened” times – from the technology we wrestle with, to the crammed social calendars we juggle, to the extravagant mobility that keeps us constantly hopping, to the monumental effort we put into maintaining our lifestyles and our toys – I mean, maybe a little de-cluttering is in order. A little unburdening of expectations. A little going with the flow.

A little simple wisdom from a more innocent age to help get things rolling along.

And no one rolled along, back in the day, with more homespun grace than my favourite singing cowboy, Gene Autry. He was the role model that I used to watch on our first, 10-inch-screen, black & white TV in the early 1950s. Like every other kid my age, I loved cowboys, and especially Gene with his white hat and his horse Champion. He was also the proud author of the unambiguously upright “Cowboy Code”, where Rule #1 is “The Cowboy must never shoot first, hit a smaller man, or take unfair advantage” (ah, those were the days). He’s the only person to have five stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one each for motion pictures, radio, recording, television and live theatre. And his recording of “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” is still the definitive version. In other words, he was the real deal.

So, Gene, a little travelling music please. Put me in the mood to sit my butt down and ride this horse into the sunset …

back in the saddle

“Back in the Saddle Again”
video clip from Wagon Team, 1952




Tinkering on the coast

Helga’s Post # 90 — Ever so slowly we can feel the season changing. It’s still summer, and here on the West coast we are enjoying some of the best days of the year. But there are some subtle changes that indicate the dog days of summer are definitely behind us. Most noticeable are the shorter days. As the fading light and cooler temperatures beckon us indoors a little sooner each day, it also adds to our writing time. Theoretically speaking at least. Mostly back from our holiday travels, it’s time to dust off the keyboard to get reacquainted with our characters and immersing us in their lives.

Hightailing for mom

Hightailing for mom

I was off to a good start getting back to my writing routine, when an invitation arrived to join our close friends Paula and John on the Sunshine Coast for an overnighter. It was an awesome weekend, filled with sunshine, laughter and good cheer. Even water sports. I could not believe how warm the ocean was in that bay. Perfect for swimming. Then there was fresh crab from the dock (executed by the vendor in Stephen King like fashion), and later a beautiful surprise birthday cake. A magical evening among good friends at a picturesque ocean-front setting. A perfect scene for a novel. Smitty’s Oyster Bar was on the agenda the next day. That too would be worthy of at least two pages in a chapter!

Shucking oysters at Smitty's

Shucking oysters at Smitty’s

A week later, another invitation. This time to Vancouver Island on the occasion of (vegetarians, hold your noses), a pig roast. To be held on a traditional farm in picturesque Cowichan Valley. The pig, we were assured, had a happy life. Never crated, able to root to its heart content, its quality of life made up for its short duration.

The event proved a total success in every way. First, the setting: A traditional high-ceiling barn, set with tables to accommodate at least a hundred adventure seekers. Barn doors were kept wide open to all sides to enjoy views and smells of gently rolling hills, meadows and vineyards. A lively youthful band struck up some event-appropriate tunes. They inspired people to try out the two-step on the improvised dance floor. The food turned out to be delicious. I will not go into detail, respecting our vegetarian followers.

IMG_0912Of course there were tons of interesting character studies. A grizzled veteran with a Mao cap; women in their eighties with flouncy colorful skirts and petticoats; teenagers who couldn’t keep their eyes (and hands) off each other, and every age and social background imaginable. Maybe pig roasts attract peculiar people.

Then there was a ‘gypsy wagon’ parked in the meadow near the barn. That’s where some farm produce is sold on an honor basis. Farm fresh free-range eggs were on offer when I visited. There was no cashier, only a wooden box where you put in your 5 dollars.

Nice. That wouldn’t work quite as well in other venues.

To round out the day we visited the sleepy little Genoa Bay. Walking to the end of the dock we came upon a small boat with an elderly men sitting in it. He was straining to read a book in the fading light. I took a closer look at the title: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spie. ‘My favorite author’, I told him. ‘Mine too,’ he replied, ‘but bloody hard to understand. I am reading it the third time and still don’t quite get it, but my, do I love those characters.’

Reading J.Le Carre at Genoa Bay

Reading J.Le Carre at Genoa Bay

The next day brought more unusual things to see and do. I had visited Vancouver Island many times, but always with a tourist destination. This time we had our newly residing island friends to show us the ‘in the know’ places. Take the city of Duncan. We had always just passed it on the highway, or stopped to gas up at the Co-op. Not this time. Our friends took us to a traditional butcher, the kind that does not exist anywhere else around Vancouver, to my knowledge. Another scene of great inspiration to a writer. And again, I will spare you the details. Maybe you have to read about it in one of my future novels.

An extraordinary seafood shop (‘Mad Dog Crabs’) was next. In-house smoked oysters (not the tiny canned ones) were on tap, as was a most delicious and unusual cured salmon that tasted almost like candy. Free samples made it easy to decide on a purchase. Huge fresh scallops were also offered, but we had to pass because they would hardly survive the trip back home.

But the pièce de résistance was a two-floor kitchen/bed/bath store located in a beautifully restored heritage brick building. Pots & Paraphernalia is a true feast for the eyes. There were only two sales women in the huge store, but you never had to wait for advice. Friendly and efficient, knowledgeable about their products, and eager to tell you that Duncan is the best place to live on earth.

Of course no trip would be complete without a memorable lunch. We actually had two. One in Mill Bay directly at a marina overlooking the harbour, the other in Duncan on a vine-covered patio. Seafood dishes reign supreme in the region (in addition to locally raised, afore-mentioned pork dishes).

So, while these two trips were short, I got to know the Sunshine Coast and Vancouver Island in a way never experienced before. It does help to have insiders show you the ropes. In addition to having shared quality time with our generous friends on these two trips, my writer’s brain got plenty of images to digest – in addition to the poor, but happy little piggy.

Playing the ‘what if?’ game


Joe’s Post #108 — One thing I love to do as a writer is brainstorm. And eat donuts. But since writing about donuts appeals to only a few people, let me talk about brainstorming for a bit. Again.

After reading all my 5/5/5 writers, I went through their posts, mining ideas from their thoughts and observation. I wondered how I could use them in my own stories. Not that I want to steal their ideas, no, I want to take some of their experiences and turn them around a bit.

sheriffLet’s look at Silk’s post. Having a character without internet in today’s modern times creates some huge challenges. Romantic challenges. What if a character had just got a text that said, “If you still think we have a chance, meet me at-” and the text goes out. What wonderful complications would be created? Or a criminal case where your character had to get something faxed to her that would prove that the villain was actually the villain and not just the handsome sheriff who everyone loved?

Or what if someone simply tries to go a day without the internet? Or a week? Or a year? What great complications would arise? What if…?

And that’s how I love to create stories. What if.

Austria apartmentWhat if there was more to Karalee’s hay stacks than just stacks of hay? What if they were really stacked that way for a very dark reason, one none of the locals would ever talk about, one linked to the disappearances of a pair of UN workers last week?

Or what if they look like penises for a reason that’s not all sick and twisted? Personally, I can’t think of one, but others might have an idea.

Or what if, after holding your grandson in your arms for the first time, he goes missing? I mean, hey, you wouldn’t be some buff Vin Diesel guy out to find a child, you’d be older, perhaps a little out of shape, perhaps completely unskilled in detective work, perhaps with a bum leg, but what would you do to get that child back?

Or what if you always wanted that feeling and took a child?

I think it’s a vital part of the story-telling process even if you never even write that story. Think of it as exercise for the brain. Or practice for when you are actually writing a story.

For me, by constantly looking at something a little sideways and playing the ‘what-if’ game, I hope that when it comes to writing my own story, those cool twists and turns will make my readers think, “man, he’s a nutjob”, or “I never saw that coming.”

Honestly, I’d be happy with either of those thoughts.

But I do wonder what other writers do to exercise their brains? Does everyone play the ‘what if’ game? Or am I a nutjob?

Travelling is great for story ideas

Karalee’s Post #84

To say the least I’ve had a wonderful month in Europe; a whirlwind visit to five countries in four weeks. No, it wasn’t a scheduled bus tour, but rather a do-it-yourself GPS navigated holiday in a rented Fiat 500.

It all started in Lecco, Italy at the World Junior Ultimate Championships where my son was playing for Team Canada. With over 800 athletes (all under 20 years old) and 25 countries represented, it was a spectacular event. Team Israel (boys team only) was there too, and the entire team was escorted everywhere by their own security police. My writer’s eye kept being drawn to these teenagers trying to be teenagers while being constantly overlooked by Kevlar-vested-armed police. My mind started story making, wondering how different these boys’ “normal world” is compared to my boy’s “normal world” and what if one of the boys went missing – defected, abducted, or ran off with a new-found lover on one of the girls teams…

Team Canada


And now I wonder how my son’s perception of his own world has changed, or may change or be influenced by his team winning the World Championships for the first time in a long time!

This was a great reminder that experiences that our characters go through change their lives too and alter their perspectives whether in a good way or bad. And as writers, we can choose those experiences in order to allow our characters to act and do what they do in a believable way.

After the tournament my husband David and I started our tour, taking the path of least resistance, least stress, and least of going-the-wrong-way. Put in simple terms, I drive while David navigates.

This arrangement has saved our traveling relationship and was a lesson learned over three decades ago on a road trip neither of us has forgotten, and probably innocent bystanders and the assorted drivers in other vehicles haven’t either.

With today’s technology navigating is much simpler. No need for an unwieldy map spread out on one’s lap waiting to be spilled on by one’s drink. Rather, the route is quietly spoken by Alison’s lovely nonjudgmental voice (the voice was already named in the App)  with a 2 km warning while highway driving or 300 meters in the city. David remained happy as long as the purple line (designating our Fiat) followed along the green route and he could hear what Alison was saying. That’s another technological point to remember: turn the volume up on the cell phone!

Alison did such a great job that David could relax enough to read the guidebook out loud to me or feed me sandwiches from our picnic lunch kit and even have his afternoon nap.

Relaxing wasn’t so much for me the driver. It may be that I’m a good twenty years older, but it seems like there were more lanes of traffic, more cars, skinnier roads, a much higher speed limit and a lot shorter merge lanes to get into the flow of traffic. It was enough to make one sweat sitting down with the air conditioner on high.

Then there are the Italians that rarely signal.

And cars behind that tailgate at 130 kph. Yes, tailgate!

And rain. Lots of rain.

I really dislike putting sunscreen on so I don’t mind cloudy weather. But this is Europe in the summer, and four sunny days in four weeks is I would think, unheard of! I felt like driving in the rain in summer in Europe must be like driving in the snow in Vancouver in the winter. Slow down? No way.

Although driving is more stressful than a bus tour or taking the train, it does allow one to be flexible on what route to take to “get there” and where “there” can actually be without it being on the bus or train route. We booked through Airbnb and didn’t stay in hotels. In general we had a separate suite in someone’s home or apartment and stayed in residential areas. We got a bit of the feel of how the locals live, and that’s what I like to experience.

It’s great for story ideas too.

Ballabio driveway























Austria apartment







I agree with Silk in her last post in that the internet is an invaluable tool to help research practically anything. Another tool that I find amazing and we have access to now that we didn’t have even a few years ago, is the instant digital camera. A picture of where you have been is invaluable. It can bring not only the image back to mind, but the smells and feel of the place and situation.

So of course, I have hundreds of other pictures of my trip to refer back to and possibly help create story lines in the future. Maybe even a few of security police overlooking the safety of ordinary teenage boys from one foreign country in another foreign country playing a sport to represent their own country.

Happy writing!


School’s out (for at least awhile longer)

Paula’s Post  #82 – I don’t know where your calendar year starts, but after an extraordinary number of years spent pursing a formal education (including two years in kindergarten, courtesy of my mother, who thought the extra year might contribute to my maturity level – sheesh!) the only true start of the year, for me, is the day after Labour Day.

That is why today’s post is no more than a promise of things to come,. For me, summer is still in full flight in our beautiful corner of Canada’s SouthWest (also known to our US friends as the ‘Pacific NorthWest’). As my 5writer colleague Helga posted, our summer weather is some of the best in the world: blue skies, low humidity, moderate temperatures.

Some of my fellow 5writers have, despite these temptations, made admirable efforts to keep their nose to the proverbial grindstone. I admit that I, too, had high hopes of putting up a proper post today. But the truth is that my life, as usual, is a hectic cornucopia of summer fun, topped by the arrival of two of my baby grandchildren, from a family that live far, far away and the children we have not seen near enough of.

So, not much to contribute other than to say:

1) I nominate my husband as ‘World’s Best Grand-Daddy for letting his two-year old grand-daughter give him a ‘Man-i-cure’ with her Crayola markers;

2) Holding your baby grandson in your arms for the first time ranks right up there on the top ten of my bucket list!

3) I’ll write when it starts to rain again, or after Labour Day, whichever first occurs. Until then, you’ll find me on the beach with my kayaks… and my grandchildren.


GrandDaddy Manicure 2




Working without a net


Silk’s Post #97 – I’ve been sailing around in a boat for the past three weeks, away from most of the resources I’ve come to depend on as a writer. My workspace. My library. My files. But most of all, my easy and cheap access to the internet.

Sailing in US waters, I had to buy an expensive “data pass” from Telus, my mobile ISP. Sixty-five bucks for a month of roaming, which tops out at 300 MB. Working WiFi at anchor or even at marinas is extremely rare (don’t believe the brochures), so cellular data had to do all the heavy lifting. It took me less than two weeks to exceed my 300 MB limit, and all I used it for was emails, a short daily Facebook post, one 5writers post (which I wrote offline) and minimal time researching, surfing or anything else. Ouch. So back to Telus for another $65 data pass.

My blinding flash of the obvious is that I now depend on the internet in ways I haven’t thought a lot about before. As a writer, I’m addicted to it as a research tool. It has stimulated my sense of curiosity by rewarding me not only with instant answers, but also with the allure of deeper, more nuanced layers if I want to drill down into a subject. But more than that, I also depend on it for ideas, inspiration, interconnections, and perspectives that range from the micro focus to the “30,000 foot” panoramic view.

In short, it is my writing ecosystem. My safety net. Something no writer in the world up until very recent times has had the advantage of.

Out here, floating “on the hook” in an island cove, I’m cut off from my usual resources, feeling as isolated as the early settlers must have felt when they arrived here – far from their hometowns, where the streets were paved. I’ve gone back, technologically speaking, to the 19th century. Like the writers then, all I have to work with is what’s in my own head. I’m at sea, literally and figuratively – working without a net.

When I write a 5writers post, I typically start with an idea. It could be a problem I’m struggling with in my writing, or a question I’ve been wondering about, or something I’ve read or learned, or an insight or experience that applies (okay, sometimes only tangentially) to writing. But to build the post – whether I’m making a case or telling a story – the next thing I invariably do is wander around online and in my library for examples, quotes, meat to put on the bones.

For my book, the internet is even more critical. Although we all know by now that it takes a lot more than online research to achieve authenticy in our characters, settings and plots, it is still an incredibly powerful shortcut that gets us ready to make the most of deeper research like interviews, library visits, further reading and location scouting.

Ah, but what are the disadvantages? Surely there must be something we writers pay for all this convenience, this relentless connectivity?

Does it make us lazy?

Is it the enemy of contemplation, hurrying us along to jump at quick solutions and cheap, obvious ideas?

Does it restrain our own imaginations and creativity, turning us (consciously or unconsciously) into mimics, followers, jumpers on the bandwagon?

Does it give the illusion of infinite possibilities and freedom, while in reality tethering us and making us dependent (like any other addiction)?

I have no answers, but I think it’s worth taking some time to think about the questions.

Bottom line: I am not giving up the internet. I’m not even interested in trying to ration myself. But I see how the tool can become the master.

Test yourself sometime by going somewhere without internet access (I mean for longer than a couple of hours)! Will you breathe a sigh of relief? Or will you go into withdrawal? Or maybe the first, followed in fairly short order by the second?

Isn’t it amazing how fast we’ve become part of the networked world?

Case in point: I wrote this Monday morning and have been trying to post it ever since via cell (nope, no coverage) or WiFi (nuh uh, kept getting bumped off the slow poke band). Sigh. Ah! Finally luck on Tuesday night!

Members of the Clan


Vancouver’s Stanley Park

Helga’s Post # 89:  We Vancouverites complain a lot about the weather, mostly to people who don’t live here. The truth is, we want to keep it a secret that Vancouver has some of the most awesome summers anywhere. Let me count the ways:

Two or three months of almost uninterrupted blue skies, balmy temperature hovering around 25C, (77F for non-metric readers), no humidity, no mosquitoes, tons of swimming beaches, perfect sailing waters, barbecues by the ocean, and so much, much more. There is nothing better than biking or walking the scenic Seawall or hiking the 27km of forest trails at Stanley Park ringed by the Pacific Ocean.

In other words, when the sun shines on Vancouver, there are few prettier places on earth. (I should add a qualifier: two of the 5 writers live elsewhere; my comments do extend to Salt Spring Island and the Sunshine Coast, both accessible via a scenic ferry ride from Vancouver). To make the most of it, Vancouverites organize festivals, parties and outdoor adventures throughout the season. They are mostly free and sure to delight, no matter what your hobbies and interests are. You are a music or performing arts lover? Head out to the Vancouver Folk Festival, or the International Jazz Festival. If Shakespeare is your thing, catch ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ at ‘Bard on the Beach’ (this one isn’t free).

If there is one event that defines summer in Vancouver, it’s the international Celebration of Lights fireworks competition: three nights of the best fireworks displays you’ve ever seen. Lighting up the sky over English Bay in incredible colour compositions, the annual event has become one of the most prestigious fireworks competitions in the world. Afterwards, head to one of the summer night markets, immensely popular with Vancouver’s legions of foodies and visitors alike.

What has this got to do with writing? In case you are wondering: I have not changed my genre to travel writing or joined Tourism British Columbia. It’s just that I do love my adopted city, having emigrated from land-locked Austria to this west coast jewel many years ago. I still recall my first summer here. I almost instantly turned into a ‘beach bum’, spending time every day of the week at Second Beach, making friends and playing volleyball all summer long.

But there is a link to writing too. One of the events I wrote about in my last blog post is the Harmony Arts Festival at the Millennium Park right at the ocean in West Vancouver. Now in its 24th year, the event is a must visit for artists and art lovers of all stripes and types.

13-DWV-Harmony-SJP_0133-e1400799786443-1024x360Including writers.

After a quick browse through the dozens of stalls offering paintings and innovative handmade jewelry, I made a beeline to the large open-air tent announcing the site of the North Shore Writers Association. About fifty or more people were seated inside, listening intently to authors and workshop leaders. Here, finally, I was face to face with so many other writers in my community as well as local authors.

A special moment.

I did not sit down, as all chairs were taken, but more so because I wanted the chance to talk to the dozen or more authors seated at tables on the periphery, promoting and selling their books. They were eager to talk to me in hushed tones, so as not to disrupt the speakers. This was a golden opportunity to learn about their different publishing experiences.

As you may guess, most were self-published. I had heard only one or two names before, let alone seen title pages of their books. But they had their books out on the table, neatly stacked, displaying decent, attractive covers. They handed out the usual trinkets; bookmarks mostly, and occasionally pretty fridge magnets once they sensed your interest in their books. I chatted at length with most of them. A sociable bunch, eager to tell me about their writing career, their success, and yes, frustrations. As I made my rounds, I picked up some common themes:

Uphill battle (their words), little or no money made yet (and even having spent some of their own to get ‘published’). But all seemed optimistic that their breakthrough would come sooner or later. Their love for the craft came through loud and clear. Would they give up writing even in the face of no financial (or negative) rewards? Of course not! The idea seemed preposterous. I went on to the next issue important to me: What was their support system?

Drum roll…

Most of them belong to a writers’ group! That’s what keeps them going when things get a little tough; when motivation is on the wane; when friends ask them how their ‘hobby’ is going, and perhaps it’s time for a change; when they may not be as fit as some of their friends who go to the gym every day.

It defines them as writers. As members of a clan.

Screenshot2014-03-21at95613AMThere was one traditionally published author present, Cea Sunrise Person, whose bestselling memoir, North of Normal, was released three months ago by HarperCollins – a huge success. Her hardcover book shows her as a child, growing up in the north of British Columbia. Daughter of an unwed 16-year old hippie mom, this is a heart-wrenching story of the eccentric free-spirited life of the sixties and how she survived it. I interviewed her about her efforts of getting published. It took her several years from when she first submitted her manuscript until she found an agent. This agent, based in New York, did nothing much to sell her book, so after a considerable time (I forgot how long, it may have been years), she switched to another, also New York based agent. This one managed to sell her book to HarperCollins in no time at all. At this point she has about 5,000 hardcover copies in print, as well paperback and a Kindle edition. Judging from reviews, she will have many more sold in no time. CPT119184961_high

So, yes, she said, it seemed to take forever to get published. After the first agent, she doubted herself, almost giving up. As it turned out, the book was simply too good.

I love a writer’s success story, even if it takes time to get there. And talking to Cea and the other authors, I felt a true kinship. I was proud to be part of the clan. And happy to have my writers’ group.