Tag Archives: guest blog
Felicity Harley has been previously promoted on my other blog, Reading Recommendations, and was also a guest on this blog, writing about book clubs. I recently assisted Felicity by beta-reading and polish-editing this latest novel of hers and was struck by the fact that she told me she was referring to it as “Science AND Fiction” rather than the better-known genre of Science Fiction, so I asked her to explain why.
I’ve always been a fan of science fiction. My favorite writers are Herbert, Asimov, Bradbury and Orwell. I tend to like science fiction writers who explore what happens to human beings within the context of societies like ours which divorce us from our essential humanity. That’s why I like Farenheit 451, 1984 and The End of Eternity.
I think Herbert was quite prescient when he wrote Dune, because he imagined a planet and human beings living there who had to exist without water. In fact, he was one of the first authors to popularize the importance of preserving our planet’s ecology. In my mind as well, all these authors in one way or another, examine the relationships between religion, politics and power, and also between bureaucracy and government.
Because of my own fascination with these themes, and because I’m also a student of social science by training, I set out to write a quartet of novels placing a group of humans in a futuristic society that had failed to stop runaway climate change. I was fascinated by Naomi Klein’s book, This Changes Everything, and both she and her book served as inspirations to me.
Before reading Naomi Klein however, I had written what is now the fourth book in the quartet, My Quantum Life. This book was based on Michael Talbot’s book, The Holographic Universe. I have always been fascinated by the spiritual aspects of quantum physics, and Talbot’s book put the science of it all into perspective. It was very readable for a neophyte like myself, and it clicked.
The Burning Years is the first book in my four book series titled Until This Last and has just been published by Double Dragon Press. It explores a lot of hard science around space travel, bionics, and what is causing climate change. Besides Klein, my mentor for this book was Dr. Rachel Armstrong. On my site for the book you’ll find out all about her. She is a remarkable woman and a brilliant scientist. Dr. Rachel Chen, who in my novel is captain of the world ship Persephone, is based on how I imagine Armstrong to be. In my book, Persephone is a human ark; this actually exists, and is being conceived of right now by Rachel Armstrong and a team of scientists. It’s built around the idea of a renewable chemical technology called protocells. In the future, protocells could replace plastics and also animal products and will be essential in the preservation of our planet.
My ark explores Mars and Europa then sets sail for Alpha Centauri. The Australian scientist Wallace Thornhill was very helpful to me as I wrote these sections. He introduced me to an electrical universe and warm nuclear fusion technology, and I learned more from him on this subject than I ever thought I was capable. He would send me wonderful emails that took me several days to decode. His final words to me were, “Don’t worry about the science, leave that to scientists, use your writing as a springboard for your imagination.”
Besides hard science however, The Burning Years explores lots of ways we could live on a burnt out planet in the future, and it has two re-engineered transhuman beings who do just that. Introducing them as characters allowed me to explore the whole field of Artificial Intelligence and how two super humans, a male and female, might think and act. Again the social scientist at play. How would their biology, psychology and past influence them. How would their male and female genetics and gender-biases, play a part?
The arc of the plot is set against a U.S. government of plutocrats that has fled underground, who have saved themselves and a few others, the brightest and the best. Of course there are insurgents, and one of them is a female scientist who is heavily involved in geo-engineering the weather. The book takes place about sixty years in the future, just around the time when we may experience dramatic effects from climate change.
I deliberately did not want to write a dystopian book, but one that was full of hope based on our finer instincts as a species, our desire to return to smaller communities, and our current and future knowledge of technology. I am not good with violence, unlike George R.R. Martin who very skillfully explores all those dark sides of humanity and creates fabulous villains. My villains tend to be more grey and struggle internally with a lot of philosophical and moral dilemmas. My women are very strong, just like Martin’s, and my main female character, Inanna. would definitely be friends with Daeneyrs Targaryen.
Now I just have to figure out how to get people to take climate change seriously. I plan to use the book as a tool to get readers involved. The Burning Years is being published as an eBook by Double Dragon Publishing in April 2017. I chose Deron Douglas as my publisher because he loved the book on first read, and I just couldn’t take a chance waiting for other big-name SF publishers to give me an answer.
Please check out my site to buy the book and I would appreciate it if you review it on Amazon for me. And, while on my site, see how you can become involved with 350.org or any other organizations working to stop elements of man-made climate change, so as to keep our planet safe and livable in the future.
Felicity’s new novel has recently been promoted on Reading Recommendations. She is also a fellow-Bequian!
READERS will also find this interesting (and they can *see below how they may help), but …
This post is mainly for all you angst-ridden authors out there who moan and groan about how little promotion and publicity you receive for the books you publish. Yes, it’s true, there are definitely fewer outlets reviewing books or interviewing authors. So what are we supposed to do to get the word out and attract new readers to our work?
I have a cunning plan!
When I ePublished my first novel, I received “some” attention (i.e. Not a lot …) for my efforts, but I carried on regardless and continued to promote other authors, as well as my own books, through my business Alberta Books Canada. Then I moved back to the Caribbean and become much more involved in the online writing community, especially with regards to indie authors around the world who were in the same boat as me – wondering how the heck to promote our books effectively. And how to attract new readers to books in general.
Once I became part of that community – of bloggers as well as indie authors – I realized there really WAS a lot of promotion available out there, and simply for the asking. We bloggers all usually have the same problem: what to write about for the next blog post. I discovered there were many sites looking for authors to interview and books to review, and also that were interested in posting guest spots on various subjects. So I began searching for blogs that would be interested in me and my books. Once I had a few links collected of my own promotions, I created a dedicated page for the novel on my own blog. If you click on Island in the Clouds and scroll down the page you’ll see I’ve added every link I could find. (Hint … Use Google to seach not only your own name, but the title(s) of your book(s). You’ll be amazed what comes up there!) This list on my blog is for the benefit of readers who may be interested in finding out more about me and my books. Only now I’m letting all those other sites do the talking for me.
In Nov. 2013, I began publishing another blog, Reading Recommendations, and have promoted more than 300 authors there for over 3 years. Many, many, many of these authors have “paid” me back in kind by reading and reviewing my books, interviewing me, or allowing me to post a guest spot on their blogs. I promote them, they promote me back!
So that’s how I managed to amass such an impressive looking list of promotion links for my novel!
But rather than just sit on my laurels and allow that page and those promotions to go unnoticed, I have regularly gone back to ensure those links were still valid and even reposted them all, one at a time, to social media, either Facebook or Twitter for me, thereby breathing new life into what were at the time (and still are!) excellent promotions of me and my books.
So … here’s my cunning plan for all of you out there looking for FREE ways to continue promoting your work – Do as I have done and repost any links to promotion you’ve received in the past. To make it easier on yourself, I suggest you create a page, as I did, and list everything there. That way it’s easy-peasy to go to the page, click on each link, and share it again, and at any time. I also have a Facebook page for my novels now, Bequia Perspectives Novels by Susan M. Toy, and post to that first then share on my personal Facebook page. My reasoning for reposting all of this early promotion is that I’ve attracted new readers and friends and fans over the years since these links were first published, so there’s bound to be someone out there who will be interested in reading them.
But the other thing I hope will happen – and this is the kicker, is that one of those readers who sees my reposting of promotion on social media will think enough of it to want to share with their own friends. And that, folks, is the beauty of social media … you just have no idea how far these shares will travel or who might be introduced to you and your books simply because you reposted an old promotion. Remember … no matter how long ago you may have published, your book is always new to a reader who has never read it!
Now, because I also promote other authors on my Reading Recommendations blog, I decided to start the repromotion ball rolling for that group and ran this announcement to the Facebook page, Reading Recommendations – a blog for Readers:
Here’s a promotion tip for all authors who have been featured on Reading Recommendations and reading recommendations reviewed … You’re always most welcome to re-post your promotion links anywhere, on your own website, blog and social media. You might just manage to attract new readers to your own work. I’ve been working through the lists alphabetically, trying to repost all of your promotions, but if each of you were to do this for yourselves, as well as for one or two of your fellow authors I’ve featured, there’s no telling how far the reach would be – for everyone! Besides, it’s free promotion and you’ve gotta love that!
That was a couple of days ago and, so far, I’ve noticed only 1 (ONE!) author has taken my suggestion and reposted all her RR promotions to social media. But she’s an author who constantly promotes my blog as well as promotions for other authors, so I wasn’t surprised. I am disappointed, however, that no one else has taken me up on the suggestion. So that’s why I decided to write this blog post, explaining the idea once again, and I hope to reach more of you out there. I encourage you to do as I do, in this case, and promote the pants off of whatever promotion you already have! And, while you’re at it, promote one or two – or more!, of your fellow authors, as well, because it’s not all about you, ya know … and it’s the right thing to do, so let’s share that love around!
The other thing that will happen is you will draw attention to those original links again, to the bloggers and sites where you were promoted – and, believe me, that renewed interest and increased traffic for old posts will not go unnoticed by those bloggers! You’ll be doing them a favour by attracting new readers to their sites, as well.
There you go! How to ensure FREE continuing promotion that’s right under your nose … Now get out there and share!
(And, please, I absolutely, positively encourage you to reblog this blog post on your own blog!)
*READERS, I haven’t forgotten you! Please consider getting in on this idea of free promotion by helping your favourite authors reach new readers. Whenever you see a promotion link posted, share it among your own friends, tell your book club/local library/local bookstore about the author and their books. We appreciate all the help we can get, but when you recommend our books to other readers and make them fans, that’s just pure gold! And we can’t thank you enough!
It’s been one-month-and-a-day since I wrote this Guest Post on Seumas Gallacher’s blog, in which I listed the 10 ways I was dealing with having to wait for my editor, Rachel Small, to finish her edit of my recently completed novel, One Woman’s Island (the second in the Bequia Perspectives series).
I’m happy to tell you now that Rachel did get that manuscript back to me in plenty of time so I could revise and fix it up to meet the deadline for a contest I linked to in this earlier blog post. And I did make it, too – with an entire day-and-a-half to spare!
And so I wait … again. But this time only for another week until the shortlist is announced. Once I know my novel’s fate, I’ll be able to determine when I can go ahead and ePublish.
In the meantime, I’ll be sorting through ways to promote this new book and figure out how I’m going to afford the cost of printing copies, for those who prefer print .. and for The Bequia Bookshop to sell, come tourist season.
And I’m making changes in my head to the third Bequia Perspectives novel, Tropical Paradox. But there’s a great deal of work yet to be done on the manuscript, so don’t expect to hear an announcement about that any time soon!
A PDF of One Woman’s Island is circulating among a few trusted friends/readers (especially those who know Bequia) and I’m hoping for an honest opinion of the book in advance of publishing. I’ll also ask to use any favourable comments in future promotion once the eBook is released. Already I’ve been sent over-the-top comments from one Bequia friend who read a pre-edited version, so I’m hoping other advance readers will be similarly pleased with this new novel. I’m all goose-pimply now, waiting for their comments …
But at least this time I haven’t had to mow the lawn to pass the time, since Dennis has been visiting the trailer. We did decide yesterday to subscribe to the park’s internet service though and, as predicted, I’ve been online pretty much the entire time since we first logged in. So pathetic. One thing is that being online (mostly playing on Facebook) does pass the time. While I wait.
And they do say that good things come to those who wait. Here’s hoping THEY are correct!
Rick Bergh has been featured previously on Reading Recommendations, first in March 2016 and again in April. He’s back now to tell us how it is that his children’s books are now being read by Haitian children!
How Our Children’s Books Ended Up in Haiti
I love how life surprises us when we least expect it.
My wife, Erica, and I had completed two of our children’s books and brought them to our annual Boxing Day gathering – a wonderful family tradition on my mother’s side, which I have not missed in 56 years.
My cousin, Mark, purchased a few copies of these books (after all, you expect your family to buy your books, right?).
Little did I know those children’s books would find their way to an orphanage in Haiti! All the way from Calgary, Alberta!
Maybe you’re thinking, “That’s no big deal …” But it was for me. Let me explain.
Over ten years ago, my daughter, Keeara, went to volunteer at the very same orphanage – she was an 18-year-old girl trying to figure out her next step in life. Her time in Haiti coincided with her mom’s struggle with cancer. So the whole family was in transition and wondering what the future would hold.
Pam, her mom, said “Keeara, go and volunteer at this orphanage.” She did and it changed her life forever. She became an elementary school teacher as a result.
Fast forward 11 years and my cousin’s daughter, Emily, is now volunteering at the same orphanage. We did not make the connection until I asked Emily what orphanage she was going to and it was the exact same one where Keeara had worked.
WOW! So, now Emily is reading these stories to the children – the same stories that I made up and told to my children, including Keeara. Our next book due to be published soon is actually about Keeara (Stretchy Cheese Pizza) and her son, Connor.
And now Emily was reading these same stories I told our children when they lay in bed asking me to tell them a story. Fascinating that it was not long ago when an 18-year-old-Keeara was reading books to these special children in Haiti. And now, they will soon be reading stories about her and her son, Connor.
We are sending copies over for the children in Haiti to read as soon as the new book is published in June. The stories come full circle!
Michael Fay has been guest-posting here about his early days as a writer, attending the Bread Loaf Conference in 1978 and as a participant at the Banff Centre in 1976. Michael is back now to tell us about writing in Calgary during the 70s and his part in the beginnings of the Alexandra Centre as a place that has encouraged and educated writers for decades since.
Remembering Alexandra Centre
by Michael Fay
I first entered Inglewood in the fall of 1978 as a tenant in the Dandelion Co-op, known in history as the Deane House. The Co-op offered office space to writers, painters, potters, artists, fabric artists, as well as a superb exhibition space in the glass-enclosed veranda.
I had just moved to Calgary with my family. My partner had taken a social work position with the Alberta government and I had recently returned from a summer course at the Bread Loaf Conference in Vermont. I was a writer of short fiction and had received grants from the Alberta government to study creative writing, first at the Banff Centre in 1976, then at Antioch College in 1977, and finally at Bread Loaf. I was a newly named instructor in the Correspondence Course offered by the Literary Arts Branch of Alberta Culture and hoped to continue my budding career as a freelance journalist and writer. We had spent the previous three years in Camrose, Alberta, my partner’s home town. Since most of my life had been spent in cities, that time in Camrose felt a bit alien to me. I was happy to be in a big city again and eager to enter the literary life.
The Dandelion was a funky place, to say the least. I was there five days of the week, hammering away on my portable electric typewriter, beginning to do book reviews for the Calgary Herald and articles for Alberta, Calgary, and Edmonton Magazines, as well as honing my short stories for the literary market. The other Co-op members would come in through the day and retreat to their studios to paint or pot or run material through their sewing machines.
I was on the second floor with a tall and wide window looking down on the pleasant run of the Elbow River, with great, bending trees on both shores. And, beyond the river, the open fields surrounding the Fort Calgary exhibition centre, a bunker built into the hill leading down to the Bow River, often inspired me to imagine the first peoples who raised their teepees and speared the abundant fish rushing in the current.
My artistic peers at the Co-op and this magical connection to the ancient landscape made it a great place to write.
I was alone for the most part that first fall and winter in the Dandelion, and began to explore the streetscape along 8th and 9th Avenues, looking for places to eat, pick up necessities, and, of course for a curious writer, to find people who would stir my interest and imagination. I passed the beautiful sandstone of the Alexandra Centre many times that fall and winter, admiring the restoration, with the sleek new windows complementing the historic stone structure, but never curious enough to go inside to find out what was going on. That is, until I heard through the walls of the small gym the sound of a basketball bouncing. I was in my early thirties at the time, relatively fit, and just dying to get a basketball in my hands.
One day I decided to take action. I met Molly Cropper, the manager, down in the basement of the Centre, sitting at a desk and, like so many people, myself included in those days, having an afternoon smoke.
“There’s a gym?”
I was introduced to Molly’s reluctance to waste words in that very first encounter.
“And somebody is shooting a basketball?”
I considered myself a fast thinking and talking kind of guy, but Molly left me speechless for a long moment.
“Is it possible to play?”
Molly looked up from the papers on her desk and not wasting a word, took a significant puff on her cigarette. I wanted to pull a cigarette from my own pocket, but decided to wait.
“I mean, for me to shoot some baskets at lunch? I…ah…I work down at the Dandelion.”
“Oh,” said Molly. “I see.”
What did she see?
“I’m looking for some…exercise.”
“Yes,” said Molly.
“Why, sure. We’ve a young man on a community service and he found the ball and took to shooting at lunch. I’m sure he’d like the company.”
I was overcome with sheer joy. This was the beginning of a four-year relationship with the Alexandra Centre, which went from basketball to helping others create stories, poems, and books, and, by gosh, it’s still happening!
I carried on at the Dandelion Co-op for another few months, helping to launch the Dandelion Magazine with fellow Co-op members Joan Clark, Edna Alford, and Dale Fehr. I was in charge of marketing the magazine and placing it in bookstores across the city. (Note from Susan: Michael’s and my lives have intersected over the decades in many synchronistic ways and places, but I only just realized while preparing this guest post that I was an employee of one of those Calgary bookstores Michael would have approached when selling copies of Dandelion Magazine in 1978-79!) “A Little Green Book” was published in the fifth number, a story based on my time in rural Alberta. I gave my first public reading at the Co-op and was in the audience when my partner’s high school English teacher, subsequent Governor General Award Winner Gloria Sawai, read her famous story about Jesus and the laundry in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. There were exhibits and small shows and I was fortunate enough to be able to write about my fellow Co-op members in an article for Calgary Magazine. I was particularly fond of Cathy Work’s paintings, some of which still hang in our home.
And then suddenly, the City of Calgary decided to withdraw its arrangement with the Co-op members in order to develop the space into a fine restaurant. This whacked me, but got me to thinking quickly about the possibility of relocating to the Alexandra Centre. And in a remarkably short period of time, Molly got authority from the management group to rent an office to me, with access to the small board room just down the hall. This proved to be amazing on three fronts: a wonderfully quiet and contained space to carry on as a writer of both journalism and fiction; a superb place to have creative writing classes of ten or so people, and a remarkable neighborhood from which to begin recruiting students. I mimeographed a small poster, tacked up copies all over Inglewood, and, ta-da, students began to enroll. This was a cozy and creative place to nurture writers and, believe me, they never ceased to astonish me in our evening classes.
But what really tickles me now is forty years later the Alexandra Centre continues to produce writers in that magical place where the Elbow meets the Bow and creativity has flourished from pre-history to the present day.
Michael Fay has published four long-form short stories with IslandShorts, the most recent being Passion. For information on all publications from IslandShorts click here.
A couple of days ago, Michael Fay wrote this guest blog post on his experience at the Bread Loaf Writing Conference in 1978. Here’s Michael for a return visit and more reminiscing about writing during the 70s, this time in the Literary Arts Program at the Banff Centre, Alberta.
Bill Mitchell and the Banff Centre 1976
I was tingling with excitement in the spring of 1976 when I found out I had been accepted into the Creative Writing program at the Banff Centre. It was early in the history of that venerable institution, but not too early to attract participants from across North America. And what a lively gang they proved to be.
I was young and struggling and couldn’t really afford six weeks at the Centre, so I managed to cobble together a job as the ID checker in the cafeteria and a spot at the nearby campground to pitch my tent.
W. O Mitchell was the titular head of the program. But he was really raconteur-in-chief. He sat in on all the seminar sessions, regaled us with tales of boyhood summers, and became the steady beam keeping us on his writing methodology.
Freefall was designed to shut out the ‘critical self’ and let the ‘creative self’ out to play, by getting the writer to write swiftly, checking consciousness for sights, smells, sounds, tastes and touches, which would bring concrete substance to the writing. I spent mornings in a hut on the periphery of the campus banging out Freefall on my electric typewriter and afternoons in the seminar sharing it with my fellow students, W. O., and the brilliant seminar leaders, Ruth Fraser and Sandra Jones. And, as you might have guessed, nights were filled with talk, pints, and camaraderie with the most brilliant folks I had ever encountered.
I managed to bang out over two hundred pages of Freefall that summer. And believe me, that wasn’t out of the ordinary in the writing huts. I also learned to listen carefully to what made writing sing and soar and reach for the wonder of dreams that seemed more real than reality.
I still have those pages with me, yellowing sure, but with me every day as I revisit some of the magical people and places that appeared in the writing hut that special summer. And I continue to write about them every day.
The very smart directors of the Centre assembled leading artists, playwrights, writers, dancers, and musicians in a wild celebration of the best in the arts. Big Miller belted the blues, Alice Munro shared her inner self, Aaron Copeland led the orchestra through his magnificent Appalachian Spring. I saw him alone one evening, rushed up to him and took his hand, and thanked him for the wonder of his music. He was shy and embarrassed by this bold young guy, but he still seemed to beam.
All of this made the hours checking IDs in the cafeteria and the nights snuggled deeply into my sleeping bag seem incredibly romantic, something a struggling young writer should be doing. And, by golly, it’s what I did! Hemingway had his Paris and I had my Banff…
by J. Michael Fay
Published by IslandShorts
(Michael Fay has been promoted on Reading Recommendations.)
I discovered a couple of videos from the 70s posted online of interviews with W.O. Mitchell (who really was quite the character in real life …) and Alice Munro.
Here’s Big Miller and his big blues sound.
This is a complete recording of Aaron Copeland’s Appalachian Spring.
A couple of weeks ago, I saw this article online, A 26-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Mid-August, 1977, and immediately remembered that author, J. Michael Fay, had talked about his time at the Bread Loaf Conference. When I asked, he told me he was there the year following and that he remembered his time fondly. So I asked if he would write about that time …
Bread Loaf 1978
by Michael Fay
I was thrilled to attend the prestigious Bread Loaf Writers’ Program in 1978 with financial support from Alberta Culture. There were 850 applicants that year and only 230 were accepted. The buzz in Vermont that summer was all about two key presenters, John Gardner and John Irving.
Gardner was a key theoretician in the literary community with his classic On Moral Fiction. Irving was on the verge of entering the super-star stratosphere with The World According to Garp. And for two weeks in the mountains of Vermont, those two icons seemed to have permanent circles of supporters surrounding them, day and night.
As presenters, they each soared in his own way: Gardner, the philosopher, and Irving, the raconteur.
It was all magic for me, thousands of miles away from my home in Camrose, Alberta, taking it all in with thirsty relish.
Gardner was all about the head, the structural issues that built strong stories and novels. Irving was all about the heart, the beating centre of a tale that enraptured the reader.
And there were more than these two and others who made formal presentations in the theatre.
Oh my! My fellow students and the carefully selected young writers, working as assistants and fellows, were on their way to successful careers. I only mention two; both had a profound impact on my writing.
Meredith Sue Willis was an amazing novelist who dug deep into the soil of Appalachia to weave tales of intensity and resonance. Richard Ford was a spare and cerebral stylist who examined American life with a probing scalpel.
And thirty-three years later I carry their words as inspiration as I settle in front of a blank white screen and dare to create people and places and events which lurk inside of me and clamor to come to life.
Here’s a photo of Michael taken around this time …
J. Michael Fay has published three long-form short stories under my IslandShorts imprint and I’m pleased to announce that his most recent publication, Passion, will be released very soon!
I first met Carin Makuz when we were enrolled in the online Humber Creative Writing Program in 2006 and we’ve stayed in contact ever since, and have even met in person a few times! I’ve subscribed to Carin’s blog pretty much since the beginning, and when she began batting around the idea for The Litter I See Project … well, I just had to become involved, and I’ve been helping to promote this great idea all along. Here’s Carin to tell us about this very interesting project that was intended to bring attention to the two problems of Litter and Illiteracy.
When not writing short fiction or essays, Carin Makuz can be found wandering the shores of Lake Ontario muttering about darlings that won’t take a hint. She is a workshop facilitator for abused women and youth at risk. Her work has been published in journals in Canada, the U.K. and the U.S. She has won the Commonwealth Short Story Prize and been nominated for the Journey Prize. Essays and fiction have been broadcast on CBC and BBC Radio. She combines text with photography, reviews books and chats with writers on her blog, Matilda Magtree, and runs The Litter I See Project.
What’s the background to this idea of yours? When did you first think of the concept behind your blog?
The Litter I See Project grew from my interest in bringing attention to both litter and illiteracy. When I walk I pick up litter; I carry bags for this purpose. I’m doing it to tidy up the schmutz but sometimes I find interesting things, notes, lists, etc., and I wonder at their origins: were they dropped by accident or intentionally? I wonder about the kind of person who can be trotting along, having a fine time in a park, at the beach, on a street, anywhere really, and then just toss a can or water bottle on the ground and keep going. I wonder what they think will happen to it and if they’d even notice or care if someone did the same thing on their lawn. I wonder how people learn this behaviour. You could say I’m a wee bit passionate on the subject. As a society we talk a lot about big problems … The Environment, the oceans of plastic, etc., all of which seems so impossible a thing to tackle. And yet, really, change begins with our attitude towards the small stuff. Like litter. Because how we view that reflects how we see our communities, and our environment, in general. I’m equally passionate about literacy, and the two things, litter and illiteracy, have more in common than alliteration; both are pervasive, but only one is visible. With all this in mind I began photographing certain pieces with the idea of writing about them, maybe doing a thin collection and giving any proceeds to a local literacy group. But I wanted the effect to be broader than that. When a friend suggested I do something online, a light went off. That was it!
How are you organizing the material for the blog?
I drafted a plan, figured out a way of offering a small honorarium (am a big believer in paying for the written word), invited a number of writers to participate, created a site and named it The Litter I See Project. It went live in June of 2015. How it works is that I send out a picture of a piece of actual litter from my ‘collection’ and, using that ‘debris’ as a prompt, or inspiration, the writer responds in the form of poetry, prose, memoir, anything at all. As submissions come in I try to keep posts varied, giving consideration to genre and a few other things, but mostly it’s just a happy, trashy party.
Carin has also arranged for donations to be made on behalf of the blog to Frontier College in Toronto, a school dedicated to teaching literacy.
How much longer do you see publishing this particular theme?
No idea how long I’ll keep the party going. Through winter anyway, and probably spring.
Is there anything you have learned through writing this blog that you’d like to share? Any surprises you hadn’t expected?
It’s been more work than I thought but the best kind. I love getting these constant surprises in my inbox. I send out a muddy grocery list and get back poetry; a chocolate bar wrapper in a ditch inspires a childhood memory. I’m in awe of the talent in this country, most of which isn’t celebrated nearly enough. I also like the way the litter conversation has already grown to include larger questions, such as in Betty Jane Hegerat’s piece about homelessness, and Tanis MacDonald’s ‘rabbit litter’.
The lovely thing about a blog is that it’s your own world and if you don’t like something you can change it. I’ve been hanging out in this space for over five years and I’ll keep doing it as long as it’s fun. If that requires adding, changing things, great. When it stops being fun, it stops being.
Blogging is a commitment like any other kind of writing. You get out of it what you put in. I think readers sense the place you’re coming from, the vibe you create. That was a pleasant surprise, the feeling of connection with readers, something you don’t get from traditional forms of writing.
Was there a single post you were particularly proud to have included? And what made it special?
If I had to pick one special post it would be bill bissett’s. I was beyond chuffed to have him kick things off with his fabulous piece, ‘yr littr has arrivd, eet it’.
Overall, what is it you hope your readers will take away after reading your blog?
My hope for readers of The Litter I See Project is that, in addition to the attention and conversation it brings to the problems of litter and illiteracy in communities across the country, it might also serve as a way of introducing readers to new writers. The posts are all intentionally positioned as bite-sized morsels, meant for easy browsing, a few at a time …
Now, in keeping with the Reading Recommendations idea, please name three authors or books you’d like to recommend to readers.
If I had to recommend three books, I would reply with: Egad!! Only three??? I’d have to go with a theme; makes it a little easier to choose. So, let’s say the theme is “writing from a disadvantaged place” … in which case I’d recommend the following:
The Education of Augie Merasty, by Augie Merasty (with David Carpenter)
A Crowbar in a Buddhist Garden, by Stephen Reid
One Hour in Paris, by Karen L. Freedman
How Poetry Saved My Life: a hustler’s memoir, by Amber Dawn
(oh, are we up to four already??) (;
Also, I HAVE to add Anakana Schofield’s Martin John because a) it’s different than any book out there; it’s daring and changes how we think about sexual deviants, harassment and all manner of perverted crimes. Including the ones we pretend aren’t happening. And because, b) it’s brilliant.
I’ve chosen this theme, not because I only read heartbreaking or uncomfortable stuff (far from it!), but because I feel books that express well what it is to be human help us to understand one another and become a more broadly-thinking and compassionate society. Despite the topics covered … residential schools, prostitution, rape, sexual perversion, imprisonment… none of these books are written in the mass market scandalous-to-cause-reaction style. They’re not scandalous at all. They’re written from a real place with real feelings about things that happen all the time whether we like to admit it or not. That’s both the scary part and the part that matters most.
What are you working on now or what do you plan to do when you finish writing this blog?
Currently working on a collection of short prose and, forever it seems, a medium sized novel.
Carin Makuz maintains a main blog, Matilda Magtree, where she publishes regular segments, (at) eleven: chatting with writers (I was once hosted here!), this is not a review, and Wordless Wednesday, featuring her photography.
A number of Reading Recommendations-promoted authors have been featured on The Litter I See Project: Alice Major, Betty Jane Hegerat, Bruce Hunter, Fran Kimmel, Gail Anderson-Dargatz, Katherine Govier, Kimmy Beach, Lori Hahnel, Rosemary Nixon, Steven Mayoff.
I first met Shaun Hunter in Calgary through the city’s writing community. Shaun is known locally for her non-fiction, personal essays and memoir writing, but I’d like to focus on this brilliant concept for a blog she has been publishing lately. Here’s Shaun to tell you all about Writing the City: Calgary Through the Eyes of Writers. Welcome, Shaun!
I have lived in Calgary most of my life but have only rarely seen the city imagined on the page. About a year ago, I went looking for the city in novels, poetry and creative nonfiction. I was curious: what could writers’ stories tell me about the city that shaped me and continues to confound me? In the spring, I shared a few of my findings on a literary Jane’s Walk through downtown Calgary. The idea for the blog grew from there: Writing the City: Calgary Through the Eyes of Writers would be a virtual walk through Calgary’s literary history as I was discovering it.
For me, and I hope for readers, the blog is a treasure hunt: every week turns up a fresh surprise tucked away in the city’s literary history. The series roams Calgary’s past and its geography, following the meandering path of my own curiosity. The featured excerpt has to be from a published work of fiction, poetry or nonfiction, and has to capture some aspect of the city – no matter how uncomfortable. The blog is not intended as a travelogue or an exercise in civic boosterism. The series offers the city as writers have engaged with it and lets readers make their own connections.
The blog launched at the beginning of Stampede Week 2015 with daily posts. Since then, I’ve been posting a new excerpt every Friday. I plan to wrap up the series after this year’s Stampede, but there is more material than I can feature on the blog. A book proposal is in the works. Stay tuned!
I know from my own experience that Calgary is more than its stereotypes of cowboys and oil barons. But seeing the city through the eyes of writers, I am continually surprised by the different responses writers have to this place. As the series unfolds, my own connection to the city is deepening in ways I had not imagined. I have kept that story out of the blog series, but it’s simmering underneath.
So many of the posts have stories behind them, but one in particular stands out. I am a latecomer to local history. Only recently have the stories of early Calgary begun to capture my imagination. Last summer, I set out to correct my historic deficit and showed up for a tour of Union Cemetery during Historic Calgary Week. The guide, Ruth Manning, had deep roots in the city and was a trove of stories about the people buried on Cemetery Hill. On a ridge overlooking downtown, she talked about what she believed to be the first lines written about the site that would become the city of Calgary. With her eyes closed, Ruth quoted from memory the words of NWMP officer Sir Cecil Denny as he stood above the confluence of the Bow and Elbow rivers: “Our first sight of this enchanting spot was one never to be forgotten, one to which only a poet could do justice.” In that moment, on that historic hill, I felt myself sinking a little deeper into the city’s soil.
This seems to be a golden age in Canada for literary mapping. Noah Richler offers a compelling exploration of the country’s literary landscape in This is My Country, What’s Yours? A Literary Atlas of Canada (though he doesn’t stop in Calgary). To date, Project Bookmark has installed sixteen plaques across the country, connecting poetry and fiction to specific Canadian landmarks. You can take literary tours of Vancouver and Toronto through these excellent public library projects: Vancouver: Literary Landmarks, Toronto Poetry Map and books set in Toronto neighbourhoods. 49th Shelf also offers an annotated literary map of the country.
Calgary is not just one story. Talk to people who live or have lived here, and you discover that each one has a unique connection to this place. I hope that in discovering writers’ stories about Calgary, readers experience the city as a complex urban landscape with fascinating contradictions, ambiguities and humanity.
Calgary’s Grand Story (University of Calgary Press, 2005) by Donald B. Smith
In Calgary, we often wear change like a badge. But go back to the city’s first gilded age in 1912, and the story of two of its landmark structures (the Lougheed Building and the Grand Theatre) and you will see that Calgary is consistent with its beginnings.
The Calgary Project: A City Map in Verse and Visual (Frontenac House, 2014) by Dymphny Dronyk and Kris Demeanor
I’ve featured a few of the fine poems in this anthology on the blog, including those by co-editors Kris Demeanor and Dympnhy Dronyk, as well as Cecelia Frey, but there is much more to discover. My only caveat in recommending The Calgary Project is that you won’t be able to fit the book in your back pocket as you explore the city’s streets.
Long Change (Random House, 2015) by Don Gillmor
Don Gillmor’s fictional take on the city’s illustrious oil sub-culture is at once excoriating and compassionate. There is an unforgettable New Year’s Eve party at an oil baron’s estate west of town you won’t want to miss, and a dinner party that will change the way you look at geology. I’ve posted a glimpse of Gillmor’s novel on the blog.
Shaun Hunter is the author of five biographies for young readers about the lives of celebrated women writers, artists and scientists, African-American Olympians and Canadian entrepreneurs. Her personal essays have appeared in literary magazines, anthologies and The Globe and Mail. In July 2015, Shaun launched Writing the City: Calgary Through the Eyes of Writers, a weekly blog series that explores the way writers have imagined the city in fiction, nonfiction and poetry. She leads occasional guided literary walks of Calgary. Shaun has a master’s degree in Canadian Studies from Carleton University. She lives in Calgary, Alberta.
I’m working on a proposal to turn Calgary Through the Eyes of Writers into a book, and making notes toward the personal story percolating underneath the blog series.
Thank you, Shaun! I suggest that everyone reading this check out previous posts Shaun has published on her blog. You’ll find writing by many talented and accomplished authors, some very surprising (such as Graham Greene, Rupert Brooke and Nancy Huston) and quite a number who I have promoted on my blog, Reading Recommendations … such as Katherine Govier, Aritha van Herk, Bruce Hunter, Lori Hahnel, Barb Howard, Betty Jane Hegerat, Fred Stenson and Don Gillmor.
Hubert O’Hearn has previously been featured on Reading Recommendations. He is a Canadian-born playwright and journalist who now lives in Ireland. When he announced his new The Writer’s Pro Shop Series recently I asked if he’d like to write a guest blog post to help promote this service that’s intended for writers at all levels in their careers. So, here’s Hubert!
The Writer’s Pro Shop Series. Why You Need It.
The Writer’s Pro Shop is a series of weekly writing exercises I am offering for free on the internet. Not only are these important skill development exercises on my own website (bythebookreviews.blogspot.com), I’m also allowing anyone with a personal website or blog to freely use this content just so long as it is properly attributed back to me. Everybody wins!
Why Did I Develop These Exercises?
Through my work as an independent book editor I have discovered that my writer-clients get stuck in patterns. They – and probably you – see their writing projects in only one perspective and so, when a need arises for a change to a scene or even a book’s overall structure arises, they literally do not know how to shift their minds to write anew.
Because of the above, I started using a modified technique derived from my work as a theatre director and acting coach. Actors too get stuck in their heads, to use the conventional phrase. They are reluctant to try something different when playing a part because what they have been doing feels safe. Familiar is safe, change is scary. Therefore I would challenge them with games, improvised situations, role switching, you name it, just to get them to see their character and scene differently and so jump-start the discovery process.
For writers, I would suggest similar exercises, short assignments related to the manuscript yet not necessarily a re-writing of a given scene or chapter. If there was a scene in a novel that involved two main characters having a conversation in a restaurant, how did the waiter observe that? Re-do a paragraph in the present active voice. If the dialogue was dull, write a four-way conversation with no ‘John said’ indicators yet have the four voices be individually identifiable.
Because these were exercises and not taking a sledgehammer to the walls of the novel (these techniques work perfectly well with non-fiction, drama and poetry too) my writers did not feel threatened; instead they were freshened. So that is where the idea for both The Writer’s Pro Shop and my Six Months to Better Writing subscription course began. Yet I wanted to take it a step further. I started to think of writing in terms of Sports Science.
What Does Sports Science Have to Do With This?
Let’s assume you have a favourite sport. Your favourite team or individual performer does not train by only playing practice games. That might be fun, yet playing the same way does not result in improved performance, or at least not efficiently. As the great golf coach David Ledbetter says, “Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes permanent. Perfect practice makes perfect.”
I took a look at two games – golf and poker – for comparisons to writing. If you’re a golfer and you go to a driving range, are you like most people and just stand on the tee and hammer away at your dwindling bucket seeing how far you can hit the ball with each club? Do you ever try a new swing thought, stance, cut or draw, rhythm, or anything at all different from what you’ve always done before? Have you ever worked one-on-one with a pro? You can only see yourself from within yourself, whereas the pro sees all of you. Bear that in mind as we proceed.
Poker is another great metaphor for writing. It costs $10,000 to enter the Main Event at the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. Anyone with ten grand can enter, and literally thousands of ‘anyones’ enter every year, which is why the prize money for the winner has risen to the multi-million dollar range. $10,000 is a pretty good number for a writer to consider. When you factor in the time you take researching and writing a book, plus formatting and marketing it, if you are going the independent route, you’re spending at least $10,000. Now, is that money going towards making you money, or is it adding to the prize purse of a marketer or Amazon/Kindle?
How is this relating to writing?
Writers are exactly like the golfer who just practices the same thing over and over, or the poker player who enters the World Series convinced he can be the next amateur to win the whole thing having done nothing to prepare other than being the best among a small group of friends. Both are making their ways, their habits of playing, permanent.
That, my curious friend, is exactly what with absolutely no exaggeration 99% of all writers do, which is why only about 1% of all writers make a living at it. They don’t work to improve their game.
Look at the practice range at the next major golf tournament on TV. What do you see the players doing? They are working with their coach, their caddy, even other players, getting swing tips and advice. At the WSOP, even someone who has won multiple winner’s diamond bracelets, like Phil Hellmuth, spends weeks before the event practicing specific situations that may come up during the actual tournament. Pro golfers and professional poker players alike are always looking for that little insight that will make them one-tenth of one percent better, because that 0.1% improvement is the difference between cashing a decent cheque or eating hot dogs for dinner.
What Most Writers Do is What You Shouldn’t Do
Most writers – and this definitely includes many of the greats – use the same inefficient technique for improvement. They write an article or a book, it doesn’t sell, so they write another. They may read a book about writing, or some interviews, maybe listen to an editor like me, then go and write another article or book (or play, poem etc.). Rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat …
What makes no sense to me is why anyone would go through a process that can take years or decades before it makes a positive change in a writer’s skills. Go spend that $10,000 on scratch tickets, because you’re playing the same odds and you’ll save yourself a lot of time.
The Writer’s Pro Shop Exercises: Perfect Practice Makes Perfect
This is why I have built this series of exercises. I know that you need to work on specific parts of your game. You need to make your strengths – let’s say you’re brilliant at dialogue – powerful strengths, plus we’ll use what you’re already strong at to improve the areas of writing you’re weak at.
Now, there is a flaw to all this! I would be dishonest if I said The Writer’s Pro Shop is all you need to succeed. The flaw is that you’re like the golfer who works out and practices with a mirror or video camera, guided by a coaching manual or DVD. You really aren’t getting direct feedback and commentary from a pro. You really do need to work one-on-one with someone you feel comfortable with and who knows what they’re talking about. But I’ll save my strong suggestion that you sign up for the Six Months to Better Writing course until the very end of this article. So let’s just ‘q.v.’ that one for now.
What I have done in the Writer’s Pro Shop is develop weekly writing assignments that you can easily adapt to a present project, or use generally to improve your skills. It is really based on not anything so technical as improving your grammar or expanding your word choices. Using our golf metaphor once more, those factors are club selection; we need to work on your swing and visualization.
Visualization is everything in the Writer’s Pro Shop Series. We write what we observe, after what we observe runs through the colours of our imagination. So, let’s observe differently. It will be easier for both of us if I show you what I mean. Here is the first exercise I give every client, from absolute newbies to seasoned professionals:
On the internet, find a photo of a painting that interests you and draws your attention. The only restriction is that it must contain at least one person in it. Download the photo, then write 500 words of any story you feel emerging from it. Do not concern yourself with a beginning or end. Just write what you feel. This is not for publication, so allow your instincts room to play.
Do you get it? To write more artistically, think like an artist. To short-cut the process, that exercise makes you look at a piece of reality that a painter has already seen as art. Then we move on through areas like:
• Character development
• Finding the crucial detail
• What voice to use
• Making a plot logical, yet still enthralling
And (using my TV pitchman’s voice) many more!
Speaking of TV pitchmen, you do need to work one-on-one with a coach like me. I’m not a big believer in writing workshops. I don’t take them, I don’t lead them, frankly I avoid them. I find that their time is too compressed and they tend to break down into something akin to a herd of rutting stags clashing horns. They may be great vacations and you may have a couple of great takeaways in terms of tips or friendships, but as a career developer ….. meh.
Six Months to Better Writing, my course, uses the same exercises as The Writer’s Pro Shop, except I adapt them to suit your specific needs. Also, you get direct commentary every week from me on your assignment, along with the next week’s assignment that frequently builds off the work you have already turned in. Sixty bucks a month, quit any time, or stay longer than six months. Plus I limit the number of student/clients I work with to 24. Any more, I’m a factory and the only good writing that came out of a factory was Cannery Row.
Thoughts? Comments? Suggestions?
If you want to get in touch with me about either the Pro Shop or my course you can email me here or by using the contact info below. Regardless, thank you for reading this. That’s all we writers ever ask for: Someone to read our stuff.
Be seeing you.
Hubert O’Hearn is the author of two books, an independent editor, and a professional book and music reviewer. He also is the designer of the Six Months to Better Writing Course, working one-on-one with writers drawn from the entire range of experience. For comments or queries he can be reached at email@example.com)