One thing I learned at the knee of Ivan Coyote (my mentor during my time in the SFU Writer’s Studio) was to consider telling your story in ways that go beyond paper and ink.
For her, that included live storytelling, commissioning musicians to compose songs based on tales from her grandparents’ lives, slide shows behind her on stage, etc. For others, it might mean writing a digital novel with enriched audio-visual content at the click of a mouse. (For one experiment in the digi-novel that didn’t sit well with me, see here.)
For many of us, the thought of imagining new creative, multi-media combinations and collaborations is equal parts thrilling and exhausting. The creative possibilities are exciting; the learning curve and time required to get one up to speed on new technologies and market niches, sometimes daunting.
But if you’re intrigued with the thought of telling stories in new ways, here’s a market for you: Fox and Bee (a two-person creative industry run, literally, out of a cottage) has produced a $2.99 app called In Common: Bikes that pulls together bike lore, quotes, trivia, photos and nonfiction, bike-related stories from all over the world. They’ve even thrown in a bike courier delivery game that’s curiously addictive.
Fox and Bee’s goal is to give us a global sense of how a common object is used in different places and by different people. AND (here’s where you come in), they have a call out for submissions on shoes. You have until July 1 to produce a nonfiction piece that’s between 500 and 2,000 words. Here are the rest of the submission guidelines.
Part of the proceeds from the app go to micro-financing loans through Kiva. That’s just one of the reasons I like the attitude behind this creative duo’s offering … so if you want to be part of the multi-media world (but don’t want to learn the techie part yourself), consider doing some sole-ful writing for Fox and Bee!
Filed under From Peggy, Memoir, Sites We Like, The Publishing Industry, Uncategorized | Comments Off
For those of you who may not know, Vancouver has been deluged with rain this ‘spring.’ Records have been broken, seedlings have rotted, and snow has flown later than most of us can remember.
So you can imagine how delighted we are now that the sun has made an appearance. Strangers are greeting each other cheerily on the street, dogs are gambolling with ecstasy, and the populace are taking their work outdoors whenever they can just to catch a few coveted rays while they last.
On these days, it feels like the world is rife with benevolence and opportunity. Anything is possible. (No wonder the Vancouver Sun Run times its 10K event for the springtime!)
In that spirit, now is a great time to exercise your lesser-used literary muscles. Why not shake off the winter doldrums by trying something new in your writing life – just for fun. Not for money, or fame, but just for the joy of it.
There are two challenges happening right now that might give you some inspiration. First is the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival’s Haiku Invitational competition, which boasts entrants from all over the world. It’s a great excuse to push back from your desk, take a walk and muse on the natural wonder of these spring blossoms in all their varieties. Have a read of some of the past winning entries to get a feel for what makes an effective haiku. (Entries are composed of three short lines, but they don’t have to conform to the strict 5-7-5 syllable count that you find in traditional Japanese haiku.)
As with any exercise that involves a very limited amount of words, you’ll really need to pick those that pack a big punch – a skill that stands you in good stead for all your other writing projects. Have fun with this, and get your entry in by May 31, 2011. Winners will see their work celebrated in all sorts of creative ways over the year ahead, a special period in which the city of Vancouver is celebrating its 125th anniversary.
Another opportunity to do something different is presented by the Mothership Stories Society, founded in 2008 by a New Westminster writers, actor and daughter. People are invited to write the story of their mother’s life in 2,000 words or less, and, if desired, post them on the My Mother’s Story website. Some past stories have been collected into anthologies and adapted into theatre presentations; all are available for public view on the site.
As a special inducement for North Vancouver writers, the local theatre company at Presentation House will be picking nine of the North Van entries to transform into a play to be performed next year. How exciting would that be! Entries for that challenge are due on May 30, 2011.
So why not let the sunny weather beckon you to some new writing adventures? Be like the dogs I saw on my walk this morning – chasing a thrown stick with no idea where it will lead, only the knowledge that it will be awfully jolly finding out.Filed under From Peggy, Inspiration, Memoir, Poetry, Sites We Like | Comments (2)
I’m on the road today, heading to Banff where I am looking forward to the annual conference of the Creative Nonfiction Collective of Canada. I’ll be glad to meet some of the people whose musings and comments I’ve been introduced to via the CNFC’s robust email forum, and to take some solo time before and after the conference to polish up some drafts of my own.
I was hoping to travel light – as light as one can when one is an avid reader who hasn’t hopped on the ebook bandwagon just yet – and wondering if I could take my iPad in lieu of my laptop.
I’m able to do that more and more these days as I figure out the various possibilities offered by apps and portable keyboards (by the way, did you know the Apple iPad keyboard dock also works with an iPhone? VERY handy way to keep up with emails on the run.)
I have the Pages app on my iPad, which allows for the creation of documents that can be saved to my iDisk in the ‘cloud,’ or transferred to my computer via iTunes. But as I prefer to keep my computers synced and files backed up by saving all my work on my free Dropbox account, it was a nuisance to save docs to my iDisk, then have to fetch them later from my computer and shift them over to Dropbox.
Because the world is a magical place, I was sure someone had provided a work-around. And sure enough, someone has. The good folks at Dropdav have a free service that allows you to integrate your Pages and other iWork documents on your iPad with your Dropbox account. (For those of you who don’t know about Dropbox, I’ll explore it’s many virtues in another post.)
So now whether I am writing on my desktop, laptop or iPad, I can access and edit my centralized Dropbox files, or create new ones to save to Dropbox.
So my laptop remains at home, and I am coming to you today courtesy of my ever-more multi-purpose iPad. That being said, I missed a posting or two a few weeks ago as blogging via iPad from a Colorado library internet service wasn’t as straightforward as I was expecting. I guess there are still a few hiccups to be sorted!
Okay, I know living ‘off the grid’ generally means going without electricity and phone and essentials of that nature, and I can’t say that I was doing that on my recent holiday in Colorado.
But I was living without benefit of internet for most of that time, and that brings with it withdrawal symptoms of its own. Specifically it meant that I couldn’t post to our blog (thanks for carrying on a one-sided conversation for a while there, Tudor!) and it was odd not to be able to google on demand (but quite restful, too.)
One of the benefits of living off the web, though, was the reading time that it freed up. While in Telluride, I visited the local bookstore with a view to seeing what I could discover in the way of literary journals not often seen in Canada.
On spec I picked up a copy of The Sun, an ad-free magazine that’s been published by the same man for over three decades. (For an inspiring story of his perseverance and the magazine’s resulting success, click here.)
It’s the only lit mag I’ve read cover to cover, and after I did that I went to the local library, checked out their back issues and read those, too. I read all the short stories (I rarely do that with my New Yorker subscription), got drawn into interviews I didn’t know I’d be interested in, and wolfed down each issue’s short, themed contributions from readers.
I’d never heard of the magazine before, but now I can see why it has a loyal following of over 70,000 subscribers (plus one, as of this morning!) It pays its contributors, puts out an issue every month, and does so without benefit of advertisers. What can the rest of the publishing world learn from founder and editor Sy Safransky? For starters, perhaps, the importance of readability; a quality that many journals sacrifice in favour of being ‘edgy.’
I know there’s a time and a place to push the envelope. But my money, literally, is on the power of a well-told story.Filed under From Peggy, On Books, Sites We Like, The Publishing Industry | Comments Off
As a former quilter, I’ve always regretted the fact that a stack of paper, regardless of how well-crafted the story printed upon it may be, doesn’t leap up and present itself as a thing of beauty. You can’t really hang it on a wall to brighten up a room, or present it as a wedding present, or put it on the windowsill at your office along with your framed photos.
So that’s why I love this wordle site, into which you can cut and paste your text (a poem you love, or a manifesto you’ve laboured over, whatever strikes your fancy) and the site generates a word cloud created from the words used most often in your piece.
The result is quite beautiful, and you can play with the font, colour and layout if you’d like to tinker with variations. Or, you can push a ‘randomize’ button to get a whole new look. It’s rather addictive. As today is Ash Wednesday, I’ve used an essay I wrote on the Lenten season to create the word cloud above.
Images can be printed or PDF’ed, and the site owner invites you to create t-shirts, greeting cards, book covers and more from your collaborative work of art.
It’s lovely to have our black-and-white words turned into a visual art, providing us writers with something we CAN put up on the wall as an inspiring momento of our literary labours.Filed under From Peggy, Inspiration, Language & Usage, Sites We Like | Comments Off
Having finished Augusten Burroughs’ somewhat gritty Running With Scissors memoir, I am seeking to restore some mental equilibrium by taking up Defining the World by Henry Hitchings. It’s an account of the making of Samuel Johnson’s opus dictionary; the first of the English language and a magnificent literary achievement in its own right.
I am looking forward to learning more about this infamous lexicographer, but in the meantime I have already been cheered by this first-chapter revelation:
“Although a tirelessly productive author, Johnson considered himself disgracefully lazy – believing that only Presto, a dog belonging to his friend Hester Thrale, might truly be thought lazier. His diaries are full of self-recrimination: assurances that he will work harder, along with detailed schedules to ensure that he will do so.”
Hands up if you see yourself in this statement! It’s reassuring to hear that self-flagellation was alive in well in Johnson’s day as well as ours. I love the ‘detailed schedules’ comment – the saving grace/nemesis of many a frustrated artist!
Reading about the history of the dictionary reminded me that a month or so ago I officially ‘adopted’ certain endangered words in order that they not be archived by the folks responsible for maintaining the Oxford English Dictionary.
To my great shame, I have forgotten to feed and water said words for many weeks. The idea is that people use the words in their everyday life so as to bring them back into general usage. So, this snollygoster (a shrewd, unprincipled person) better leave her nidifice (nest) and get cracking, or she’ll risk theomany (the fury of God) for sure!
If you’d like to do your part to further Samuel Johnson’s work as a celebrator of the English language, adopt your own words from the (very engaging) Save the Words site. As you’ll see, it’s like visiting puppies in the pound – you have to be pretty firm in your resolve, or you’ll end up wanting to bring them all home with you!Filed under From Peggy, Language & Usage, On Books, Sites We Like | Comments Off
There is so much busy-ness to this writing business.
Today – when I should have been promoting an upcoming writing workshop, and working on my SFU portfolio, and doing an assignment for a publishing course – I went cross-eyed, instead, creating a new website that’s dedicated to my own creative writing life.
We spend so much of our time marketing and networking and paperworking that it’s often easy to forget to get around to the actual writing part. And yet, isn’t that the whole point of why we’re doing this?
So, even though it wasn’t actually writing, per se, it did feel slightly Zen-like to spend the day carving out a little cyberhome in honour of that writing I do that’s motivated by heart, not head. The writing that is sometimes the hardest to do, but for which I need little in the way of external reward (though offers of publication are always welcome!)
I was inspired by the website of Sarah Emily Roberts, who recently won the Danuta Gleed award for Wax Boats, her collection of short fiction. (She and I are doing a workshop together on Saturday, Oct. 30th, for any of you in the Vancouver area.) Her site is simple and lovely and about what matters – her work. Not at all like my www.liveandlearn.ca website, which is a chaotic smorgasbord of community workshops, freelance history, editorial services – and just a little bit of my creative writing story, buried amidst it all.
So, I may be even further behind in my other writing ‘busy-ness’ as a result of today’s website creation, but it feels good to have spent the day honouring the kind of writing I love. I hope you all make the time to do that as often as possible, too.Filed under From Peggy, Inspiration, Organizing our Writing Lives, Sites We Like | Comments Off
I finally succumbed to the ubiquitous, in-your-face product displays at Indigo and purchased The Book of Awesome by Neil Pasricha. And I’m glad I did – mostly because it’s given me a super tool to bring to writing workshops.
The book was written by a down-on-his-luck fellow who brought joy back into his life by paying attention to those small, wonderful moments that make us smile. He started a list of them on a blog and it hit a chord with millions of readers, and then of course came the book deal.
As you’ll see on his site, the moments he captures are, truly, awesome. Recent ones include “when someone returns your book and they’ve actually read it” and “when you get in the car and notice someone’s filled up the tank.”
The book is full of more little happinesses, like those times “when you get an eyelash out of your eye” or get “the thank-you wave when you let someone merge in front of you.” They really are great.
But the reason I bring the book to writers’ workshops is to illustrate the danger of over-explaining things in your writing. Each of Pasricha’s ‘awesome things’ is followed by his explanation/analysis of the pleasure – text that can run from a paragraph to two pages in length. And the effect, for me at least, is to dilute the power of his original idea.
When you’ve found the perfect detail or descriptor in your writing, let it speak for itself. Attempts to make sure the reader ‘gets it’ saps its initial impact. As publisher Sol Stein put it “one plus one equals a half.”
Comedian Sarah Silverman puts it another way. As quoted by Shinan Govani in the June 23rd National Post, she made a reference at a Nantucket comedy festival to a “hat on a hat.” As Govani explained that’s “a joke that ruins a joke by adding an extra bit of comedy when the joke, as it happens, is simple and clear.”
However you want to phrase it, it’s a lesson worth remembering.
Bonus tip: If you’re looking for a party game for your writers’ group – and who isn’t – try this one: Ask people to write down their top three or four ‘awesome things’ but to keep them anonymous. The group leader reads out the list, and a prize goes to whoever can identify which writer belongs to which list. It’s illuminating! A variation, of course, would be to include two or three anti-awesome things, too, like those times you realize it’s garbage day just as the truck thunders by your house…Filed under From Peggy, In the News, Language & Usage, On Books, Sites We Like, Tips on technique, Writing Exercises | Comments Off
For people who are meant to be conversant with words, we writers can find it awfully tough to do justice to the thoughts and images we’re trying to put across to our readers.
I’ve just come across a site that should help those of us prone to freezing up, finding ourself suddenly unable to describe a sky as anything but ‘blue’ and a tree as ‘green’ .
Visit this webpage and you’ll be able to view colours from ‘Navajo white’ to ‘Cinnabar green’, click your way around and you’ll have a whole new colour vocabulary at your disposal when it comes time to write about dead flesh (zinc white, perhaps?) or newly budding roses.Filed under From Peggy, Language & Usage, Sites We Like, Tips and Tricks | Comments Off