Monday, December 26, 2011

The Write Way to Read

I asked my facebook friends to recall a favourite childhood Christmas memory.  Every year our thoughts drift, whether consciously or not, and we remember the magic.  Perhaps, that is why it is so wonderful to be with small children over Christmas.  We relive the exhilaration. 

I remember the anxiety; the anxiety I felt as a child trying to fall asleep Christmas Eve.  Many children struggled to stay awake so they could catch sight of the big man.  I knew that Santa only left presents while we slept.  With my eyes squeezed shut, I would lie very still wondering if he could be fooled into thinking I had finally fallen asleep. 

I counted sheep and when that did not work−that never worked−I would ...well...recite the alphabet, and then try to recite it backwards.  My Dad could recite the alphabet backwards, but even when I tried my hardest I always got mixed up.  Instead of getting sleepy, I accomplished just the opposite.  I was, by then, wide awake. 

I do not remember asking for anything specific for Christmas when I was a young girl.  I loved dolls, of course, and if I were lucky, there would be a new doll to add to my menagerie.  However, I did anticipate one gift like no other−a new book. 

I love reading more than anything else.  From my earliest memory, the book under the tree would be a new picture book or a story from the Peter Rabbit series.  Even before I could read, I was always able to create my own version from the inspiring illustrations. 

When I earnestly began to read, The Bobbsey Twins adventures captured my attention.  Oh, how I loved to read about those curly haired kids, Flossie and Freddie.  I read the same book over and over until the next book in the series found its way to me.

I would stay with my nose buried in a book until someone interrupted my reading.  Go outside and get some fresh air, go play with your friends, you’ll ruin your eyes if you don’t soon put that book down, how can you read without light....

There was nothing I enjoyed more than being absorbed in a good story.  I remember progressing to the Trixie Belden series of books.  Trixie was adventurous and not immune to getting into trouble.  Soon Trixie’s escapades gave way to Nancy Drew.  Nancy Drew’s character was a little more polished but my loyalties still remained with Trixie.  Yes, Trixie remains my favourite heroine.  From a very early age, I became hooked on reading mysteries.

Christmas is not complete without a new book.  My anticipation still revolves around reading.  This year it is in the form of an e-reader.  I resisted this electronic device from the onset.  I love reading but I also love BOOKS.  The hard cover books especially.  I love the smell of books.  The weight of the pages. 

When I become too tired to continue reading, I leaf through the balance of the story, scanning pages and possibly reading the last paragraph or two of the book.  That is the only way I can put it aside.  Leave it with a promise to return soon.  I love a captivating story.

It remains to be seen how I will manage with an electronic device.  Running my fingers down the screen could not possibly be as pleasurable as stroking the crisply inked words on creamy thick paper.  What will I do when I finish reading the book on the e-reader?  Turn it off and look at a blank screen?  Can I scan back through the pages re-reading favourite passages?  Re-reading the introduction to my favourite characters?  Yes, I am sure I can still do that.

I will try the e-reader but will never empty the shelves of my most revered copies−some of them signed copies−of my favourite books by my favourite authors.

The e-reader will certainly be convenient.  I won’t have to lug a separate bag of reading material when I go on holiday.  I will no longer struggle to fit a book into my purse when I leave for an appointment.  Perhaps, I will even give up visiting the library.  Really??  Well, after all, I can borrow e-books from the library system online.

I just learned that The Bobbsey Twins are available in e form.  Perhaps, I will begin anew.  Re-read all my favourites beginning with the ones that captured my imagination, back when I still pointed to each word and sounded it out as my finger moved along the page.  Is that when my appreciation for the feel of a book began?  Yes, I agree with you.  It is quite possible.

Well, my friends, enjoy the afterglow of Christmas this week.  Settle in front of the fireplace or hunker down in your favourite chair, and sidestep the blare of the TV for the quiet comfort of words and escape to a world of adventure.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Write Time to Give

Have you ever bought a gift for someone and been unable to part with it?  This year it was a leather purse.  I have had the affliction for a number of years−a great number.  Of course, I would always buy replacement gifts for my friends.  At least, I hope I did.  Yes, I am sure I did.

I first noticed this eccentric glitch when I purchased an address book for a long-time friend.  The moment I saw the book, I thought of her.  Without question, I had to buy it.  It was beautifully illustrated and had Friendship quotes throughout.  I leafed through the book, stroked the cover, wrote down some of the quotes, and then tucked it in my desk drawer.  No, I could not let it go.

Now on the positive side, each time I looked at the book I thought of my friend.  However, I did feel a slight tug of guilt.  Well, it was not as if I actually used the book.  I did not write phone numbers or addresses in it.  I did look through it often though.

After several years, I came clean.  We met for lunch and I had the book wrapped in tissue inside a gift bag.  It was not an occasion:  it was time to part with the book.

I explained what happened.  I never worry about my friends thinking I am weird.  If they have not figured that out by the time we establish a close relationship, then ...yes, I am sure they have figured it out. 

Anyway, she was very good-natured about my misgivings and thanked me, saying she had been meaning to buy an address book.  There, I felt better.  I still think of the book and remember some of the quotations.  They remind me of the childhood friendship we shared.

Then, of course, there was the year I bought the snow globe− the one with the mahogany base.  Each year that I take it from the decoration bin and unwrap it, I think of the friend I purchased it for.  We have not seen each other in over ten years.  And you see, I have never forgotten her.  The globe is special to me.  I place it on my dresser.  It is there for me to look at each morning and each night throughout the winter season.  Yes, I think of her often.  I am certain she would have liked the snow globe.

Ah, I can’t help remembering the Christmas book.  It was too long ago for me to recall where I bought it or the circumstances surrounding the purchase.  It was an appealing combination of stories and recipes.  A red satin ribbon bookmark attached to the spine.  I knew she would appreciate the quality and content.  But, I just couldn’t give it to her. 

Each year I opened the book and reverently turned the pages, thinking of my friend and remembering all the good times we shared over the years.  Our friendship was synonymous with this glossy covered book, the jacket still in pristine condition.  Yes, I took special care of this book; the way one would a cherished friendship.

She visited one day and leafed through the book herself.  Do you like it, I asked.  It’s beautiful, she replied.  I knew you would like it, I sighed.  I bought it for you years ago.  Her snorting laugh was about what I expected.  My closest friends knew.

Last year as I was packing away the Christmas decorations, I sat on the floor with my treasured book, slowly turning the pages, admiring the font, the stories, remembering the recipes, and I decided.  It was time.  I wrapped it in tissue and delivered it to her.  I could not wait until the beginning of the next Christmas season.  No, I had to give it to her then.  She could put it away and have it for next year.  I had to give it to her right away. 

This year when I took out my Christmas books, I missed the ritual of sitting cross-legged on the floor re-visiting the pages of my friend’s edition, but knew I had done the right thing.  I hope that she enjoys the book as much as I did over the years. 

The leather purse I bought this Christmas will remind me of the intended recipient forever.  I don’t think a purse is something I would gift after I have used it, but just the same I will remember this person each time I slide open the zipper or catch my keys on the exquisite lining.  Each time someone compliments the stylish handbag I will think of her.

Who could ask for a better friend?

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Write Memories

To all my loyal readers−wait, do I have loyal readers?? haha−my blog will take on a more serious tone this week.  Bear with me.  I will return with my riotous good-humoured musings next week.

Last week in my blog, The Write Celebration, I wrote a tongue-in-cheek lament about my birthdays being a non-issue.  As it turns out, family and friends have many plans for me this week.  I am ecstatic.  The kick off to my birthday week began on Saturday......................

Many of you have anticipated this blog since our ill-fated dinner party Saturday night.  Truthfully, the calamity left me feeling physically ill.  I felt sick for my son and his wife.  They orchestrated a wonderful birthday celebration for me with friends and family.  Our treatment and the service at the ‘newly refurbished’ restaurant was revolting.

After thinking long and hard over the last day or so, I decided that the pompous little prince with his arrogant bad manners did not deserve any more time than the four hours we spent in ‘his establishment’. 

Having worked with the public most of my life and having a sincere love for people, I remain shocked at the appalling behaviour.  I am embarrassed for the owner and astounded that someone in public service could be that obnoxious and disrespectful. 

However, this morning I shed the gloom and re-read my birthday greetings.  I opened one of the classical CD’s and the musical notes immediately calmed me. 

I read my granddaughter’s note − I Love You Nana written in typical four-year-old fashion.  A tear obscured the upside down ‘u’ and one backward ‘N’. She printed Sophie below the message in her endearing scrawl.  Any grandmother would feel the way I do.  I should frame this card, or at the very least keep it on the table beside the bed.

I admired the writer’s bag my talented friend, Becky, designed and filled with pens, markers, notebooks, and her special wine.  Surrounded by the loving thoughtfulness of my family and friends, the distasteful memories of the Saturday fiasco faded from my mind. 

Delicate woodland fairies, scented candles, luxurious guest towels− Sheila and John, you know me so well.  Scores of lottery tickets – sorry but no cruises in the immediate future - wine, a delectable cream liquor (white chocolate−thank you Kathy and Barry), a loving plaque from my sister Ruth – I am sorry that you could not be with us but I understand - and, of course, the music that I am presently enjoying. 

Brodie, thank you for the celebration.  You caught me totally unaware.  Now, how often has that actually happened??  Marv, I cannot believe you did not let the secret slip. 

Of course, I cried when I arrived and saw my family and friends at the table.  I cried when they sang happy birthday.  I cried when I opened the gifts and I cried when I read the card from Brodie and Monika.  Thank you, Monika, for being my daughter. 

Yes, you guessed it, I am crying now.

So, don’t be disappointed that I did not give that uncouth little peacock what he deserves.  My focus is on what you deserve.  I love all of you.  This is a milestone birthday I will always remember and for all the right reasons. 


Monday, December 05, 2011

The Write Celebration

I am preparing to celebrate a birthday−another milestone birthday.  I enjoy birthdays, never worrying about getting older, only worrying about not getting older. After a scary experience four years ago, I am even more emphatic about celebrating each year.  

For me, a birthday is a time for reflection.  At this point in the blog I should include a poem.  Something written in the wee hours of the morning when I was feeling especially philosophical.  Since I haven't written any poems lately, I will carry on with my reflective meanderings.

First of all, I give thanks for everything in my life.  I am thankful for so much.  I reflect on life-long friendships remembering how as children we wondered what it would be like to be grownups.  What would we look like and where would we live.  Would we be nurses or teachers?  Who would we marry and how many children would we have?  Our whole lives were before us and we were bursting at the seams to know what the future held. 

I am still excited when I think of my future: wondering what new ventures I will explore before my next birthday.   Life is especially precious to me.  Well, I am not saying it isn’t precious to you, too.  I am just saying...

My birthday is close to Christmas.  Always has been−always will be.  I have several cherished tree decorations that I received as birthday gifts over the years.  Carefully wrapped in festive red and green paper with silver ribbons and bows.  One year I received a lovely card for your birthday in DecemberIt showed a family in a wreath festooned living room.

When I was a kid, there were no birthday parties for me.  Oh sure, my older sister Ruth always had a party.  Her birthday is in August. 

I can still picture Ruthie's friends in their little party dresses, white ankle socks, and patent leather shoes.  If I listen hard enough, I can hear their chirpy giggles as they chase each other across the grass in a game of touch tag.  They all had freckles, or maybe it was only my sister.  They drank lemonade from very tall, very skinny, glasses.  A picture perfect birthday party.  That’s the memory that sticks in my mind.  There are more memories but that is a whole other story.

My husband is not an organizer of parties.  Truth be known, he would prefer to not even attend parties.  So, no help from that front.  I don’t expect my son to organize anything.  Afterall, would he even know whom to invite?  A family dinner would be nice though.  But, don’t forget my birthday is close to Christmas.  People are just too busy getting ready for...well, Christmas.

Last year I decided at the last minute to invite some girlfriends to the house for a few glasses of wine and let’s-see–what-I–have-in-the-fridge appetizers.  It was great.

This year I am not so sure.  I planned to travel a few miles north and do some snowshoeing.  I haven’t been on snowshoes in almost−wait, let me think−oh no, has it been that long?

I could email my friends and tell them where I will be and they can join me if they like.  What if no one shows up?  I will be all alone in my struggle with alien snowshoes.  Margaret will be there.  I know she will come.  Margaret is big on birthdays, just like me.

Or, maybe I should choose a restaurant and let everyone know I will be there for lunch.  They could take time out from their shopping and meet me.  How sad I will look sitting at a table for fourteen – by myself.  No, that will not happen.  Kathy and Becky will be there.  I am sure they will.  So would Dawna, if she lived near me.  But it is too unpredictable travelling this close to... well, Christmas.

Perhaps, I should book a spa weekend for one.  I could mull over my past year while I am being massaged and oiled...  How about a weekend away with my husband?  No, he would only say, what?  this close to Christmas?

Hmmm...I could go to On The Front and order a drink – dry vodka martini, straight up with a twist, please– and enjoy the magnificent view of the city with all the sparkling... well...Christmas lights. 

A notebook and pen would be tucked into my evening bag just in case an idea for a story surfaced.  I could write while everyone around me watched and wondered why I was sitting all by myself in an upscale restaurant, sipping a martini and writing furiously in a dog-eared journal.  How sad, they would think, she is all alone and it is so close to Christmas.

Ah, don’t worry about me.  I will celebrate this birthday in appropriate fashion. Stay tuned to hear all about itAnd, oh, would you be free for lunch?

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Write Connection

Peggy, the local librarian phoned me at home.  No, I didn’t have overdue books.  She had something exciting to tell me.  Unbelievably, Cathy Marie Buchanan had dropped into the Bright’s Grove library.  She was at The Book Keeper in Sarnia for a two-day book signing for her successful first novel, The Day The Falls Stood Still, and was touring the area. 

Peggy had just finished reading my manuscript and mentioned me to the Toronto author.  I can’t imagine what possessed her to do that.  When she told me that the writer left her phone number for me to call her, I was flabbergasted. 

Mildly hyperventilating, I dialled the number hoping I would not be tongue-tied when she answered.  I need not have worried.  In no time, we were chatting without reservation.  Cathy understood the frustration of marketing a novel.

Heeding her advice, I made enquiries to libraries and bookstores in search of a writing group.  The person who took my call at The Book Keeper provided me with the phone number of a local prolific writer.  Peggy Fletcher was a name I recognized.  

During our phone conversation, she introduced the group WIT (Writers in Transition).  She asked if I knew Bob McCarthy, a local historian, who had authored several books.  She included published authors Norma West Linder and Hope Morritt as regular members and my throat began to close up.  Although eager, I was nervous at the thought of joining this talented troupe.

Peggy explained the mandate of the group, stressing that it was a casual gathering of writers, and described the regular members as ranging in age from the very young to the very youthful elderly.  Songwriters, poets, and novelists.  She encouraged me to attend. 

At my first weekly WIT meeting in February 2010, the group’s sincere welcome convinced me that I was moving in the right direction.  I had found a passionate community of writers offering support, advice, and camaraderie.  They understood my enthusiasm for all things unreal. 

Bridling my nervousness, I read the opening chapter of my novel.  I could have wept with gratitude.  Finally, I had someone to talk to about my writing.  I looked from one person to the other around the table as they gave their opinion on my work. 

The discussion was lively as they acknowledged my strengths and sensitively called attention to weak areas.  Dialogue! you need more dialogue, they all agreed.  Constructive criticism and genuine interest in my story gave me hope.  I knew from that moment that I would attend every meeting.

When the Eden Mills Writer’s Festival invited one of our members, Debbie Okun Hill, to read her poetry at their event in September, she encouraged me to join her.  Browsing the book tables, mingling with other writers, and listening to their spirited readings was an exhilarating experience.  I admire all writers who have persevered to see their work in print.   

Knowing that my goal is to find a publisher for my novel, my WIT colleagues suggested I introduce short stories to the market as a means of getting recognition.  No, I don’t write short stories, I told them.  My stories span generations.  How could I do that in two or three thousand words?  Short stories, they insisted−you must.  And, so I did. 

I love writing.  Marketing the stories is a challenge.  It takes me longer to market a story than to write one.  I could build an entire village and give birth to twenty-five babies, open an orphanage, and three new churches, in the time it takes me to market one short story. 

Peggy Fletcher noted that no one other than writers care about any of these tribulations, nor do they enjoy listening to ideas for new story lines or plots.  She’s right.  Cathy Marie Buchanan knew the importance of a writer’s group.  She knew I would need their support and encouragement, not to mention their writing expertise, to further my quest.    

Following my pursuit involved stepping outside my comfort zone−this blog being an example.  However, I plan on enjoying this site and I am hoping you will as well.  Watch for a new blog each Monday.

I’d love to hear from you.  If you are unable to post a comment choosing name/Url from comment profile please forward your comments to my email address listed under comments on the right side of this site.  

If you need a laugh, join me next week as I mull over an appropriate way to celebrate a milestone birthday ...The Write Celebration.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Write Addiction

All my life I have been the oddball.  Not quite fitting.  Different from the rest−the rest of the family, the rest of the class, the rest of the co-workers.
I was the one staring off into space−lost in thought. 
It was not that I wasn’t focused.  I was too focused.  Not on what was happening around me, but what was going on in my mind....a whole other world.
I am not sure at what age I started recording some of my daydreams.  I suppose the first stories found their way to paper when I was a child living in Sarnia, Ontario and later as a teen, in Cambridge.  Even after entering the workforce, I continued jotting down character descriptions and conflicts.  Detailed note-taking became an obsessive habit. 
When I returned to Sarnia as a mature mother with a young son, I was still dabbling in a make-believe world.  Faces and personalities emerged.  Happenings grandiose and minute; happenings born of an overactive imagination.
As far back as my memory takes me I studied people. Of course, I did not consider it studying but merely a fascination for behaviour and reaction, emotion and energy.  Everyone was different.  If I could interchange all their characteristics and idiosyncrasies, what kind of person could I create?  I could develop a perfect personality but then their lifelike qualities would soon make them imperfect.
Yes, my fascination for people grew . 
My daydreams and imaginings− those minute scribbles on scraps of paper− became involved stories written longhand on yellow lined pads; the kind sold ten to a package to offices−are they still?−long before computers became the norm.  Those yellow sheets were then rolled and secured with elastic bands, and hidden in my cardboard memory box.
My writings and story tales were my secret.  Not even my best friend knew.  No one knew.  I must have appeared constantly distracted. 
There was never time to consider writing on a regular basis.  I wrote to ease the anxiety of not writing.  There, I would say, I have scrawled fifty pages.  Of course, it was only temporary relief.  My addiction to storytelling was never truly cured.
When I joined the ranks of retirees, I whispered my desire to write.  Write what, he asked.  A book.  That is what I had always wanted.  To create living, breathing characters that made their own way through hardships and heartaches: characters that made choices−some good, some bad− but each having its own consequence.  So write, he said.  Go write a book. 
I questioned why I needed validation.  Did I enjoy writing so much that I felt guilt over time frivolously spent?  Whatever the reason, I had finally revealed my passion.  Go write a book he said.
I wrote.  Words appeared on my monitor faster than I could read them.  Characters took on life: so much so that they took over my story and created their own.  They ignored my development of the plot, seeming to have something different in mind.   
I laughed over their shenanigans and wept when they grieved.  They became important people in my life.  My laptop friends.  I was immensely satisfied when the last line appeared in black and white.  However, I found it was impossible  to type The End.  I hated for it to be over.
A friend visiting from Penetanguishene saw the sheaves of printed paper.  What’s this, she asked.  I shyly admitted that it was a story I had thought up.  Just something to occupy my time, I said.  Something silly and of no consequence. 
She read.  I served her snacks and drinks, and she read.  She read all weekend.  Dawna’s astonishment and encouraging words opened a floodgate.  You have to do something with this, she insisted. 
Could I?  My heartbeat quickened over the next few days of research.  I discovered that if my story was to be the size of a decent novel it needed to be longer.  I read the manuscript looking for openings.  I found them.  I introduced several characters, new situations, more conflicts.  I fleshed out the story and lived with my remarkable new friends a while longer.
And so, I wondered, what is the next step...