Josephine's Dream Reading

Josephine's Dream Reading
Trying to look like Josephine Baker - and failing miserably!

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls
Conquering the Beast

Friday, December 17, 2010

Don't Forget Your Notebook

Before I go any further I must report that 300 people saw 'Hanukkah in Chelm,' not a mere 265! Pretty exciting.
And now, Young Writers, back to the notebook. Out of the blue I had a few ideas for my dog story - ideas that would change its direction a bit. So I grabbed one of my notebooks and began scribbling in it. Yes, it's true that much of what goes into my notebooks never amounts to much, but no writing is a waste of time, even writing you might not look at again. It's all practice. Now I make sure that I carry my notebook around with me almost every day because I'm regularly adding new ideas. It might seem primitive to you techno savvy kids but there is something to be said for the spiral bound notebook and pen.
Please don't forget to read over the winter break. I was looking at a book of snowflakes yesterday - as seen through a microscopic lens - and it reminded me again of when I used to sit on the window sill of my childhood home examining the frost on the window (inside and out). I couldn't see the snowflakes microscopically but the frost made those wonderful lacy patterns on the glass. Seeing the photos in that book gave me the same feeling I had then, as if my body had travelled back in time.
So read as much as you can and write a lot too. Write about your impressions over the holidays. The tastes and smells and colours and the feeling in the air. I've said this before, haven't I? Well I'm saying it again.
Have fun. Create. Joan

Monday, November 29, 2010

Hannukah Came to Chelm!

My musical, 'Hanukkah in Chelm,' finally premiered at the Peretz Centre in Vancouver on Sunday. There were roughly 265 people in the audience - and they were not all my friends! They laughed, they applauded - and I'd have been surprised if they hadn't, because the cast was amazing. A truly talented group. The dancing was Broadway calibre - thanks to both the choreographers and the dancers - there was some pretty perfect comic timing, and I'm sure the audience won't forget the songs in a hurry. The kids, of course, stole the show. They were very good at rehearsals, but on The Big Day they shone, they sparkled, they lit up the stage. The directors (one of whom is my brilliant husband) did a perfect job and the stage manager was the best I've worked with, and I've worked with a lot of stage managers. And this one is only 19 - well, she'll be 20 in about three weeks, but still ...
I hope we can do it again next year - perhaps with some new songs added.
And now it's all over for this year I have no excuses to avoid all the unfinished manuscripts lying around my office - not to mention the boxes of stories in my garage!
What? You mean a garage is for cars? Don't be silly.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Butterflies (or some other unidentifiable fluttery object) in my tum. 'Hanukkah in Chelm' is almost here.

The set looks amazing, thanks to my husband and his contacts. HANUKKAH IN CHELM is almost ready! I'm singing my song in my sleep - and so is Tom! And he doesn't even sing. One of the actors, Joyce, says she sings everyone else's songs, including mine, and I too find that I'm singing her song as I walk down the street. Once you start rehearsing songs it's difficult to leave them during your daily life. Only about three more rehearsals and it's a SHOW! There's also a gala event at the producer's house and I still don't know how we'll all cram into her basement rehearsal room to do an abbreviated version of the show. I've been trying to write another song for next year, but having no luck. If I relax it will come to me.
Relax ... relax ....

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Show MUST go on!

There's still no business like show business. However, there's also good news and bad news - isn't that usually the case? Bad news: Hanukkah in Chelm won't be staged at Waterfront Theatre this year after all. We hope to mount it there next year. Good news: Hanukkah in Chelm WILL be performed at The Peretz Centre on November 28th at 2pm. Tomorrow MY song gets tweaked and then choreographed. Oh yes, I don't just stand there and belt it out like Ethel Merman and hope the drinking glasses don't break. I do that, of course, but so much more. The kids are all great, we adults are catching up, and the set is almost ready. I needed a stick broom for one of the actors, and of course Halloween was the perfect time to find one. I also found some character shoes that actually fit without pinching my toes. I needed them for the part where I pretend to tap dance.
See you there? I hope so.
Writers - I hope you are hard at work scribbling dialogue exercises. Find a friend to read them out loud with.

Monday, October 11, 2010

'Hanukkah in Chelm' Update

My goodness, I can hardly believe it. Rehearsals are coming together for my musical and it's such a thrill to see talented actors, dancers, musicians and singers working so hard on something that I wrote!!! Some of the performers have come up with amazingly inventive suggestions throughout, including a few new lines.
When you read a book the words make pictures in your mind so each page comes to life. In a stage production the same thing happens except, of course, it comes alive in the theatre. If you happen to be in Vancouver on November 21st please wend your way to Granville Island's Waterfront Theatre. The curtain goes up at 2pm. And if you can't make that show then how about on November 28th, same time but at the Peretz Centre on Ash St. across from the Oakridge parking lot. I'm the one onstage carrying a suitcase.
My son is taking a creative writing course and his class has been asked to listen in to conversations on the bus, in the street, etc. and then to create a story based on the snippet of dialogue you heard. I thought that was so creative that I'm passing it on to you to try.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Funny? Me?

My friend Shar Levine - world famous, award winning writer - said something very funny and flattering about me in the Vancouver Sun today. The newspaper gave me the wrong first name, but that wasn't Shar's fault. I'm not sure if you can click on this link, but if not, and if you are careful, you can type it all out!!!!!

'Bok, Bok' - I'm Ready for my Closeup Mr. DeMille

My publisher recently asked for a publicity photo of me. Now, I'm not one of those people who keep on using the same old photo. The last thing I want is for someone to say, "Oh, you look so much older than in the photo." Nor do I tell the photographer to rub petroleum jelly on the lens to make me look young and ethereal - although I think that sort of trickery only makes the sitter look as if s/he's underwater. Again, I don't want readers to look at me and say, "How come you don't have bad skin in the publicity photo?!" or "Why is there a photo of a drowning woman on the back cover of your book?"
So I asked my husband to take out his camera, whilst I chose a rather becoming navy blue, short sleeved, blouse/tee shirt, grabbed my newly acquired hen puppet (it relates to the book) and posed becomingly. But I'd forgotten something. My sense of balance (related, I'm sure, to my klutz gene, about which more soon). Having yet again bumped into one of the door frames of my house, there was a bruise on my upper right arm. (Can't recall if I've mentioned this already, but when young I used to ride a bike. After ending up in a ditch one too many times I chucked the bike).
So there are two things I can always be relied upon to do. One is rush around the house and not quite centre myself in the doorways (hence endless bruising) and the other thing is that whenever I cook something in my oven I will almost always hit my arm against the hot metal rack inside. Yes, dear friends, I do use oven mitts, which for normal people probably work like a charm. I need oven mitts that work like evening gloves and reach to my shoulder. Anyway, I didn't burn my forearm until a few weeks after the photo session. Every cloud has a silver lining.
Of course my husband was not happy. "People will think I gave you a whack on the arm," he said. "Not people who know you," I replied.
"And how many of your readers actually know me?" he asked. Ahh ... good point. So let me assure you all that my husband is a gentle soul.
The photos all look lovely except for the bruise. My publisher assures me they can air brush.
Next time I'm due to be photographed I'll try to spend a week or two prior to the session walking very slowly around my house, and/or wear long sleeves for the camera.
You'll be relieved to know that the hen looks her very best and needs no airbrushing.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Nudge, Nudge.

Completing a project is always very satisfying, isn't it? Even though you sometimes have to nudge yourself along. I just completed what is probably the tenth edit of the long version of one of my stories. Oh yes, there's a short version and a long version. I've never done that before. Crazy as it may seem I'm actually sending both versions to a publisher. They might not like either version, of course, but that's just one of the prices a writer pays for all the hard slog. I've decided that all will not be lost. I'm going to leave my unpublished writings to a university library special collections department, so one day a dedicated (or desperate) PhD student can plow through every scrap of paper and perhaps write a thesis on me.
Obviously MY final edit is not THE final edit. But a final something is better than an unfinished something, and I should know, because there's way too much unfinished stuff around here.
Yes, it's all slow going, but never give up, my friends. Remember the musical I wrote? The one that's in rehearsal right now? A brilliant musician recently set to music the lyrics of one of my songs. He did an amazing job. I hope I can do it justice. Yes, I'm the one singing it! The pressure is on, but sometimes that's a good thing. It makes a person feel alive. Of course if it happens all the time - pressure I mean - then it can be stressful. But the odd bit of pressure is like a nudge to get on with it. If no one is around to say to you, 'Come on, you can do it,' then look in the mirror and say it to yourself.
Remember what I told you about talking to yourself? You're not crazy, you're a writer.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

I'm Back in Vancouver.

When last heard of I was full of trepidation - and a sinus infection. Yes, I chewed gum at take off and on landing, and swallowed two Tylenols a couple of hours before we hit the tarmac. Well, we didn't hit it, thank goodness. We landed smoothly. My ears are still not 100%, but you don't want to read about my health, nor do you want to read a travelogue. This is about turning life into art. Or art into art. I saw a lot of art in London, in the North of England, and in Malta. And I had adventures. Most adventures are daring escapades, or things that go wrong, and are not especially funny while they're happening, but are hilarious when you tell about them later, adding a bit more colour with each telling.
Every day I wrote in my little notebook - the one my friend Joyce gave me. The top half of every page is blank and the bottom half is lined, and even though I am about as far from being an artist as it is possibe to get, I 'sketched' and wrote little bits of information, captions and remarks (coming out of the mouths of my stick people). This helped me remember a lot of the events, impressions and adventures without my spending hours handwriting. Yes, yes, I know. I really should get a laptop or small electronic notebook or something. I'm very out of touch with technology, but I do realize that a)my handwriting is awful and b)because I tire quickly when writing by hand, I don't do my best work that way. ("Please sir, can I be excused from in class-essays? I tire so easily." "No, you can't. However, these are modern times and you may use a laptop.") No laptops in the 1950s, alas. Consider yourselves lucky to be going to school in 2010. If you are going to school, that is.
So for those of you who enjoy doing funny sketches and cartoons with captions, I hope you took my advice and carried a notebook along on your recent travels.
I promised you this would not be a travelogue, so I'll keep it brief.
Malta is a very colourful country, full of history, interesting streets and beautiful doors and door knockers. Also, lots of underground tunnels and hillside caves where you can escape from the 34 degrees Celsius heat.
London has layers of history but still seems new and vibrant.
The North of England has lovely gardens and rugged coastline.
And when I come back home I see Vancouver with fresh eyes.
I hope you have similar experiences. Store them up. One day they'll come in handy.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

London Here I Come

I'm trying to look on the bright side. Surely I shall wake up on Saturday morning fit and well and ready to take on the world - or at least parts of it. It's been over two weeks now and my sinus infection has not totally disappeared. My ears feel as if they have been stuffed with cotton wool, and when I lie down at night there are sounds inside my left ear that make me think there's a bug inside doing a soft shoe shuffle. I've been told that if I want to avoid a burst ear drum as my plane leaves the tarmac (I do, I do) I should chew like crazy (lucky for me I've become addicted to Glee gum), drink water or suck cough candies. Just to be on the safe side, I think I'll do all three at once.
So, if all goes well, or as near to well as possible, on Sunday I shall be schlepping my one suitcase to a hotel in Bloomsbury (that's right, home of Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Set, the literati etc.)ready for a week of CULTURE. I'm taking my pen and a little notebook on the plane (the old fashioned kind of notebook that you write in) and my musical script (to learn, even though I wrote it) and a novel (to amuse and entertain me when I get sick of looking at cloud formations). I've also got a rather interesting little travel reading lamp which I'm hoping doesn't get confiscated at the airport and blown up by the security guards. It does look a little James Bond-ish.
Are any of you going somewhere different? Don't forget to take a notebook. If you can sketch why not do that instead of only relying on a camera? I'm a terrible artist but I still give it a try, just to get up close and personal and notice details.
Things to think about. What's different or the same about the new place? Does it smell or sound a bit different from your home town? Do people speak a different language or have a different way of speaking English. Do they use their hands more when they speak? And don't forget to mention any little adventures you might have while in the new location.
Bon voyage and remember, 'It's ALL material.'

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

There's No Business Like Show Business, etc.

We had the first read through for the musical that I wrote. What a lovely feeling. We all sat around and read the script, and of course it became clear to me that I needed to make yet more changes - but still, it sounded so good! I have a great cast and two amazing directors (my talented husband, bless him, and a professional actor, dancer, director who has a way of getting her actors to do all kinds of inventive things). You can't imagine how gratifying it is to have my words come to life and then have people make the characters their own! It's as if I've passed the ball to someone and they've run with it. For those of you who are dabbling with playwriting I have to say that even though you create characters, the actors and directors flesh them out in ways you might not have thought possible. I'm surprised at the way I'm willing to let that happen, but it might be because I didn't flesh out the characters as much as I might have when I wrote the show. In this particular show I wanted the actors to help more than usual with the creative process. If I write another play it might not work quite that way, but this is a little like workshopping, even though I've written the entire show already. Oh yes, and yesterday I even wrote another song. Well, not the music, but some rather witty lyrics which I hope will be set to music very soon. And in my key. Because the song is for me. There's a dance rehearsal this weekend and I plan to go, though I'll stay on the back row, because I don't want to distract the real dancers. I'm not very good at following other people's choreography. I'm sure it's because choreography is probably learned on the math side of the brain, and that's the side I don't have.
Anyway, if any of you are toying with the idea of writing for the stage, simply do what I did and take one of your unpublished stories and work it into a one act play. It's worth a try. Oh yes, and write a few songs to go with it. Or find a friend who can and will.
In other news, I've seen some more sketches for my upcoming picture book. They're terrific. I love what the artist is doing. That's a great feeling. Sometimes publishers match up writers and illustrators who seem to be on the same wavelength, and thank goodness it happened with this book. To celebrate I went to Vancouver Kidsbooks and bought an expensive, plush and cuddly puppet to use when I read the book to children. You'll have to wait until next year to see a photo of me with the book and the puppet, but I can assure you it will be well worth the wait.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Not Another Falcon! And Yet ...

I think I have created a monster. No, not my son - my friend Pam. I love both monsters (son and friend) so it's not as bad as it sounds. I'm not Mary Shelley or Rabbi Loew of Prague, and if you don't know the references you'll just have to look them up! In case I haven't told you, I'm off to Malta, all being well, in July. If I've told you all this (and as usual I'm not going to scroll down and double check, because it's midnight and I'm tired)then you can press the little x in the corner. If not, prepare to be astonished and amazed.
I invited myself to my friend's home in Malta and said, very casually, 'Who knows, I might be inspired to write a story set there.' After all there's a ton of history just begging to be fictionalized. So Pam rolled up her sleeves and set to work as my unofficial research assistant. Now don't forget I'm not only in the middle of working on my Musical, I also have a back-burner on which there are the following short novels on simmer: The dog story, the smuggler story, the highwayman story, the Canadian history story, Harold the Hero, a murder mystery (written under a pen name so none of my friends will read it and recognize themselves)and the medieval French doctor story. Also a few picture book stories. I'm 63. You do the math. Time is not my friend.
I sent the dinosaur story away this week AGAIN. Nothing ventured nothing gained, as my mother would say. Harold the Hero has now grown to 6,000+ words. He'll be going somewhere soon, and I hope he doesn't come back until he's printed and bound and there's a cheque in the mail. One can dream.
I don't want to disappoint Pam. She's sent me enough book titles and information website links to choke a horse. I feel I cannot live up to her high expectations. But I must try. I owe her that much. And once I'm actually in Malta, slathered in sunblock, rushing from museum to church to synagogue to art gallery (with breaks for lunch and cups of strong tea) to mosque to historical site and back again, I'm sure I'll experience an epiphany. And with luck maybe Pam will have created a monster - ME!

Monday, May 10, 2010

With a Bit of Power Comes a Lot of Responsibility

A couple of weeks ago we held auditions for my Musical-Fit-For-The-Whole-Family. My husband is experienced in this process because he's directed many times before. I'm not a director and I doubt I ever will be. The only audition experience I have is as an actor, so I'm aware of the stress and panic involved in trying to convince a director that you can do ANYTHING! So, the director (said husband) the producer, the dance director and I sat behind a table, just like Michael Douglas in Chorus Line, while performers read, sang and danced for us. I'm not accustomed to having so much power, Spiderman. What do I do?
I'm a bit of a disorganized person, so I was handing out script pages to people willy-nilly and getting them to read just anything. After a while my poor husband had to take over. Despite my chaotic handling of the situation one thing was clear - all the performers had talent! What do you do in a situation like that? There was no choice, I'm afraid. I'm creating more roles and writing more dialogue. This is, after all, community theatre, not Hollywood, Bollywood or Broadway. Not yet, anyway. Another happy outcome is that a professional composer is re-writing my songs - with my blessing.
Heady days, but my size five and half feet are planted firmly on the ground. Keep on writing out there. You never know!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Roller Coaster of the Creative - and everyday - Life

The creative life is a roller coaster. Well, I suppose all of life is a roller coaster, unless you're living in a cave high up a mountain. Then it would be just cold.
And talking of cold, I've had a nasty cough lately and am spending more time than usual at home, wrapped in a lovely wool shawl. I bought the shawl in December 1974 from a street vendor in Mexico City. That probably seems like many years ago to you young folk, but to me it seems like the day before yesterday. Whenever I wear this shawl I wonder if the woman who sold it to me eventually made enough money to stop selling things on the street. Was she able to send her children to school? Did they go on to university? I hope so. The shawl cost me $20 then. In fact I bought two shawls, one for me and one for a friend. Nowadays, in Vancouver, shawls like this would probably cost about $250 apiece. The shawl was made with great skill and the woman who made it deserved to be paid more money than she was asking, and more than I could afford.
So I wear this shawl as I sit at the computer in my office, or when I read my murder mystery in the window seat. I did mention, did I not, that I call my new house Drafty Corners Cottage? You see, I can clearly recall what I was doing in Mexico City in 1974, but I can't remember most of my past blogs. I'm not saying everyone has this problem when they get older, but obviously I do! So, because it's been windy lately, I wear the shawl mainly to stay warm.
Maybe I also wear this shawl to remind myself of the vagaries of the creative life. Whether you weave shawls for so many hours a day that your fingers are callused, and tourists examine your wares without a clue as to how much trouble went into the making of them, or whether you weave stories in a lovable but drafty house, so that publishers can examine your wares without a clue as to how much blood, sweat and tears went into the writing, there is still the compulsion to create - regardless of the financial rewards or lack of. Though, of course, financial rewards are more than welcome. They pay the mortgage and buy the groceries. Weavers have to weave and writers have to write, just as singers have to sing and doctors have to heal. Sometimes there is financial gain, often there is none.
So back to the roller coaster. Up it goes: My musical appears to be a 'go,' though I'm girding my loins for pages of re-writing, and a lot of hard work. There's no money in this, just the thrill of perhaps seeing something I wrote performed by talented people who love to perform. Auditions are in May.
Down it goes: My beloved story 'Harold the Hero' is still much loved by publishers - but not enough for them to publish it (or 'him'). I'm expanding the story, against the odds of 'him' ever being accepted, because I love Harold and the story in which I've placed him. He's wickedly funny and there's just not enough funny these days. Publishers don't always accept that children - some children - are like some adults. They have a sharp, sometimes gritty, sense of humour.
Up goes the roller coaster again: I've been mentoring a rather brilliant and creative grade ten student. Her project is to write and illustrate a picture book. At first she had a rather good idea for a story, but after a while it seemed as if it would be better as a chapter book or early reader. What to do? Cut it down, make lots of changes? I didn't want to discourage her, because I know only too well that life is full of discouragement. Then, all by herself, she came up with another idea. An idea so simple and yet so perfect. The kind of simple idea that we all too frequently dismiss, because we don't always recognize genius, even in ourselves. But it has all the makings of a wonderful book. And she's lucky to be a talented artist, so she can illustrate it. Whilst the first story was becoming very wordy and a bit forced, this one will - we hope - be a perfect blend of spare text and funny illustrations. I have no doubt she'll eventually get it to a stage where she can send it to a publisher. After she'd come up with the new idea, all it took to get things on track was a bit of brainstorming. (My husband thinks that she should be mentoring me!)
So I'll end with an upturn of the roller coaster, and after some hot tea I'll get back to 'Harold the Hero,' because his story must be told, and who knows, one day you might be reading it. May all our roller coasters swoop upwards.*
*And may the wind stop rattling the windows of Drafty Corners Cottage.
p.s If Cindy Heinrichs (gifted editor, writer, teacher and friend) is reading this, tooth comb to hand, I checked the dictionary, and it can be spelled 'callus' or 'callous.'

Thursday, March 18, 2010


I find that creativity begats creativity. For those of you too young to have read anything containing the word 'begat,' it means 'procreate' or 'bring into being.' (Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language, Second College Edition). This past couple of weeks I attended five performances at the Chutzpah Festival of Performing Arts at the Vancouver JCC. Plays, music and dance performances. I was actually a volunteer usher for three of the shows. You might think about doing that as a way to experience the arts without breaking your own personal bank. As I watched a brilliant dance performance last night (Aszure Barton's dance company from New York) all kinds of story ideas popped into my head. That's what I mean about begatting. Inspiration just washed over me. Or, if you prefer a fire image to a water image, it's a bit like the Olympic torch that kindles one flame that kindles another and on and on. Or even like good deeds (mitzvot in Hebrew). Pass the baton of goodness (fire, creativity) please. So if you need a little inspiration treat yourself to a play or a music or dance recital - even a movie. You never know, it might stir up your own creative juices. Then - in turn - you'll inspire someone.
p.s. The 'Ch' in Chutzpah is pronounced like the 'ch' in Loch Ness.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Fred and Pete at the Beach

I can't remember if I've said this before, and I'm too lazy to look, but you should all read the above mentioned picture book by Cynthia Nugent. And I'm not just saying that because she's my friend, or because she was just over at my house for tea, cookies, cheese, crackers and hamantaschen. No - I'm saying it because it's a lovely book, and perfect for the child in your life, especially if the child likes dogs, bright colours, happy endings and has a sense of humour. So if you happen to be anywhere near Hager Books or Vancouver Kidsbooks, buy a copy or order it if they're all sold out. Of course, you might not live in Vancouver, but I'm sure that wherever you do live there's a bookstore somewhere. If not, you really should consider moving to another town!
For those of you who want to write and illustrate a book - Cynthia did both with Fred and Pete at the Beach. So look, learn and enjoy. Cheers!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Too Much Writing, and Not Enough Editing, Can Numb the Bum

I'm reading a murder mystery by a very good writer, but this particular book is driving me batty. 'Why batty?' you ask. I'll tell you. First of all the editor was asleep on the job. (Not like my second to last editor. She sends me emails when I make typos on this blog. "Thank you Cindy!") When a sentence tells me that a character sat down, or opened a door 'a crack,' I'm thrown completely out of mental alignment when a paragraph or two later the character sits down AGAIN (without having had a chance to stand up first), or opens the door 'a crack' AGAIN. But that's not all. There's a bit too much repetition in this book. It's like watching a reality show where people just live day to day doing ordinary things and not much happens for far too long. We have two murders to solve here! I should be on the edge of my seat but I'm simply thinking, 'get on with it, for heaven's sake!' Now I'm getting worried that there won't be a surprise or shock at the end. That it will fall flat. I read for about three hours solid last night (I told you I'm a slow reader, didn't I?) and actually began to notice, for the first time, that the window seat is harder than I thought, and my bottom was getting a bit numb.
Let's make a note, fellow writers. Never give our readers a numb bum. Or at the very least, they shouldn't notice the numbness.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

I did it!

Self discipline won the day. This evening I worked on the dog story - the one I started writing ten years ago. I've got a few disconnected chapters and they are finally connecting. Some were written in third person, some from the point of view of one character and some from the point of view of another character. I wanted to see which would sound best. My witty husband asked me, "Are any chapters from the dog's point of view?" No, though it is a thought. But I have finally decided from whose point of view it will all be written. The sailing should be smoother from now on.
I still haven't abandoned the notion of writing a story from three or four points of view. Just not this one.
What do you think of a book that's composed of three diaries? All three reflecting different ways of seeing the same situation. It could be interesting.
And so to bed.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The 'D' Word

That awful word keeps popping into my head. 'Which word?' you ask. Discipline, of course. Without it nothing gets done. And when it comes to writing fiction, or even non-fiction, the poet was wrong - Man/Woman IS an island. I mean, no one else is going to do it for you.
Do you remember when someone taught you to ride a bike, and they held on to the back and then let go, but you didn't know they'd let go, until you started talking to them and they didn't answer? Because they were at the other end of the street. And you turned around to see what was going on, and there was the person who'd been keeping you safe - waving from MILES away? So now you were on your own, keeping yourself safe (or not). How terrifying is that? Well, in a way, Discipline, ie; self discipline, is like trying to stay upright on a bike while it's speeding down the hill, and no one's holding on to the seat. It's terrifying.
At school your teachers tell you that you have to finish your work at a certain time or on a specific date, or you don't get a mark - well, maybe an 'F.' Not the kind of mark you want. Your parents tell you that you have to do something and if you don't do this thing there'll be no ice cream, or trip to the zoo, but if you do this very important thing, great riches will be yours. Do your homework and you'll get a better mark than if you didn't. Practice accordian three hours a day and you can play sea shanties to entertain the neighbours for hours, or until they beg you to stop. Somehow, between teachers and parents, you are kept on track, working towards worthy goals. Someone is teaching you self Discipline in preparation for the day when it's just YOU. Then, one day you go off to college and there's no Mom or Dad to remind you to spend two hours on your essay, or to explain to the prof. that the goldfish ate your homework, or that Grandma lined the canary's cage with it, by mistake. The prof. doesn't care. S/he just wants to see results. No one is holding the seat as you peddle down the highway of life. No one is reminding you. No one is saving you. Well, so it is with writing. You are on your own - which is really the way it should be.
So, now back to ME. At this moment my head is full of all the possible twists and turns in the plots I'm working on. Or, actually not working on, because I'm in 'low self discipline' mode, as in, not actually writing anything down, or using my computer to its full potential (finishing a story, working on one of the short novels, etc.) This is the problem we all face. On the positive side my trouble isn't Writer's Block. As usual, it's just the opposite. My head is so full of stories, plots changes of direction that I can't quite focus on one. 'This too,' you are probably saying, 'will pass.' I know it will. I just needed to imagine I heard someone say it.** However, when the chips are down it's up to me. Right now I need to go to bed, but tomorrow night, after I get home from work, the gym and grocery shopping, I'm going sit right here at the computer and write what's in my head, for at least two hours. Because if it stays in my head, well what's the point?
Discipline, Joan. Discipline!
And that goes for the rest of you out there.
p.s. **Let's imagine we hear our parents or teachers of yesteryear, telling us to, 'switch off that t.v. and get working!'

Friday, January 15, 2010

Discovering The Railway Children

When I was very young I loved the Famous Five series by Enid Blyton. Naturally, when my son was young I wanted to share the experience with him. I began reading one of the books to him at bedtime, but to my amazement we both found the story a bit plodding. How come I hadn't found the prose plodding when I was nine? I thought, 'Okay, maybe it's because they were written in the 1950s, and I had a better attention span then.' But then later my son and I started reading the Just William series of books by Richmal Crompton, written in the 1920s, '30s and 40s. Not plodding at all! In fact my son and I found them hilarious and clever, despite some extremely difficult sentence structure. In fact the complexity of the prose is partly what makes the stories so funny, as if they'd been written by P.G. Wodehouse and Oscar Wilde.
Now that my son is 19, and won't let me read to him anymore - more's the pity - I've been reading The Railway Children, by Edith Nesbit, to myself. I'd never read it before because years ago I'd seen it on tv. I know it's a classic, and I should be ashamed of myself, but I'm already ashamed of myself for never being able to get past page three of War and Peace without falling into a deep and dreamless sleep. So there's no room for more literary shame. However, now that I'm so old that I can't remember much about the tv series of The Railway Children I've finally picked up the book. It was first published in 1906, and, surprise, surprise, it moves at a good clip. In fact the pacing is perfect. It's funny and poignant and almost modern in parts. Timeless, I believe one might say. I don't find myself muttering, 'Come on, get to the point.' I've been reading it on the bus, the train, and in the waiting room at the doctor's office. You know you're reading a good book when you're on the bus and almost miss your stop.
Now I'm not denying that Enid Blyton wrote good stories. Obviously her Famous Five books once inspired in me a love of reading. Also, Noddy in Toyland was the first book ever read to me, and I loved Noddy so much I collected the entire series. What I'm saying is that the best books stand the test of time, so it really doesn't matter when they were written.
To be honest, I'm glad I'm discovering - late in life - some of the books I didn't read years ago. It's like travelling in a new and interesting country.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Raining Cats and Dogs

Well, of course, this is Vancouver, so naturally it's raining. But the cats and dogs are actually characters in a story I've had on the back burner for a few years. I might have mentioned it before, I'm too lazy to check my previous blogs. If this looks like a repeat, you can sign off. I won't be offended. The story mainly involves one dog and one cat (and a fish, if you must know). In fact, I've had their story on the back burner for so long, that the dog(s) and cat in question are, I regret to say, now deceased. There was no fish, at least not in recent history. I might have to get one for inspiration. About fifty years ago, or more, I had a goldfish named Billy. I kept him in a small bowl. The bowl was so full of 'toys' that poor Billy had no room to swim, poor chap. No wonder he always looked a bit glum. He was followed by Genevieve and Oscar. Also glum.
I'm sure you've all had a pet at one time, or your neighbours have. Did you notice their personalities? Odd habits maybe? Quirks even? My mother in law's two dogs gave me the inspiration for this particular story, but for my story I blended the two dogs into one dog. A couple of years, or months, will go by, and then, as happened this week, a burst of inspiration will send me to the computer and off I go again, back to the dog story that never ends.
So here's your writing exercise. Watch your dog, fish, cat or rabbit - or someone else's. Make notes. Put one of them front and centre in a story.
Quirky creatures to inspire you: My husband has relatives in Greece who kept chickens. The chickens actually flew up into a tree to sleep at night. My uncle had a dog that would begin to bark as soon as her master got off the bus - three blocks away. And there was a parrot in the Athens National Gardens that, many years ago, taught my son rude words!

Friday, January 1, 2010

It's 2010. Resolution: Read More/Write More

Happy 2010 everyone! May it be a year of good writing and inspiring reading for all. For those who didn't buy a copy of 'Sadie the Ballerina' when they had the chance, you can still find it in the special Scholastic Canada collection 'Merry Christmas: A Canadian Keepsake Collection.' Five stories in one big book. Rush out and buy it if you haven't already.
Today is New Year's Day and last night, instead of being a party girl, I re-worked a short story I'd written many years ago. I also did some work on my ongoing smuggling story. Then my husband called upstairs to inform me that the hockey game on tv was over, and it was safe for me to enter the tv room. We watched a couple of black and white, Thin Man movies. Love them.
Today I visited a friend who is now 95 and lives in an old age home. She's one of the most interesting people I know, and always has something to tell me that could one day be useful in a story. In fact, another friend phoned me this morning to wish me happy new year, and she also told me something about her family history that I've put in a little drawer in my head. It's all material. I can never stress that enough. Every conversation you have with someone contains a story starter - or finisher.
It's going to be a busy year. I've finished the final draft (well, maybe there'll still be tweaks) of the picture book that's due to be published in the Fall of 2011. The publishers have not found an illustrator yet. I'm also hard at work on the story I'm adapting for a short children's play. The pressure is on, but maybe that's what I need to motivate me.
Right at this moment I'm being creative in another way. I'm baking a turkey breast for Shabbat dinner, but I've smothered it in some kind of Indian sauce (I do this to fool guests into thinking I'm terribly inventive in the kitchen. I might have mentioned this before, but my son once said, "Mom, when I say we should have something different, I don't mean just change the herbs on the chicken"). I really have to put that in a story one day.
I'm reading two books (not at the same time). Just finishing 'Bootleg' by Alex Shearer - a very funny kids' book, with rather an important message, I think. And I've just started a murder mystery about the intrepid librarian Helma Zukas, who solves crimes in between helping library users. This one is called 'Catalogue of Death,' by Jo Dereske.
Read, write and be merry. Yours in creative blogdom - Joan