Category Archives: British Columbia Writers

Book Review – The Taste of Ashes by Sheila Peters

Taste of Ashes The Taste of Ashes by Sheila Peters reads more like non-fiction about actual living, breathing individuals and literally true events, than well-researched fiction that’s “merely” emotionally true. By praising it or raving about how much I enjoyed it, I feel I’m making light of real people’s very difficult, hard circumstances. Likewise, if I criticize any part, I feel I’m somehow slamming real people—and how dare I do that?

But I did enjoy it. Identified with it. Laughed out loud in places. The story’s written in a braided narrative, with three main point-of-view characters: Isabel Lee, one-time wild child, now recovering alcoholic and fodder for the small town rumour mill, Father Álvaro Ruiz, a priest seeking respite in Canada after enduring mind, body and spirit breaking torture in Guatemala, and Janna—Isabel and Álvaro’s daughter, born out of an intense affair the first time Álvaro was in Canada as a young Oblate priest—a child Álvaro knows nothing about. Once their voices were established and I knew who was who, I could hardly put the book down—though at times, out of stress, outrage and empathy, I wanted to throw it across the room.

Peters is incredibly skilled at showing the many-layered ways we hurt the people we love unintentionally (through ignorance and indifference—or just misunderstanding what they actually need from us)—and worse, the ways some people intentionally set out to damage and destroy others. She’s equally adept, however, at showing that healing also exists (if at a price), that love (in the furthest thing from a mushy, romantic sense of the word) endures, and grace—in sharp splinters of pain and light—can eventually pierce and change even the bleakest reality. She also shows and celebrates the power of beauty and nature.

Disturbing, challenging content adds depth to the pure pleasure of a well told, absorbing story and provokes thought. Like Isabel, I have lived in northern BC my whole life (I was born in Smithers and actually lived on Railway Avenue for most of my early childhood—the same street Isabel lives on), and any pain and personal hardship I’ve experienced has been on a small town scale. I don’t fear authorities. I have the luxury of “rights.” Torture at the hands of the government (shameful for me to admit) is the stuff of movie plots or awful newscast footage. I am moved and horrified by it, but in the detached way of one who is safe from such things. To explore the darkness and seeming randomness of that type of evil was very difficult and, I think, beneficial (though even that word—beneficial—reeks of privilege). I was shamed by my insulated safety, and by my lack of knowledge about South America, particularly Guatemala.

As all the best novels do, the ones that are read for generations because of the glimpse they provide into specific times and histories, The Taste of Ashes broadened my view of our world, and opened my eyes to aspects of human experience that shouldn’t be ignored.

I was driving to work in May, listening to the radio, and CBC happened to be interviewing a Forensic investigator about the trial of Guatemalan general Efrain Rios Montt (found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity, he was sentenced to 80 years in jail—a historic, and long overdue, achievement for the people of Guatemala), and I started to shake a bit. Not only did I recognize the name, I had personal reaction to the type of atrocities he was directly responsible for.

The Taste of Ashes can simply be read as an interesting story of a passionate, illicit love affair, its fallout and the subsequent lives of those involved, but for me it’s more—the type of tale that makes me consider the kind of person I am, the sort of life I am privileged to live—and what, if any, responsibilities come with that privilege.

Peters’ beautiful, strong writing and vivid, put-you-there descriptions made it easy to forgive the (very few) instances where I stumbled over a slightly awkward phrase or transition into a different point-of-view or time period that could have been smoother.

My only real “complaint” about the book is not about the story at all; it’s about its cover. While I know one can’t (or shouldn’t!) judge a book by the cover, I’m confused by its plain garb. I don’t see how the sedate, black and white photo of a babe in a blanket-sling on his faceless mother’s back fits specifically to the story or speaks to its themes. Nothing hints of the exposure (and exposé) the story provides of northern BC living. Nothing shows of the complexity of the cross-cultural, cross-generational relationships it delves into.

Don’t let the slightly boring cover put you off. The Taste of Ashes is well worth your investment of time and money. If you give it a go, let me know. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.


North Words Creative Writers Retreat

North Words Creative Writers 2013 Retreat is running August 10 – 11 in Terrace, BC this year. As ever, it promises to be an inspiring, motivating time, filled with craft discussion and writing exercises, and I was thrilled to be asked to be a guest presenter. Maybe I’ll see you there? I look forward to it!

p.s. If you have any questions about the event, I’ll either answer them for you or find someone who can. :)

NorthWords Adult Poster 2013


On Journaling

Photo by Puuikibeach

Photo by Puuikibeach

My daughter got me a snazzy new journal recently. Its designers cleverly titled it “My Dysfunctions,” and its funky yellow cover carries further explanation (less we be unable to figure out what it’s for!): “A journal for chronicling my immeasurably fascinating dysfunctions, neuroses, emotions, inner children, moments of shame and doubt, projection, self-loathing, misanthropy, and completely normal insanity, because the only difference between me and the rest of the population is that I acknowledge how crazy I am and they’re all in mind-numbing denial.” Hilarious and so apt!

While I’ve always wanted to create the kind of journals or diaries you can pass on to loved ones after you die (You know the kind I mean—leather bound beauties, filled with perfectly formed lines, a.k.a. legible ones, that share deep thoughts and entertaining tidbits that somehow manage to speak of the “human experience.”), one only has to flip one or two pages into my scrawls to realize my actual journals are the furthest thing from those daydream ones.

They’re completely random, messy, meandering things—half rant, half . . . boring.

Entries are inconsistent blurts of this and that. I do record small stories about my days, but more often I just vent—journaling to get things out of my system and process (deal with!) things that are going on around me-and/or in my head. And all that’s very valuable—just not something you want your family to stumble upon when you’re gone.

Or maybe it is.

I have a couple of my mom’s old notebooks. I was thrilled when my dad gifted them to me. But then I read them. And was . . . disappointed.

Only the beginning few pages in each were filled out. And there wasn’t a personal vignette to be found.

They were sermon notes. Now don’t get me wrong. I respect (and share) my mother’s faith. And I know the value of note taking—how it aids comprehension and retention. But there was nothing of her in the notes.

I poured over each page, hoping for a tiny visit—a whisper of her voice, her opinion, her humour, her angst, her . . . anything. I’d thought there might be snippets about my little toddler brother, tales about her and my dad, thoughts on parenting . . .

But these were not that type of journal.

What her journals aren’t, however, makes me think mine are okay. Maybe more than okay.

What if I’d read some never-before-guessed secret in my mom’s notebooks? I’d have been delighted, intrigued, curious, not incensed. What if I read her no holds barred inner response to a fight she and my dad—or she and I—had had? Would I be devastated? No. I’d grow from it, learn from it . . . And what if I read about unfulfilled dreams or came across scribblings about things she’d like to do in the future? The words might bring some pain, yes, but mostly they’d bring joy.

We often waste time hiding ourselves—or trying to, anyway. We try to disguise the darker sides of our nature, and strive to avoid what we perceive as “burdening” to others—the sharing of any sorrows, or questions, or doubts. Journaling should be an attempt to bust through that self-censor. A fight against the lonely notion that we can’t—or shouldn’t—say what we honestly feel and think, lest we offend, lest we unintentionally wound, lest people, really knowing us, cease to like us.

I’ve read extremely personal things taken from miscellaneous journals, and I’ve never thought less of the author—just the opposite usually. Uncensored details or observations about love, hate, confusion, beauty, ugliness, relationships—heck, about tea and simple pleasures, make me think, Ah, so that’s what it’s like to be him. To be her. And, perhaps ironically, help me understand myself better.

Someone famous once said something like, “I never worry about what someone might think of my diaries after I’m gone. I’ll be dead.”

Wise words. I wish I could fully embrace them—but the idea of someone reading all my journals makes me cringe. After all, I burnt all my childhood diaries when I was 13. I couldn’t bear the idea of someone perusing me. Sometimes I assure myself that’s what I can do with my spiral bound notebooks, too. But I don’t think I will.

While I can’t imagine anyone ever wanting to wade through my impossibly messy, navel-gazing cycle of snooze-inducing blah-blah-blah, my journals are part of me and I’ve made tenuous peace with them. And if someone does page through them when I’m long gone . . . Well, perhaps I should decorate each one with warning labels, similar to the one on my new yellow journal. . . .

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – -

“On Journaling” by me, Ev Bishop, was originally published in the Terrace Standard, April 24, 2013 as my monthly column “Just a Thought.”


Shannon Mayer Interview

I always find hearing about other authors’ experiences and processes inspiring, and when I had the opportunity to interview Shannon Mayer, author of the Zombie-ish Apocalypse series and the Celtic Legacy series, I jumped at the chance to ask her some questions.

I hope you enjoy what she has to say (her answers are in blue font)—and I doubly hope that you’ll check out her books!

Book 1 in the Zombie-ish Apocolypse Series  1. Sundered has a fascinating premise. Is there a story behind what triggered the idea?

 Thank you! The story started to develop as I considered all the zombie-esque books available and      thought that it would be fun to do my own version. I really hadn’t thought beyond making a unique twist on what has become a story line that has become very familiar to us all. From there it was just figuring out the details, how would it be passed, would it be contagious, were the monsters really     zombies of the un-dead, or something unique to my story, which I think I managed.

 

2. Can you describe your personal journey from first deciding you wanted to write through to publication?

Roller coaster, I think would be the best descriptor. I started to write seriously about 7 years ago. Last summer, after much writing, rejections and re-writes, I snagged an agent. Not much has happened in that department for a variety of reasons, so I then stepped into the self publishing world. Since September, I’ve released three books and am looking to release the first book in a new series December 2011. Huge swing of emotions go along with this journey as all writers can attest to. Indescribable highs and lows, but I wouldn’t trade any of it, not a second of it because it has all made me a better person, and writer.

3. So far, how is publishing what you envisioned it to be? How is it not?

Well, I expected it to be a learning curve, I did not expect that curve to set me on my butt a few times. As a self published author, everything is on me, from the writing through to the promotions, marketing, cover art, editing, proofing, copy editing, and so on. I expected it to be hard, but I had no idea how hard, until I stepped into the ring.

Book 2 in the Zombie-ish Apocolypse Series4. I understand Sundered is Book 1 in a trilogy (always great news for a reader—to find out that a new author they’ve enjoyed has other books!).

All three book are available. I released them close together because, as a reader myself, I HATE to wait on a writer if I’m in love with the series.

 

 

Book 3 in the Zombie-ish Apocolypse Series5. What do you enjoy about writing a series? What are the challenges?

 A series gives you a chance to layer your world and characters, to develop them as they face each       obstacle within the story. I really enjoy watching my characters grow and flex. The challenge is making sure you have the series well plotted so you don’t miss something that should have been in book one, that you need for book 7. Missing important details can really mess up your storylines; forcing you to change things mid stride.

 

6. What’s your favourite part of being a writer? What do you like least about it?

I love being at home, writing, my dogs and cat hanging out with me. Early mornings are my favourite before the world wakes up. Worst part for me right now is sheer frustration, as I struggle to mesh my day job with writing as full time as possible.

10. What book(s) are you reading right now and what’s on your to read-list?

Right now I am reading “The Alchemist” which I would highly recommend to anyone looking to follow their dream, whether that be writing or something else. My TBR list is HUGE, really backlogged with the time I put into writing. And, doing interviews. ;p But, all joking aside, I think the next book I will be reading is by Jonathan D Allen, his debut novel “The Corridors of the Dead” looks fascinating.

11. Last but not least, do you have any word of advice, wisdom, or encouragement for aspiring novelists?

Don’t be afraid to have others do work for you. Hire an editor, cover artist, copy editor. These people specialize in what they do. You specialize in what you do. Writing. So, focus on your writing and allow others to do what they are best at, in the long run, you will have a better product in the long run.

I love the beginning of her last answer. Don’t be afraid . . . Perhaps we should just put a period there. Don’t be afraid.

Shannon is incredibly personable and has achieved a lot in a short time — inspiring and motivating to me because of how she goes after what she wants with huge passion and drive. She welcomes readers and feedback on her blog, Wringing Out Words  and would love for you to follow her tweets: @TheShannonMayer.

Book 1 in the Celtic Legacy Series  Please click on the pictures of her covers about to find out more about each book and/or to buy one!

Happy reading and writing,

:) Ev

 


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