Okay, so it’s mid-June and I keep thinking May’s just wrapping up, LOL. Oh well, at least it’s been mostly good things keeping me busy. 🙂 In fact, I had wonderful news in May, three times over!
One of my poems (“Irregular Shapes”) received an honourable mention in the Shuswap Association of Writers’ 2016 Askew’s Foods’ Word on the Lake Writing Contest (Poetry category), and my essay “Birthing Relationships” won second place in the same contest (but in the Non-fiction category). Woot, woot! I’m so grateful to all the industrious, art-minded folk who support and nurture literary arts.
I also found out that my novel HOOKED is a 2016 RONE finalist. I’ll find out in October if it’s the grand winner, but even making the final cut has me dancing around my office with honor and delight! 🙂
Last but not least, if you live in the Terrace area and fancy an evening of reading and chat for a good cause, I urge you to come out to “Words of Welcome,” a group reading/fundraising event, at the Terrace Public Library tomorrow night (7:00 p.m., Tuesday, June 14, 2016).
Eden Robinson, Adrienne Fitzpatrick, Al Lehmann and I will each be reading a short excerpt or two from a published work or work-in-progress, and will be on hand for a question and answer period. Entry is by donation, with all proceeds going to the new families moving into Terrace from Syria. It promises to be an entertaining, thought-provoking night–and it’s for an excellent cause. Please come!
April is national poetry month and since poetry has always been a great help and boon to me emotionally, I celebrate it.
When I was twelve or thirteen or so, I discovered Zibby Oneal’s novel A Formal Feeling, a title borrowed from the first line in an Emily Dickinson poem that goes by the same name and casts light on the story’s themes. (It’s a wonderful book, by the way. I highly recommend it to YA readers, young and old . . . I mean, er, older. :D)
After great pain, a formal feeling comes—
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs—
The stiff Heart questions was it He, that bore,
And Yesterday, or Centuries before?
The Feet, mechanical, go round—
Of Ground, or Air, or Ought—
A Wooden way
A Quartz contentment, like a stone—
This is the Hour of Lead—
Remembered, if outlived,
As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow—
First—Chill—then Stupor—then the letting go—
– Emily Dickinson
My dad had a love for Irish poetry and songs and old English verse, plus I was a fan of Robert Louis Stevenson’s verses for children, but Emily’s “A Formal Feeling” was the first poem (that I remember anyway) to strike a chord of recognition deep within me. By then I was already acquainted with sorrow—and for me, her words captured a truth that was difficult to put into words. She conveyed what sadness felt like and expressed a process I was learning.
I don’t know how many times I reread the poem as a teenager (or have done so as an adult), but it continues to be one my favourites.
Another piece that meant more to me than I can probably explain without a lot of melodrama is “First Ice” by Andrei Voznesensky.
A girl freezes in a telephone booth.
In her draughty overcoat she hides
A face all smeared
In tears and lipstick.
She breathes on her thin palms. Her fingers are icy. She wears earrings.
She’ll have to go home alone, alone
Along the icy street.
First ice. It is the first time.
The first ice of telephone phrases.
Frozen tears glitter on her cheeks-
The first ice of human hurt.
I suspect you, having read it, know the phase of life I’d entered—first love, first heartbreak, yes . . . but I always felt the poem spoke to something bigger than one isolated break up. It was the disappointment that resonated with me: the girl, for the first time, recognizing that people weren’t always what they promised—and/or weren’t as honest or straight forward as she was.
I could share many, many more poems that influenced me or comforted me (or just made me laugh; not every poem I love is sad!), but I’ll spare you for now.
I suspect you have your own poems or songs (and what are lyrics if not poetry?) that, no matter how long ago you came across them, still have profound meaning to you. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that you’ve even penned a stanza or two (or more), whether you consider yourself a writer or poet or not. Most of us have. There’s something in the human spirit that yearns to give voice to the emotions that move us and the passions that make us us.
It’s definitely true for me. Despite all my affection for essays and letters and my love of fiction, when overcome by happiness—or weeping, wordless sadness or white-hot coiled rage—I turn to poetry to help me vent, express, or attempt to make muddled sense of my mad joy and intense pangs and desires. Perhaps you do, too? If yes, I’d love to hear about it. (Or better yet, share a poem you love—your own or someone else’s—here. Please!)
Now circling back to it being national poetry month—and my desire to celebrate it.
If you’ve written poetry before but stopped for some reason, or if you never have but would like to—or if you’re a prolific pro looking for ways to invigorate and refresh your muse, honour those stirrings. Join me and Joan Conway this Saturday (April 25th) for an afternoon of poetry exercises and inspiration.
For the fall and winter months (Yes, they’re here, wail!), I’ve decided to resurrect Déjà vu Thursdays. Exciting, right? I knew you’d think so. To kick it off, and because I just realized that it’s exactly a month until I leave for the 2014 Surrey International Writers’ Conference, I give you a happy pre-conference blurt that I wrote way back on June 10th, 2009 just after I paid my registration fee and booked my hotel and flights for SiWC 2009.
I didn’t attend last year’s conference because I was (Oh, poor me!) in London. The year before that (so 2013) my father had just passed away, and the conference was a blur. To say I’m excited about this year, but also a bit unsettled, worried that it will trigger unhappy memories, is an understatement. I know he’d want me to attend, however, to have a great time, to share BIGGER THINGS, to refill my creative well, to encourage and be encouraged, etc. After all, in the hospital he told me, “You make sure you go to that conference, Ev, even if I’m not dead yet. You paid good money for it.” Which made me laugh because it was so typically pragmatic. And cry. And, of course, tell him absolutely no way was I going if he was still there to visit with. Anyway, I’ve kind of gotten off track. Back to my old but still relevant pre-conference thoughts. I’d love to hear yours on the subject!
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So I just did something very exciting—booked a four-night stay at the gorgeous Sheraton Guildford in Surrey, BC. It seems unbelievable, but it’s already time—really time!—to start planning my favourite annual indulgence: The Surrey International Writers’ Conference.
I normally try to rein in my freakish enthusiasm and exuberance while blogging, so I don’t scare readers away, but allow me one, YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY!
I know some writers are sceptical of the advantages of writing conferences. They think they’re nothing but a money grab. They feel you don’t learn anything that you couldn’t from a book or a bit of research. They’re sure everyone’s just there for their egos—I’m a writer, look at me. They’re convinced you’d be better off spending the time writing, not talking about writing.
I confess I don’t understand conference bashers.
1. Yes, attending a conference is a financial commitment. That it costs you something is part of its value. Say what? Just that: Putting money into your craft, saying in essence, “I’m serious about my writing, and it’s worth not just my time, but also my material resources to pursue,” is like giving yourself a big ol’ permission slip to take your goals more seriously. It’s also a big cue to family and friends—Oh, she’s serious about this little writing thing.
Professional development (Yes, a little FYI, conferences are P-D, not just wonderfully social times where everyone sips wine, talks about their favourite things—books and storytelling, of course—and comes away absolutely inspired) betters the quality of your work and boosts your word counts. Being with other people who are excited about the same things you are is motivating.
2. Books on craft are great, and yep, you learn a lot reading them, but—and gasp, I can’t quite believe I’m saying this—there are some things being alone with a book can’t do. Reading alone in your study doesn’t give you the experience of being with 1000 other souls who love what you love—ideas, words, stories. It doesn’t give you the chance to laugh along with one of your favourite authors. It doesn’t provide the opportunity to stick up your hand in the middle of the information to say, “Gah—I don’t get it!” or “Yay—I love how you put that!”
Hearing authors talk about their personal experiences, reassure you that it’s an achievable dream (they’re living proof, after all), and answer every-question-you-can-imagine is invaluable. As is getting to learn face-to-face from agents and editors who accept books (maybe even one like yours!) for their livings.
3. As for the complaints about “egos” . . . I don’t see it. I’ve met people I don’t click with, sure. I may have (it’s terrible) even cringed or grimaced inwardly a time or two on behalf of a cornered agent or author, yep. But people are people wherever you go. The great, the bad, the meh—they’re everywhere. And for what it’s worth, I think writing conferences having a higher per ratio capacity of hilarious, generous, kind, and witty people than most public groupings. The feeling of community and camaraderie is almost the whole reason I go. I work alone day after day all year (Yay for the Internet, but that’s an aside). Even the most reclusive of us benefit from and need human company sometimes.
4. Four days of conferencing and sushilizing does not, in anyway, take away from my productivity. I write almost every day—and that’s in addition to my business writing, editing, and workshops. Surrey energizes me for a whole year. If I have a day where I feel kind of unmotivated, I look at the calendar and recall the goals I’ve set for the next conference . . . Speaking of which, I’m on track, but not ahead of where I wanted to be by this month, so I should go.
Happy writing, everyone—and if you’re heading out to Surrey this October for SiWC, let me know.
I’m also interested in any comments about why you love writing workshops or conferences—or really mix things up and tell me why I’m out to lunch and they suck!
One such item, tucked away in the back of a cupboard above my bedroom closet, was a sealed box. A manuscript box. Marked “Requested Material.” Besmirched with a black X through the intended recipient’s address and a sticker instructing you to turn the box over.
Doing as bidden, another sticker greets you, one with five options: Insufficient address, Attempted not known (whatever that means!), No such number/street, Not deliverable as addressed – unable to forward, and Other. “Other” is selected with another X and a red, slightly smeary stamped imprint shouts “Unclaimed.”
More injuriously, another stamped mark says 1st Notice, 2nd Notice, Return—and there are handwritten month and day notes beside category.
I remembered, only upon seeing the box again, the initial request for the full manuscript—how excited I’d been.
I also remembered how disappointed, and irritated, I’d been when it came back. I carefully follow all submission guidelines. In this instance, I’d spoken with the agent in person, received the request to submit in person, been given the address to send to in her handwriting.
I didn’t send the parcel priority post, or in some other manner that requires a signature or a special trip into a postal outlet for pick up. It should’ve been delivered right to their office . . . so maybe they don’t have a big enough mailbox for manuscript boxes? (If that’s the case, how bizarre!) Or maybe she’d never really wanted to consider my novel in the first place? (Ouch, but please, I’d rather she’d just said so!)
I suspect the reality is nothing like any of my above suppositions. It’s just something that occasionally happens with mail. And when you’re busy, and the object you’re receiving notices about is off your radar, you don’t get around to picking it up. Nothing personal. No big deal.
But what is a big deal: Why didn’t I follow up, or resend it, or . . . do something? Why did I tuck it away, out of sight, out of mind . . . Imagine if I didn’t move for another 20 years or more, what a find it would be then!
I haven’t decided what to do with the unopened box. But I am taking it to heart, as it strikes me as a powerful (if painful!) message about my writing in general.
This novel, packaged up with such care, only to be stuck away, hidden from all, is symbolic of what I do with a lot of my writing.
I love to write (as I think any of you who read my blog know!); I don’t love the submission process. I would like to share my stories, perhaps connect with someone out there, make them laugh, or cry or just . . . relate—but that desire is always a bit peripheral to the actual act of writing.
The result of this . . . laziness, fear, slight disinterest, whatever . . . is that I have many stories and quite a few novels that have yet to see the light of day.
I don’t want to become one of those writers for whom publishing is the primary goal and content is secondary—but I also know that if I don’t start to put out a body of work fairly soon, my years to be able to do so will diminish, my chance to share my stories will shrink, and my hope to someday support myself with my words will become a more and more unlikely daydream.
And so, for now at least, the box sits on the floor by my desk, in a terribly inconvenient spot, where I keep tripping over it—a constant reminder that I need to be bolder, to more actively seek to share my words (and worlds!) with others. Wish me luck!
And tell me, what would you do with the unopened manuscript box?
She wrote that writing is truth and her elaborations are so perfect and true that I’m kind of jealous she wrote it, not me. It’s particularly worth reading for a certain drunken dwarf’s quote and her thoughts on said quote.
Am I trying to cheat by giving the answers those other writers provided? Not at all. It’s just that their answers fit perfectly with what I want to say: writing is many things to me. The reasons I write, what I “get” from my writing, and how I feel about the process vary from day to day, even from hour to hour—yet I find there are always similar tendrils of desire as put my pen to paper or my fingers to my keyboard (to discover, to explore what’s “known,” to have fun).
Writing is a science—especially non-fiction, where I work from a hypothesis (thesis!) (articulated or not) and hone each phrase, insert each fact, and carefully draw each picture or stage I want to reveal to my reader, all the while deliberating on what I know and what I can reasonably infer about life.
The results can be surprising—sometime I realize I need to discard my initial premise because my experimenting (my writing) reveals a flaw in my thinking or logic—a new hypothesis is needed. Other times, the conclusion is exactly what I had hoped/envisioned/felt sure it would be—very affirming stuff. And, as in all science, while there are breakthroughs and massive epiphanies, there is never an arrival moment where all is known, all is suddenly clear.
And writing is magic—especially fiction. Us odd few called to the task, take strange ingredients, some commonplace, some only hinted at in polite company, some imagined, some completely undefined, only intuited, and throw them all together in simmering mess (or carefully measure out and weigh and add in at specific times, depending on our style).
It’s a shadowy art, unpredictable and dangerous even when it’s white. It’s often exhilarating, joyful and fun—but no words appear without some personal sacrifice (even if it’s just time that we worry could or should be better spent) and sometimes there is pain.
When the magic works, we conjure people long dead and still to come. We play with time, sending readers back and forward in both this world and others. A barrage of scents—good and gross—waft from our pages. People curl up, relax and smile—and freeze, sweat, flinch and flee—at what we smooth across their brow, glide along their chest—jab into their bellies. They grow embarrassed, become livid and enraged—weep, laugh, bite their lip and nod—with emotions evoked by lines of text.
We reveal strangers’ stories and end up showing the readers themselves. We hold up a mirror, but it’s our guts and innards that are reflected back at the reader with their lives, past and present, transposed over top.
When the magic doesn’t work—or, at least, doesn’t yield the results we were aiming for—we, sometimes weeping, bleeding, and beaten, return to our worktables to try different combinations, to explore different roots and weeds. We work, despite the pitying looks of naysayers and the laughter, even jeers, of those who doubt our ability or think we’re merely crazy for trying.
And why do people turn to science and/or magic? Because they are searching. They are longing. I am searching. I am longing. For connection, for understanding, for hope and to give hope . . . for many things actually. So for me, perhaps above all else, writing is a quest.
I don’t know why you write or what writing means to you—perhaps, like me, you find your thoughts on the subject toss and change like the ocean—but I’d like to find out and would love you to share thoughts here.
And to keep the meme-tag game going, I tag:
As some of you know, three of my short stories (“HVS,” “Wishful,” and “Red Bird”) are available through Ether Books, a fantastic forward-thinking publishing company that I can’t say enough good things about. Not only have they published my work, they supply me with an inexhaustible source of new short fiction!
I’ve been playing with the idea of promoting some of my work with video and since Maureen Scott, one of the gurus behind Ether, put a call out for Ether authors to share their sentiments about Ether Books in 30 seconds or less and post them on youtube, I’d thought I’d start there. So all that said, here’s me, Ev Bishop, on Ether Books. Enjoy!
When I have my office back under control, I may do short blip on each of the stories they’ve published. Stay tuned.
And hey, if you haven’t read “Wishful,” or “Red Bird,” or “HVS”—you don’t need to wait ’til there’s a video promo! Grab your iPhone, iPod, or iPad, download Ether Books’ free app here and check me out. 🙂 I hope you enjoy them.