Archive for August, 2009


Step into the Spotlight

   Posted by: Faith    in Rye Thoughts

This past weekend, I performed my first dance solo on stage. What does this have to do with writing, you ask? Just hang in there, I think I know where I’m going with this.

I prepared my solo for weeks. Months, even. I chose my music, my theme & style for the dance, my costume, and tried to make my dance & appearance stand apart – even just a little bit – from the other bellydancer I knew would be performing solo that night.

I was nervous… very nervous. The other bellydancer was an experienced soloist, who dances at weddings/parties/community events, so she knew exactly what she was doing, at least in my mind. I’d never seen her dance before, I’d simply heard some wonderful things about her. “I want to be like that,” I thought, “I want to inspire comments from the people who see me dance.”

So I practiced. I rehearsed. I drove an hour away from home, on numerous occasions, to use studio space that was far bigger than the space at home… it was a better resource, so I could create a better dance.

Performance day came closer. My dance was completely choreographed, I’d rehearsed it enough times that I could dance it in my sleep, my costume was ready, and I had a bag full of ‘back-up’ items just in case anything went wrong on the day of the show.

Then, on the day of the show, for the first time in my life… I realized I had stage fright. Where did this come from? I was fine putting the dance together, refining it, changing what didn’t work, creating a sparkly costume to complement the steps… but when it hit me that I’d be all alone up there, showcasing my hard work to a crowd of people there to watch ‘serious dance’ – who’d probably never seen a bellydancer before – and who could reject my work in a setting where I could see it on their faces… I panicked. I broke down. I didn’t want to do it anymore. I wanted to keep my dance and my sparkly costume to myself, hidden away at home, where no one could see it… and no one could reject it.

Of course, the only way I could actually get out of it would be to break an ankle or fall violently ill, neither of which seemed to be the best course of action. I arrived at the venue, put on the costume – enjoyed plenty of compliments on my shimmery outer self – and headed to the stage. There was no turning back, and when my music started, all those nerves and butterflies disappeared, because… what was the point of being nervous anymore? It was too late to do anything about it – I’d done the best I could – so I danced, and left my heart on the stage.

There were plenty of scowlers in the crowd (I imagine their brains going “this doesn’t look anything like contemporary or lyrical, what does this woman think she’s doing?”). There were also some smiles, so I danced to the smiles. I danced to make the people happy who appreciated the style of my performance.

Yes, I forgot choreography. I messed up, but I kept going. When you’re showcasing yourself to the world, the worst thing you can do is freeze up, and mercifully I had the strength to take the stumbles in stride and finish strong. They applauded, I left the stage.

Three days later, I watched the video. I saw all the mistakes I made, I cringed when my elbows were turned in or my arms made a sloppy transition, or I forgot to look up… but now I knew where to work on next time. I knew what to focus on, and what I should fix. In the meantime, I received a number of compliments from people who actually enjoyed my performance (much to my surprise). It felt good. I’d done what I’d set out to do, and the people who didn’t like it? Well, they didn’t bother to tell me, so who cares? All I can do is create a better performance the second time around, and hope it reaches even more people.

…by now, I’m sure you see where I’m going with this. Performing your first solo is very much, in so many ways, like writing. You create the best product you can, package it with a sparkly cover letter (or if you’re published, a shiny cover), and reach deep within yourself for the strength to place it out there on the literary stage: the desks of the people who become your first audience. Some will reject it, some will smile and ask for more, and some will love it enough to compliment you and anticipate your next book.

We may also try to tailor our writing to suit the established norm of the genre. Like a more experienced dancer and a new soloist, we see the trends and try to follow them, but also tweak and change so that our work stands out and is seen as just a little bit different.

We writers pour our hearts and souls out onto the paper stage, take our fumbles as they come, and – hopefully – finish with a smile on our faces, no matter what. Rejection hurts, but we need to take chances – to send our work out into the spotlight – in order to receive acceptance.

And now that I’ve performed my first solo, I feel far more ready to try it again.

Banish the fear. Step into the spotlight and give it all you’ve got. Leave your heart on the metaphorical literary stage, and don’t worry about the people who glare and wonder why your work doesn’t look like ‘this’ or ‘that’. Because someone, somebody, out there is going to smile – and that’s when you’ll know it’s all been worth it.

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Imagination… Engage!

   Posted by: Faith    in Everything Else

Ah, conference season. The sweet smell of… other people attending ‘The Big Ones’, while you sit at home wondering how everyone can afford trips to Denver or California or Tennessee in the middle of the year. Right around summer vacation season, no less!

But what about attending a smaller, one-day conference someplace that you can drive to? I’ve heard that such things exist, but until a few weeks ago, I’d never actually seen evidence of one…

A few weeks back, Susan at Reviews from Innisfree posted a status message on a social networking site that asked if anyone else was going to something called ‘PYI’. “What on earth…?” I wondered, and promptly plugged it into Google to find out. Here’s what I found:

Packaging Your Imagination 2009

“A day of workshops for those interested in writing, illustrating or performing for young people”

This is a one-day conference held by CANSCAIP (The Canadian Society of Children’s Authors, Illustrators, and Performers) on November 7th, 2009. From the looks of things, you don’t have to be a member to attend, though you can join for a $10 discount when you register for the conference (which is only $135.00). Your registration includes 3 sessions, morning coffee, lunch (for the first 120 registrants), and the keynote address by none other than the well-loved Kenneth Oppel. Yes, this Kenneth Oppel –>

And guess what? For all us writerly types living in Southern Ontario (or anywhere within driving distance, really… that includes you, Buffalo!), we can easily drive into Toronto, take in a day of writing sessions, and drive home, without having to shell out money for a flight/hotel/enormous conference fees or losing money from taking time off work. How exciting is it to have something like this in our own little corner?

Admittedly, I haven’t registered yet, as I’m not 100% certain I can go… but if you can, I encourage you to sign up and get as much as you can out of it. It looks like they have some great session topics lined up.

Question: For those of you who don’t live around here – have you ever attended a one-day conference in your area? How did you find that compared to a larger conference (if you’ve been to one), and did you feel it was time well spent?

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The First Line

   Posted by: Faith    in Everything Else

Ah, that all-encompassing first line… the one that keeps us up at night writing, so that we can keep others up at night reading.

But what if someone wrote the first line for you? Then all you have to do is write the rest of the story. Simple, yes?

A few weeks ago, I stumbled across a literary journal that does just that. It’s called The First Line, and I love it. When I first fell into the website, I thought “what a neat idea”… and promptly ordered a copy of their latest issue. I read it, went back to the website, grabbed the ‘first line’ for August – wrote something – and submitted. They didn’t take it (oh noes!), but that’s alright… the next issue’s submissions are due November 1st, and I’ll probably try again.

I love this journal because I find it fascinating to see where the human mind can go when everyone starts from the same place. There are so many different stories that can be told, regardless of that first line… it’s like when you sit down to plot your latest novel idea, and there are a million different directions you could take the story in. Here, it actually happens.

I wanted to share this find with others because I suspect it has limited circulation, and I’m not sure how many people outside the 30 or so bookstores listed which carry the journal actually know about it. I wish I could remember where I saw the listing for it so I could give him/her/it credit, but alas, all I can do is share it with you and hope you like it enough to spread the word. A little boost in subscriptions from this side of the pond wouldn’t hurt, right?

All I know is… I’ve subscribed, and am looking forward to curling up on the couch with the fall issue and a cup of tea in the near future.

Has anyone else recently (or in the past) stumbled across a hidden gem of a journal/magazine you wish more people knew about?



Book Review: ‘Gifts of War’

   Posted by: Faith    in Tasty Tomes

Gifts of War: A Novel – Mackenzie Ford (Historical Fiction)

When my Gifts of War ARC arrived in the mail, I wasn’t quite sure what to think… after reading the back cover copy, I thought “why the heck did I request THIS?”. Clearly the promo material for the book made it sound more exciting than what was written on the back cover. World War I? A man’s lost love? Another man & his quest to make a life with a certain woman during the war? *snooooooze* So, guess what I did? I put the book away & avoided it as long as I could. And I do mean as long as I could.

Finally, guilt got the better of me, and I picked it up. “Why are you reading that?” my husband asked, “Read something you’ll like, don’t waste your time.” But I had an obligation to fulfill, so I read it. And you know what? Even though it wasn’t my favorite kind of book, it kept me reading, and that has to say something.

On the whole, I didn’t really like the ending, but it made sense when I read the last page… the very last page, which changed everything for me. I don’t want to give it away, but that final page – as a writer and as a reader – made me gasp and say “Oh! How fascinating!” and left me with a good, warm feeling toward the book.

If you enjoy historical fiction, I think you’ll love Gifts of War. I really do. It has suspense, romance, and plenty of history from a war we often learn very little about (at least in the Canadian school system, we tend to focus on WWII). I liked learning more about WWI, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this to someone whose reading habits lean toward historical fiction.

Rating: 3.5 coffees out of 5

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Posting Flop

   Posted by: Faith    in Rye Thoughts

I definitely dropped the ball last week when it came to posting. And I  had this whole series of posts in mind on platforms & new media, and a nice pile of shiny information to go along with it. Of course, Wednesday rolled around, I reached down into my pile of conference papers and found… well, nothing. What the…?

It turns out I’ve misplaced my sheets from the New Media session at Write!Canada, which I was going to use to write some brilliant (haha) & informative posts on platforms. I could try to wing it from memory, but… you guys deserve better than that. I think the best idea right now is to put the platform series on hold until I can track down my notes (oh noes, does this mean I have to clean the *shudder* office?!?!).

Until then (or until I can think of a new topic), please enjoy this quote I found several weeks back:

“There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at typewriter and open a vein.”
- Red Smith

No kidding! But what about those times that you sit down to write, open the vein, and come up dry? Like your lifeblood has drained out? Yikes… it’s scary, but it happens. How do you find that inspiration again when you’re drained of ideas, motivation, inspiration, or even the will to keep writing?

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Platform Plateau? – Part 1

   Posted by: Faith    in Write!Canada

While I was at Write!Canada, there was a lot of talk about ‘building your platform’. And I mean a lot of talk. It was general concensus that no author today will succeed without a solid, innovative platform that’s reflective of and changes with the times.

This week, I’d like to take a look at different aspects of platform building, along with some some perspectives from specific authors (gleaned from talks at Write!Canada).

During the symposium on the future of publishing, author and speaker Sheila Wray Gregoire had quite a bit to say about platforms, so I’d like to share that with you today.

Note that I called her an author AND speaker? Hmm… the platform comes into play already…

Sheila has a lovely, very user-friendly website. It’s jam-packed with media, downloads, articles, resources, and a place to buy her books. This woman knows what she’s doing – she may only have a few books published, but she’s got a killer platform. Go visit her site, then come back here.

In brief, here are the things Sheila had to say about the future of publishing/being an author/platforms:

  • Authors must, must, must have a platform.
  • It is now easier to find places to write than ever before, but harder to get paid.
  • Can’t rely on royalty publishers anymore for 100% of income.
  • But… we can create ways to get paid.
  • Don’t get intimidated!!!
  • Do the work, practice the craft, learn the technology, and you can get noticed, because…
  • “Excellence will always rise to the top.”
  • Authors must face that they can’t survive on just one book a year, so they must have a multi-platform action plan, including such things as…
  1. Podcasts
  2. Livestream TV (ie. Youtube)
  3. Twitter
  4. Functional website
  5. Blog w/ regular updates
  6. Articles that complement your book/expertise
  7. Ebooks

Sheila has done all these things and more, so she knows what she’s talking about… and she does it well! Yes, it’s a lot of extra work to build a platform, but in today’s publishing industry, taking the time to do all these things can mean the difference between success and obscurity.

The only thing I really take issue with in Sheila’s observations is that “excellence will always rise to the top”. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately, depending on who you are), that isn’t always true. A mediocre author with a fantastic platform will almost always “rise to the top” above a brilliant author with just a decent or even non-existent platform. Then again, people measure success in different ways, and one person’s success may be another person’s sorrow. But, if we’re talking sheer numbers, the person who rises to the top in this day and age will likely be the person with the better online/public social profile… even if their writing kinda stinks (a few names spring to mind, but I’ll let you think that one over yourself).

Monday Ponderings: Where do you stand in regards to platform building? Have you thought about it? Do you plan to build a platform, or will you simply let your writing speak for itself?

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Rick and Bubba’s Guide to the Almost Nearly Perfect Marriage – Rick Burgess & Bill “Bubba” Bussey (Marriage)

Put away those mushy-gushy marriage guides… the real stuff’s right here! Alright, maybe not all of it, but Rick & Bubba have a few things to say about getting married, being married, and staying married. And it won’t put you to sleep! Rick & Bubba approach the subject with honesty, humor, and personal anecdotes that will make you either laugh or groan (depending on how much you identify with said anecdote…!)

What I appreciated most about this book was the different approach to the subject, which I realize is something that a number of other reviewers found frustrating. Let me put it this way: the authors don’t shy away from taking shots at their wives. Not in a cruel or mean way, but in the sense that the anecdotes don’t always make their wives into the “good guy” of the situation.

They show their faults, their bad habits, all those things that… well… that husbands are always pinned for in other marriage books! That’s not to say Rick & Bubba make themselves out to be perfect, model husbands – not in the least! But the tongue-in-cheek, BALANCED approach to showing both good/bad sides of husbands and wives, in a humorous way, was incredibly refreshing. It’s about time we wives had some stories told about us!

Rating: 3.5 coffees out of 5

(Reviewed for Thomas Nelson)

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Your First Time

   Posted by: Faith    in Everything Else

So, I was going to write something useful and interesting today, but I was struck by a curiosity-driven question.

How did you feel the first time you submitted your work – be it an article, manuscript, query, whatever – to someone for publication?

Over the weekend, I took the plunge and submitted something to a journal. It wasn’t great, and I know it wasn’t my best work, but I needed to break that psychological barrier of ‘not good enough yet’ and just get my work out there. After all, we writers need to amass a nice pile of rejection slips before the acceptances come in, right? And what better time to start than now?

What I didn’t expect was how emotional the experience would be. It’s like… sending a part of your soul away to be judged & cast aside (because that’s what will happen, 99% of the time). Not only does it take courage to do what we do, but what normal person seeks out the rejection of something precious to them, over and over and over again? We writers are definitely not normal.

When I hit “send” on that email & attached piece, it took all of 30 seconds before it hit me. My husband asked me some question about supper and I snapped at him, realizing only after I apologized that I’d just send a part of me out into the world for the very first time, and I broke down. Was it fear? Relief? Writer’s post-partum? I’m still not sure. I was excited and proud of myself that I’d sent something and actually made the deadline, sure… but what was it that caused such an outpouring of emotion?

I’m still trying to figure it out, and I wonder if I’ll feel that way every time. What I’m really curious about is everyone else… what was your experience the first time you submitted something? Did you jump around the house with joy and excitement? Did you tremble with nervous fear? Did you settle down with a cup of tea and relax with a sense of accomplishment?

We writers are strange types, and we all deal with the various stages of the writing process in different ways. So… let’s hear about it!

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Book Review: ‘Turn Up the Heat’

   Posted by: Faith    in Tasty Tomes

Turn Up the Heat: A Couples Guide to Sexual Intimacy – Dr. Kevin Leman (Marriage)

What can I say? I’ve always been a fan of Dr. Leman’s books, whether they’re about Birth Order, marriage, family relationships, women & perfectionism, or sex. I find his writing style to be very casual, personal (he uses himself and his own life & marriage for a lot of anecdotes), and approachable, and always peppered with humor. He’s the kind of self-help writer that you feel you know once you’ve read one of his books… like if you saw him in the street tomorrow, you could walk up and just say “Hey, Dr. Leman! How’s Sande? Did you have a good time on your annual family trip?” etc.

So, once again, he’s written a ‘sex book’, comparable (but still different) to Sheet Music, which I read last year. While I think I preferred Sheet Music over this one, he had a lot of good content inside this volume that I think would be very helpful to many. It’s mostly presented in a Q&A format, based around popular questions he gets during marriage seminars and regular marriage counseling practice, so it was interesting to read about the common issues and concerns couples have… because really, there’s a reason why they’re common concerns!

All around, a well-written and well-presented volume (as usual) from a psychologist who, all things considered, writes his books (and presents himself) more like an easy-going friend than anything else.

Rating: 3.5 coffees out of 5

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Book Review: ‘Scoop’ & ‘The Bookshop’

   Posted by: Faith    in Tasty Tomes

Scoop - Rene Gutteridge (General Fiction)

A fun & slightly wacky novel about the people at a TV news station, and the crazy goings-on behind the scenes as the sacred “Sweeps Week” approaches. Gutteridge develops a cast of characters that seem truer to life than you might expect: the overworked & high-strung producer, the young but inexperienced male news anchor, the older female news anchor who is clinging to her job with everything she has, the devout (but attractive!) Christian female who talks about God like he’s her best friend, and the reporter with a conscience… but wait, there’s more!

There are literally enough characters to fill a TV station, but it all makes sense because everyone has their place. The ‘major drama’ of the novel is well handled, but I think the problem itself takes a bit of a backdrop to the people – in a good way.

It wasn’t a spectacular novel, but different, well written, and pretty entertaining. I sat down and read it in one shot, so that has to say something!

Rating: 3 coffees out of 5

The Bookshop – Penelope Fitzgerald (Literary Fiction)

What an interesting, albeit brief, little tale! Thoroughly British in nature, and packed with odd, quirky characters, this is the story of a woman who decides to open up a bookshop in her very small town. For whatever reason, many of the residents are hostile to the idea, and the book centers around her struggles to keep the shop open and profitable whilst fending off certain community members who would wish to close her down.

I can honestly say I was a bit disappointed in the ending… mostly because I wanted the story to continue, as I felt it wasn’t entirely finished. But, I suppose that was Fitzgerald’s intent, and as a result, the whole of the book makes for an interesting little read that is easily devoured over a few cups of tea on a lazy afternoon.

Rating: 3 coffees out of 5

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