Saturday, April 25, 2009

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Persuing Personal Interests

What do you care about? What interests you? What do you find so intriguing that you want to know more about it?
When I talk to students who are looking for ideas for their writing, I often suggest they ask themselves these questions.

Personally, I have long been fascinated by the story of the logging industry in Algonquin Park. I love to read about the living and working conditions of the early loggers, the method they used to get the logs out of the forest in the wintertime and the larger-than-life lumber barons of the Ottawa Valley. Whenever I visit the park I am more interested in its history than in what it is today--the largest and most accessible park in Ontario.

Some of what I've learned became background for my latest book, Trouble at Turtle Narrows (Napoleon Publishing, 2008). See above photo of the front cover.

The town of Turtle Narrows, the fictional setting for the novel, is located in the Ottawa Valley. I used the same setting for Treasure at Turtle Lake (Napoleon, 2007). Algonquin Park is a good bike ride away for the youngsters living in the town.

My mythical town of Turtle Narrows is rich in history. There was at one time a sawmill at the Narrows, and a wealthy lumber baron built a mansion on the hill overlooking the river. From a belevedere on top of the house, he could watch each spring for the ice to break up and for his logs to float down from the north to the sawmill. In the novel, the main character discovers that the little room up on the rooftop makes an ideal location to keep an eye on any suspicious activity.
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Sunday, April 19, 2009

Writer's Block

I think we all have our own ways of dealing with writer's block--those dry periods when we wonder if we'll ever again be able to write anything worthy of publication. I wholeheartedly subscribe to the tips for handling writer's block that Anne Lamott gives us in Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life--one of the best books for writers that I have ever read.

Lamott suggests:
  • Write small pieces (even one paragraph, she says, but finish it. Don't be overwhelmed by it.)
  • Be good to yourself.
  • Read (of course. Relax and enjoy).
  • Live as if you were dying; live every moment.
  • Write down your memories about your family.
I like the idea of being good to oneself. The more I fret about how the writing is not working, the more frustrated I become. So, be good to yourself. Show up, write what you can and then go do something else. Know that there are better days ahead.

Until then,

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Family as Resource

I am fortunate to have a large family. Not just for all the usual reasons, but because my family often provides me with the background information I need for my stories.

When they all come to dinner tomorrow (there will be 17 of us), I will be asking Hannah (the high school athlete) which sports teams a teen girl might join between the months of October and December.

Ben (the music student) should be able to provide me with the name of an instrument that a kid playing in a school band might choose.

From Sarah (the med student) I need to know why one of my characters has a brace on her leg and walks with a cane.

So, sometime between the Easter egg hunt and the baked ham, I'll be taking notes. I'll be listening too, especially to the younger ones--the ones who are the age of my protagonists. I will hear the cadence of their speech and learn the popular expressions they use when chatting amongst themselves. How sweet is that!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Meeting young friends at the library, March 17, 2009

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Writing Autobiography

I've learned over the years that much of what I write involves my own personal experiences. I was taking a writing course when I began to develop a file that I called "Autobiographical Pieces." It now includes several chapters about my life experiences.

The pieces were not written in chronological order, but I've sorted them so that the file reads that way. Sometimes, when I needed something to work on, I'd add another chapter to the growing file. One memory would often trigger another.

In the same way as I occasionally browse my notebooks for story ideas, I'll read a couple of chapters in my "Autobiographical Pieces" file. Currently, I'm working on a short story for children that sprang directly from an incident in my own life.