Is your filter on?

Next week I’m going to a BBQ with a Western theme. The invitation arrived weeks ago and since then I’ve tramped through thrift stores and flea markets from North Vancouver to Packwood, Washington. I’ve assembled enough pieces to pass muster: a pale blue cowboy hat, a darker blue fringed jacket and a pair of black cowboy boots. In design, leatherwork and condition, my boots are very similar to this picture. Turn them upside down and they tell a different story: they have been re-soled and re-heeled many times.

Word count: 440                                                                     Reading time: 1-2 minutes

I’ve started wearing the boots around the house to get used to the feel of them. When I pull them on, a strange thing happens: I walk differently. I channel their former owner. I feel the way the arch of her foot shaped the vamp of the boot. I close my eyes and press down on the ball of the sole and see dusty paddocks, smell the sage-scent of horses, and feel the burn of the desert sun. My own filter turns off; I start taking photographs of her life.

Then I turn the tables and try to see my life as she would. When I boarded the Queen of Oak Bay ferry on Tuesday I imagined the previous owner of these well-worn boots clapping eyes on the huge car ferry for the first time. To me, BC Ferries are just part of the highway system: a route that connects BC’s islands to its mainland. To travellers unaccustomed to the busy-ness of the ferry terminal and the power of the ships, it’s an exciting part of the journey, fraught with joys and risks that habituated users often fail to see. Tuesday I looked the vessel with fresh eyes.

That made me realize I need to turn off my filter more often. I need to walk in other people’s boots more often. That can only help me find the excitement in everyday life that is necessary to improve as a writer. I need to be more like Edward Gorey and find the floor that opens:

I really think I write about everyday life. I don't think I'm quite as odd as others say I am. Life is intrinsically, well, boring and dangerous at the same time. At any given moment the floor may open up. Of course, it almost never does; that's what makes it so boring.

Are you like Edward Gorey? Do you see the floor opening up underneath you, sweeping you into another world? Or is your filter on and all you see is the ferry line up and another delay between you and your destination?


Photo from Wikimedia Commons by: Ealdgyth

The unexpected

Word count: 428            Reading time: 1-2 mins

On a recent ferry ride home from the Gulf Islands, I sat in front of a couple who talked non-stop the entire trip. They spoke French with soft Parisian accents and as I eavesdropped, trying futilely to pick out words, maybe even sentences, I pictured them as the epitome of Gallic sophistication: young, stylish, poised.  

When we approached Vancouver and everyone started to head back to the car deck, I got my first good look at them. They were seniors. Senior seniors at that. He was short, stout, and balding and wore a Harley Davidson hoodie stretched over his pot belly. His jeans were rough and torn but not in a fashionable way. He walked round-shouldered and slumped. Her thin, brassy red hair lifted off her head in a frizzy peak. The Kelly-green vest she wore clashed with the gaudy orange underneath it. Enough gold hung around her neck to pay the National Debt. I laughed at my clichéd assumption and enjoyed the surprise of how they really looked.

I love surprises in fiction too. But I don’t like being deceived or manipulated. I don’t want to get to the end of a story or chapter and find out that sequence was just a dream. I don’t want to be led to believe that the main love interest was cheating on his or her partner only to find out it was just a close friend or relative who was being embraced so passionately. And I sure don’t want a new character or device introduced at the end of a novel, a Deus ex machina solution to a complicated problem.

As I work, I love uncovering the surprises in my own stories and characters too but these appear slowly. In the first draft I find out who the players are. The second draft helps me get to know them better. It’s only in the third or fourth revision of a novel, as I push along the question of what if, that my characters start to reveal their idiosyncrasies and unusual interests. Between each revision, I follow the advice of Steven Pinker and give them all a rest, “Write many drafts, separated by a long enough interval so your writing will seem strange to yourself.” When I go back to a work after a long interval, it’s like opening the box of Christmas decorations from the far corner of the basement: full of delightful things I’d forgotten were there.

Where are the surprises in what you are writing? How do you uncover them?


Photo by: Royce DeGrie

Reflections on the Salish Sea

 Word count: 215                         Reading time: 1 min

I am tired beloved of chafing my heart against the want of you; of squeezing it into little ink drops, and posting it. And I scald alone, here, under the fire of the great moon.

Amy Lowell.

To young children the moon is the stuff of nursery rhymes, Hey Diddle Diddle, and simple prayers. To scientists it is a large rock with a molten core. 

When we adore someone, we say that they have hung the moon. In cards we can shoot the moon. We measure time by it either infrequently, once in a blue moon, or in the far past, many moons ago.

Some times it simply lights our way.

Last night on Salt Spring Island that big old moon flooded the bedroom with bewitching light. As its reflection shimmered on the distant Salish Sea it spoke to me of the cycle of life and energy, particularly creative energy. Every time my inspiration ebbs, I wonder if it will ever flow again. I promise myself it will but it’s nice to have a celestial reminder that darkness regularly comes before the brightest light.

Did you see that great moon last night? Did it inspire lyrical words in you as it did in the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, Amy Lowell?


Photo: Alan Bolitho


Hoping for serendipity


Word count: 281                                              Reading time: 2 mins. 

All last night I dreamt about lost animals: finding a litter of tiny kittens strewn in garbage heaps in an alley, a hungry coonhound pup pawing at the back door. These sweet animals weaved themselves into my subconscious and I didn’t sleep well for worrying. This morning I opened the newspaper to the headline that a local dog rescue group has been linked to dog-napping. Vancouver Sun

Bad surprise.

Years ago I went scuba diving with a girlfriend in the chilly waters off Horseshoe Bay, West Vancouver. On the beach that day was an Aussie diver who set his sights on me. I rebuffed him, he held his course. Five years later I married him. Happily ever after.

Good surprise.

In real life I hope for only serendipity, inadvertent good luck. As a reader I love sinister twists and turns, especially if the end of a story is uplifting.

As I careened through NaNoWriMo 2011 a revelation rocked me at 36,000 words. I tripped over a central theme to the story that I hadn’t seen at the outset. Good surprise.

This week I looked at another novel that has been resting for the past month. The voice isn’t quite right yet. Bad surprise. I reminded myself that the revisions need time. Randy Susan Meyers and Roz Morris

Solution: I’m using literature to wake me from “the sleepwalk of self-involvement” (William Deresiewicz). In other words, I’m reading lots. I’m also listening to music and getting outdoors to enjoy the scenery. Both of these activities trigger images that no other process can release.

What surprises are shaking your world right now? How do you manage them and how do they influence your writing? 


 Photo of Salt Spring Island by: Aidan Cassie

Greetings from the sunny Gulf Islands of British Columbia

Today I have waded into the waters of web construction.

So far I have uploaded three of my short stories for your reading pleasure. You will find them under Short Fiction on the menu at the right:

  • A Matter of Choice was first published in the anthology Breaking Free  More recently it was selected for inclusion in the 2011 Penguin Review Anthology.
  • Blind Date won the Pauline Walsh Friends of the Hills Library Prize awarded by a chapter of the Fellowship of Australian Writers.
  • Constant Cravings, previously titled, Hunger, was published in the Writers Writing Right anthology and later was included in Sarah LaPolla’s blog, Glass Cases.