This morning Christine Cowley from the Bay 88.7 FM interviewed me for her monthly talk show, Storylines. Christine is a warm and thoughtful interviewer who likes to showcase new Canadian authors and local writers from Muskoka, Ontario. It was such a pleasure to speak with her about the book.
Christine asked me in-depth questions about Plastic: what is the significance of the stories from minor characters in the book, what is the connection between social media and self-perception and who I was hoping to reach with the book? We also talked about the vulnerability of women in our society.
You can hear my answers on Saturday, July 14 about 8 am EST or Wednesday, July 18 around 11 pm EST. Shortly thereafter, the station will upload a podcast, which I will also post on my site.
The Bay 88.7 FM is a community radio station serving cottage country in Ontario (their broadcast area covers all of Muskoka). Over 60 volunteers, including Christine, create the programming content, which includes a full selection of talk shows on Saturday and Sunday mornings, called Muskoka Magazine. They have an international audience, who tune in directly through the site or through an app. Their eclectic mix of content offers something for everyone.
After the interview, Christine and I discussed the writing life. It is a tough slog sometimes, and we writers can wonder just why we devote so many hours to our work. We reminded each other that it isn't the outcome that is important. It is the fact we are doing something we love and expressing our creativity that brings us joy and a sense of fulfillment. In fact, we both agreed that we couldn't imagine not writing. Christine is working on her first novel, after a career of writing non-fiction and interviewing fellow writers. I wish her the best of luck.
A huge thank you to Christine for her insightful questions and for having me on her show.
Saturday, May 12, was the launch of the Emerging Local Authors Collection at the main branch of the Greater Victoria Public Library. This is the fourth year of the program, which highlights the work of local authors. The library has now displayed over 600 books written by Victoria writers, young and old alike. There are children's books, poetry books, fiction and non-fiction books, either published by small presses or self-published in paper or e-book format.
This year, my book Plastic joined the roster. The launch was a great opportunity to connect with fellow writers and check out the selection of books on display this year.
One of my writer friends, Rachel Goldsworthy, also has a book in the collection this year. So we were able to share in the celebration together. A huge thank you to the Greater Victoria Public Library for showcasing the work of local authors.
Researching Hard Truths
Research provides the backbone to a story. Sometimes, we can base the story on our lives, and we have years of "research" to draw on. But far more often, writers create a world, a character or a situation that is new to them. And then we have to discover all we can about it to make the story come alive.
I love researching places. It was a pleasure to return over and over again to the San Diego area when I was writing Plastic. My trips allowed me to soak in the atmosphere, pick up on differences in dialect or vocabulary and heighten my descriptions of the natural surroundings.
Researching characters is practically a daily occurrence. I'm always storing away tidbits of information heard or seen: the way someone reaches for a pen, compassionate glances, angry words, etc. Once I start writing a book, I build the character partly by gathering up some of these tidbits and partly by putting the character into scenes and seeing how he or she reacts.
Where the real work of researching comes in for me is the unknown situation. This takes time. The main character in Plastic was a former beauty queen. A world I knew nothing about. I read books about former beauty queens and spent far too much time on the Internet reading about pageants, watching videos of contestants and looking at photos from the time period when Debbie would have been competing. I discovered a few uncomfortable things but they made me cringe more than cry. Not so with my next book.
My next book has a much darker subject matter, and the research can be tough. It's important to me that the story be told, and I want it to ring true. So I am delving into the research when I have little pockets of time. And then I need to take a breather. How lucky I am to be able to pull back from the darkness. For some people, this is their truth. In telling this story, I have to honour the people who actually live through such difficult circumstances. The women who have so little choice in their own lives.
The Year of The Dog
Gung hay fat choi. Welcome to the year of the dog!
I got a head start on the year back in November when
I welcomed Cory into my home. As I mentioned in my
last post, Cory is a black Lab in training to become
a service dog with the BC and Alberta Guide
Dog Association. And Cory is teaching me a lot
about hard work, loyalty and sacrifice. My life
changed overnight, and it was not at all what I
expected. But then few life-changing events ever are.
As with any such adventure, training a puppy comes with a whole set of challenges. Dogs don't speak English and find our fussy ways confusing and frustrating at times. Add on to this the myriad rules specific to guide dogs, and we have a recipe for mutual frustration. Cory couldn't be crated and she suffered from separation anxiety. If she couldn't see me, she panicked. And then destroyed things. We had a very rocky start to our year-long relationship. She demanded constant attention, which put a halt to my writing, my social life and even my job. Unless she was sleeping, I had to focus my attention on her. Cory did not like to sleep during the day. So my evenings were crammed with trying to catch up on work and finding silent ways to cook or clean so as not to wake her.
Then there were the nights. Cory woke up between two and four times each night to do her business. Sleep became a precious commodity that I stole in two-hour chunks. As the weeks progressed, and my lack of sleep made it harder to focus and keep smiling, I really questioned whether I could make it through an entire year with her.
Then, a full two months after she arrived, things started to improve. Small miracles appeared, like sleeping from midnight to 7 am. Her baby teeth started to fall out, and she bit and chewed less often. She took naps during the day. She stopped freaking out if I left her alone for short periods. As she matures, she is becoming more manageable and more enjoyable to be around.
But the experience so far has taught me two important lessons: I can never take on such a demanding volunteer role again while I am working and I am not cut out to be a puppy trainer. I will honour the contract I signed and do my best to make sure Cory passes her service dog evaluation. At times, the thought of her helping a person with a visual impairment or autism has been the only thing keeping me going. Because I know my year of sacrifice will give someone else a decade or more of companionship and assistance. But I also know that these dogs deserve to have the best trainers, people who have more time and energy to devote to them.
Cory will continue to teach me about compassion, patience, consistency and a few other surprises. I know I will feel proud of my efforts when it is time for her to move on to advanced training. But I also look forward to having my life back and to devoting myself to my writing again. With a little distance, I will be able to distill some of the mayhem of this year into my fiction in one form or another.
So this is Christmas
It has been a different kind of Christmas for me this year. Usually, I fly home to Halifax on Christmas Eve and then spend a jam-packed week visiting as many relatives as I can squeeze in. It's a run, run Rudolph pace with the occasional panic of being stuck in an airport in either direction due to storms.
Not this year. I stayed in Victoria. I'll take it as a kind of Christmas miracle that it snowed December 24, granting me a white Christmas after all. On Christmas morning, I Skyped with my family, who later enjoyed a turkey dinner in candlelight due to a power outage. As for me, I enjoyed a Christmas feast with new friends I met through Cory, the reason I stayed in Victoria this year.
Cory is a three-month-old black Lab I am raising for BC and Alberta Guide Dogs. She is adorable, rambunctious, strong-willed, goofy and exhausting. And she will spend a year with me in puppy training. So I am dubbing 2018 the Year of the Dog. It just so happens that the Chinese calendar agrees. On February 16, Chinese New Year ushers in the Year of the Dog. A year of lifestyle changes, which I can already attest to, thanks to Cory. More on that in the next post.
For now, I will appreciate the kindness of friends who have been helping me adjust, supporting me over the initial hurdles and enveloping me in their holiday traditions. I will leave all of you with a wish for peace and joy in 2018 and with a photo of Cory to melt your heart.
A writer's journey