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Monday, October 31, 2005

THE DAY OF THE DEAD -- A REMEMBRANCE

MONDAY, Oct 31 HALLOWE'EN

It is somehow appropriate that today is the viewing of my friend, that this weekend was the 'Day of the Dead" celebrations in many countries including Latin America. And his daughter told me today that every Hallowe'en he'd take the grandchildren out trick-or-treating. She said he loved Hallowe'en. Me too. It's always been a spooky but fun time for me. And tonight, I've invited friends over for a pot-luck video night to celebrate -- a 'day of the dead' remembrance. We're going to watch that marvelously funny film "Ed Wood" which seems oddly appropriate.

Patrick and I passed by the apartment today and had a little visit with his daughter and wife. Patrick had brought them gifts from Germany -- the gift he'd brought for Anibal (classical music) he gave to Anibal's wife and there was a box of special sweets for the rest of the family. They were so touched, both were in tears. Anibal had talked to them about Patrick, told them that he had an 'angel spirit' in him (true!). He would have been so touched to know that Patrick made a special trip from Germany to see him. But of course, he is looking in on us and I'm sure he will know, somehow. A shame though, that Patrick will only get to see him for this last time at the viewing tonight. And tomorrow is the funeral. But at least he has gotten to know the family and this is truly special for him as it has been for me.

I have bought a white rose to take. I'll write on the card this line from "Hamlet"
" Good night, sweet prince,
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!"

To tell the truth, my heart is breaking. It's just beginning to sink in, the reality. He's gone and I'll never see him or talk to him again. Dear, dear Anibal, I loved you so much!

Friday, October 28, 2005

PINK ORCHIDS FOR A BLUE LADY

FRIDAY, Oct 28.

Yesterday, one of the ladies at my Memoir group brought me some beautiful magenta pink orchids. She said she'd seen them and knew she must get them for me. When I told her about my friend's illness and impending death, she said then that she knew there had been a real reason why she had bought them so spontaneously. And true, it was an appropriate gesture, which I really appreciated. I meant to write this entry yesterday, but didn't because I had a class last night. And this morning, I got the call. Anibal died at 8.15 a.m. today in the arms of his loving family. He has gone peacefully to that beautiful garden full of flowers that he described to them where he said people were waiting for him. He was alert enough to squeeze their hands, just as on Wednesday he had been alert enough to recognize me, say my name and smile at me. It's that smile of his that I will always remember.

Be at peace, dear friend. You were loved and will be missed by many. When I hear that music you loved so much I will remember you. But I'll try to keep on dancing and smiling back at you. You would want that.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

STARTING THE NEW WEEK

TUESDAY, October 25
Yesterday I accidently posted my writer's blog on this site, but I decided to just leave it here and recopied it on to "Living the Writer's Life" as well. It was quite a strenuous and exciting weekend and I'm all recovered now, ready to start this new week fresh.

Something troubling, though...I went to visit A. yesterday and he seems to have taken a turn for the worse. I hope it's just one of those 'bad days' but it looked pretty grim. I promised to visit again today but I'm stalling off til later. It's so emotionally draining, keeping the 'stiff upper lip' and all that (yesterday his daughter told me how they'd been talking about me -- how I'm always so positive when I come to visit. She doesn't know about all the times I cry when I get home.) This weekend my German friend Patrick is arriving on a special trip to visit A. so I hope and pray that he will rally again before then. It is meant to be a huge surprise to boost his spirits but the last couple of times I've seen A. he's been out of it -- the meds are muddling his brilliant mind, not eating properly and distressed and depressed. It's such a tragedy!

One good thing this week is the end of the teacher's strike, so tomorrow I can resume teaching my night school classes and the money will once again come trickling in. I've somehow managed to get through the past two weeks with generous donations from Guardian Angels and yesterday a friend paid me back some money unexpectedly which I'd forgotten I'd loaned her. Praise God from Whom all blessings flow!

Today, I joined my former grad class ladies for our monthly luncheon. One of them fronted me enought to buy lunch which was generous of her. I will be so glad to get out of this deep financial hole I seem to have plunged into since the summer. But it's pretty clear now that I am NOT going to get any more daycare calls. It seems I am 'retired' now whether I wanted to be or now. Funny business going on there. I had a talk to with a co-worker and it's the same old story -- the director seems to be pushing out the long-time staff in favour of her relatives and other Asian girls much less (or not) qualified. An unhealthy situation but I've seen it happen over and over again in daycare. And that's one reason why I gave up working full-time some years ago.

Anyway, I have lots of work to do with my writing, trying to finish my novel and get some more travel stories written. So it's a matter of disciplining myself to get busy and focus on the task at hand (which I should be doing at this very moment!)

Monday, October 24, 2005

A WEEKEND IN LITERARY LAND

"You can declare at the very start that it's impossible to write a novel nowadays, but then, behind your back so to speak, give birth to a whopper, a novel to end all novels."
Gunter Grass (1927 -) The Tin Drum (1959) bk 7 "The Wide Skirt"

This weekend was the Surrey International Writer's Conference (www.siwc.com) and I was a volunteer (mainly because, being a poor full-time writer I can never afford to attend it otherwise.) I was thrilled with the jobs I was given: to introduce several of the authors and agents for their workshops. I was also able to attend a few of the workshops where I was either a door monitor or just sitting in. I made a lot of notes, and will include them here to share the information with you other writers who sometimes visit my blog site.

I introduced Deirdre Knight of the Knight Agency. This is what she had to say about the Author/Agent Relationship:
There will be several good agents, so start with the right person. Keep a good personality fit. You want someone who likes the full scope of what you are doing. Agents are the managers of your careers. Regarding blogs: Blogs help you equip yourself better.

I monitored and sat in on an exception lecture by Michael Slade, crime/suspense writer. Interestingly, this is his pen name. He also co-writes with his daughter. He used to be a lawyer and is a dynamic speaker as well as a high-impact writer!
Suspense: How to Avoid the Mistakes That Break It.
Keep the reader on the edge of their seat. Start with action, explain later. Hook the reader with the first line. Every chapter ends with a hook too.
Write the last sentence in the book before you write the first one. Then you know where the payoff goes and the plot will all move to this point.
Make it tough for your hero. Give him a worthy villain.

I introduced a B.C. author who writes Memoirs. This is what Luanne Armstrong had to say:
Memoirs are a best-selling genre these days. You can make a brilliant story out of ordinary life. ("Pilgrim at Tinker Creek" by Annie Dillard was an example of this.
Attention to details is important in a memoir. Involve the reader. Turn the focus on to ordinary things. The memorist's job is to get under the story: What happened? Why? Ask yourself "What is the story beneath your story?"

At the workshop for "Why Anne Boleyn is the Poster Girl for Historical Fiction" I introduced agent Irene Goodman. She told us: The story must capture the imagination of the reader. Write with authenticity. Write what comes from the deepest part of you.
The time for historical fiction has never been better than now. Her agency looks for stories with strong, interesting women heroines drawn from real historical characters. (The agency also handles other genres.)

It was quite a thrill for me to be chosen as the introducers for three best-selling authors:
Jean Auel, Diana Gabaldon and Terry Brooks for the workshop: "Worlds that Were and Worlds that Might Have Been" This was a panel discussion with a lot of input from the audience. Here's some of the comments the authors made:
Terry Brooks, author of the best-selling Magic Kingdom series -- "The Sword of Shannara" etc.
On World-building: It has to resonate in a way to make sense. There must be a level of believablity - a willing suspension of disbelief. He says he outlines everything but doesn't necessarily do a lot of research.

Jean Auel ("The Earth's Children" series, most notably "Clan of the Cave Bear")
says she starts with a story idea, researching and makes lots of notes, and then makes a bare outline. She is still using the origianal draft of "Clan of the Cave Bear" to build on her newest novel in the series (book six).

Diana Gabaldon, author of the best-selling "Outlander" series, warns that researching can be a pitfall for historical writers. (Be careful you aren't just researching and not writing!) Research and writing feed off each other. Interesting pieces of information can trigger plot ideas.
She writes in bits an dpieces (randomly) rather than in a linear way.

They all said: Keep working at something! You need to keep writing! Trust your instincts!

Both Diana Gabaldon and Jack Whyte, a B.C. writer, are very popular presenters at the Surrey Conference. I was pleased to be able to introduce Jack Whyte for his interesting workshop on "Description". Jack Whyte has a series of books about the Arthurian legends and Roman Britain and is currently writing a series on the Knights Templar. One thing he emphasized was: Don't over-describe. Description is crucially important. Set the scene and sescribe what is visually relevant. In "telling" you have to "show" Don't use complicated words. Keep it simple. Don't give too much detail. Leave something to the reader's own imagination.

I also attended a workshop on Blogging: A Writer's Tool by Teresa Nielsen Hayden, an editor.
Blogging helps you break out of writer's block. It keeps you in touch with other writers and puts your words out there. She says she always replies to comments on her blog site!

I sat in on two workshops with author Jessica Morrell. One was "Nail the Ending" in which she pointed out: The final lines are important. Make your ending satisfying to the reader. Spectacular endings may seem false. Keep your work true to itself.

In the lecture : "Bullies, Bastards, and Bitches -- Bad Guys in Fiction" she suggested:
Work on the back story of the antagonist or villain. Create a plot so the secrets of the back story come up toward the end of the story. She went over the various types of antagonists and their personality flaws, traits etc. She said an unlikeable antagonist is difficult to pull off and has to have an extreme personality. (such as Don Corlioni). Anti Heros are somewhere between villain and protagonist and often seen as an outsider. (Willie Loman). Is he redeemable?
Multiple point of view works best when you have unlikable protagonists in your story. The come-uppance in your story can't be contrived. Usually the unlikable character brings himself /herself down. Show your characters are like us, not unlike us, by presenting their back-story. Where did they go wrong? What made them into the kind of person they are now?

I found this workshop relevant to my own novel in that I have a multiple point of view with many of the historical characters portrayed as anti-heros - and one distinct villain! In fact, I created a couple of fictional 'heros' for my novel because so many of the key players in the fall of Alexander's dynasty were anti-heros or antagonists. This particular lecture also gave me some good insights and ideas for strengthening the real heros of my novel. I have also built up the characters of several of the women involved because historians gave them bad press and in researching their lives I realized what strong women they really were. In fact, there's a couple of them who deserve books of their own!

It was a great conference and I was so glad I was able to participate, although it would have been even more excellent had we been invited into the lunches (especially the genre lunch) and dinners. We did manage to schmooze a ticket for the Saturday dinner with the keynote speaker award winning author Jennifer Cruisie. And on Sunday we sat in on the keynote address by Diana Gabaldon who is a delightful person.

I came home yesterday (Sunday) totally exhausted, my head full of ideas, burning with inspiration. So this week I am determine to focus entirely on my novel writing, although I'm happy to learn the teacher's strike is over so my night-school classes will resume this week too.
Lots to write. So little time! Better get to work right now!

"Really, the writer doesn't want success. He knows he has a short span of life, that the day will come when he must pass through the wall of oblivion, and he wants to leave a scratch on that wall - 'Kilroy Was Here' - that somebody a hundred, or a thousand years later will see."
William Faulkner (1897-1962) From "Faulkner in the University (1959) session 8


Thursday, October 20, 2005

THREE STRIKES AND YOU'RE OUT!

THURSDAY, Oct. 20

The on-going teacher's strike is now managing to completely muck up my life. Although I have been in solidarity with their cause (and now so are a number of other unions, causing general strikes in various areas of the province) it has now dragged on for two full weeks. I am informed by the VSB that if it doesn't end by the 27th the entire Fall night school program will be cancelled. As it is, I've been out of work for two weeks now (though last week at this time I was very sick and would have had to cancel anyhow). This means, of course, no pay. I was expecting a substantial cheque over the weekend and otherwise would have had the foresight to set some extra aside (what, I don't know, as I am constantly living on the edge and frankly I'm sick of it!)

Besides the schools being closed, I was unable to go to waterfit this week as the pools and fitness centre and library are also closed at my community centre as it's part of the school.
This weekend I'm introducing writers at the writers' conference, an assignment of great honour for me. Then I heard that tomorrow all the CUPE workers are striking in solidarity with the teachers. They claim this won't affect transit but you can bet it's bound to as I would imagine a number of the drivers won't cross picket lines. It's imperative I get out to the suburban hotel where these events are being held and I can only get there by sky-train/bus. Fortunately my friend Suzaki is also volunteering and has kindly offered to let me stay at her place tonight as she has a car and lives near the hotel.

I stopped by the bank this afternoon to collect my last $20 and discovered that I am actually overdrawn because I forgot about my apartment insurance. This was about the last straw! I was walking home feeling very despondent wondering what the hell am I going to do, penniless for the weekend (and informed we volunteers don't get supper provided as I'd thought we would). Who came bouncing along toward me but J.P. the French chef who has indeed become my Guardian Angel. He greeted me with his usual sparkling smile, hugged me and asked how I was. I moaned a bit, complained about the strike and all. He said "Oh, you need money?" and whipped out a fistful of bills, insisted I take them. It was a lot of money! I said I couldn't possibly take that much. He said to take what I needed and when I was only going to take $20 he insisted on me having more. $60! Wow! I was speechless. Said I'd pay him next week, but he said not to worry. I swear this guy has been put on earth to look over me. This is not the first time he has come to my rescue, the first being the very first time I met him, the night I had my wallet stolen. He is really a special person and a true Knight in shining armour coming to help the damsel in distress. I had wondered recently if chivalry was dead. But I can see that it really isn't!

Now, hopefully the strike will end. soon. Because if it doesn't, I'm out of work until January!

Thursday, October 13, 2005

FIGHTING THE FLU BUG

THURSDAY, Oct 13

I've been so ill the past couple of days I had to cancel a few events including my Memoir group. My other two night school classes have been cancelled due to the teacher's strike. But one important thing I needed to attend was the orientation for volunteers for the Writer's Conference next week. I couldn't even get out of my bed so I was unable to attend and hope that doesn't cancel me out as a volunteer. (I see they have me down to introduce a few of the presenters/authors so that will be a great opportunity!)

As soon as I got sick, I realized that perhaps this is why my friend A. has been feeling so ill since he got home from the hospital. All his symptoms sound similar. I hope that's what it is and not something far worse. He was doing well in the hospital but since arriving home last Friday he has been steadily sinking into a deep depression and saying he didn't feel well. He can't afford to get any bugs because of his serious condition and no doubt his immune system is right down.

It's unusual for me to be sick too and I can remember when the last time was that I felt so grim. Hopefully by tomorrow it will have passed. At least today I'm able to be up and about. Yesterday I couldn't even leave my bed.

Friday, October 07, 2005

KEEPING MY NOSE TO THE KEYBOARD!

FRIDAY, October 7

Today is a writing day and just as soon as I make my (late) breakfast I'll be here at the keyboard writing away! It's another gray, wet day so good to stay indoors although later I must hike up to the Drive to buy the groceries for the Thanksgiving dinner I'm having Sunday.
I've invited my son Steve, his wife Sue and two bachelor friends, my Havana Buddy and George.

My friend is coming home from the hospital today so that will save me a lot of trips downtown as he lives just around the corner from me. I pass by his place nearly every day at least once and I have an invitation to drop by any time. It's so much more convenient and it will be much better for him to be in his own environment among friends and family members.

Tonight is my son's early birthday bash at the bistro where he hosts the Blues jams, so I'm meeting Havana Buddy there and a couple of girlfriends. It's sure to be lots of fun. It will be another busy weekend as far as social events go and I also intend to write as much as I can. I'm not feeling so stressed or distracted now so it helps me to concentrate more on my creative endeavours.

Night school and Memoir classes went well this week but now the teachers have gone out on strike it means that next week's night school classes may be cancelled. The VSB has promised to add more days on the end of each session to make up for lost time. We have to honour the picket lines and support the teachers who have been bamboozled once again by our dictatorial provincial government who has 'ordered' them not to strike. They're doing it anyway. Bravo for them!

Sunday, October 02, 2005

I NEED TO WRITE!

SUNDAY, Oct 2. Another cold rainy day on the Wet Coast. We got teased with a couple of days of sunshine and last night that all ended. Looks like it's socked in for awhile now. Autumn is definitely here!

I have been itching to get back to work on my novel all this week after making several pages of notes but between classes and hospital visits I haven't had a moment when I could sit down and get my head around it. Usually I get myself going on the weekend, but this one has been busy. After getting an S.O.S. call from A. yesterday because he was lonely and wanted company, I dropped all my agenda and headed downtown. Was a bit dismayed with the other woman showed up as well. Seems he'd also called her. However I out-stayed her and was there til late afternoon when his daughter arrived.

Today I intended to get errands and chores done that I hadn't done yesterday. I didn't even go out last night I was so exhausted. So this morning I got the summer clothes put away and should have ditched a lot more than I did. Really, is it necessary to hang on to so many old t-shirts? I need a whole new wardrobe but can't afford one right now. If I chuck out all the 'old' clothes, that will be practically my entire closet. So I have to wait....again....

Instead of writing today I ended up meeting my friend Radio Girl and going to our favorite coffee bar for a late lunch and a long chat. The place was packed with rainy-day folk who had the same idea as us. We had an exceptionally great lunch with Italian sandwiches and a plate of appetizers, latte, etc. And spent some pleasant time flirting with a little pinky baby who was sitting next to us. Later went shopping and then walked home in the downpour. Not a nice day at all, but we made the best of it and had fun.

Now I feel the need to write, so I am hoping I can focus this evening and get back to where I'd left off last week. I really need to seriously discipline myself now. There's just been too many distractions and some of the time, when I was feeling so down, I couldn't write.

So, just writing in the blog is a start. Get's the creative juices flowing. And I hope this little conversation with myself does the trick!