Tag Archives: Helen Humphreys

Freaking Out!

Gawd. I am losing it, and so, apparently, is the rest of the world. Everyone is fighting one another, my sodding firstFH9J-born is still not speaking to me with extreme prejudice, journalists are being kidnapped and women everywhere are being killed and raped and abused and by golly jinkums, I am just about ready to lose it and go postal on the entire place. And don’t get me started on the mess that is this Canadian government, else I shall shoot coffee out of my nose and burn you with the effluent.

It’s hard being cheerful in such a world. I find it almost impossible. Why just the other day I thought, quite seriously, about driving my car into a tree. What’s it all FOR, anyway? We don’t seem to be progressing, we dwell in hatred and anger and the urge (ever larger) to cling to the almighty penny rather than share a wee bit with anyone else.

What the hell is wrong with us all.

Oh yeah, and I’m writing crap. For my course. Which means I will have to send it to someone I respect and feel her frustration and watch the edits mount up online. Which of course is the worst thing of all the above…

Just kidding. The world sucketh anon. But if it weren’t for people like Helen Humphreys and Roald Dahl and Christopher Moore and Terry Pratchett and Stella Gibbons and Bronwyn Wallace and Norton Juster and A.A.Milne and Edward Gorey and Jose Saramago and Donna Morrissey and PG Wodehouse and Nancy Mitford and Kermit, it would sucketh more, much much more.

And so off I toil, in the hope that somewhere in all this random verbiage, a flicker of magic may occur that makes some of this soul-sucking world make sense, even for a moment.


Sometimes you feel like a star, sometimes you don’t…

ImageSo, very cleverly, I thought, I announced to the world on FaceBook that I’d been accepted to the Humber School¬†and would be studying under the luminescent Donna Morrissey. Clever, I thought, because of accountability. See, if everyone knows I’m writing, I’ll have to bloody do it, won’t I?

Not so cleverly because I’d recently decided NOT to let people know I was writing until I actually had more publications to show them, it having been a long dry spell since the last ones. This being partially because of my initiation focus – I am SO good at starting things, much less effective at seeing them to fruition. How I wish I had the persistence of Judy Penz Sheluk, my writing colleague, who wins my personal award for the least procrastination and most persistence of any writer I know. And she writes wonderfully, too, which must help, but the thing is she also EDITS wonderfully, and that is something I aspire to but rarely reach.

One has only to see my employment history to see that. I get bored easily.

But lately, it’s been bored into my skull (ha ha) that I am going to have to grow up and do some completion tasks. I can do it, I have done it, it is possible, though never ever my preference. No, for me I prefer the climb up to the top of the roller coaster, the anticipation, rather than the end rolling into the stop part.

The Writer’s Union class I went to reminded me it takes years to hone a book. Years and years. And the talk by Donna Morrissey yesterday talked about three years per book. Which on the one hand takes the pressure off a bit, on the other reminds me of all the editing I’m going to have to do, the endless drafts, the living with my characters until they seem like family and the type of family you can only bear to see once a year at that.

But it’s time to take things seriously. So there I went, confessing my admission, not confessing my silly hopes for such a venture which shall remain my own, and I end up getting what I asked for – the class I wanted, the author I wanted to work with (It was either Donna or Helen Humphreys or Trevor Cole – I adore them all, different as they are). And for the story I’m writing, Donna is the most perfect.

And now I feel like the sardine being et here in this photo. Captured by a star, feeling a bit panicked as I go forward. Wondering if I’ll make it out alive.

All I can say is that I am counting on Donna’s sense of humour, dark and funny and wicked, to see her through my struggles…

photo credit: Elton Lin

Dear Geist,

How inadequate you make me feel. I simply don’t GET you.

This morning I opened a free sample of your magazine, mailed to me with a pleading note to renew my subscription, offering a free tote bag if I took you on for three years. The magazine had tempting titles: “why I mastered ukulele”(a favourite instrument), “Helen Humphreys” ( a favourite author), “inferno, purgatorio, paradiso” (a favourite book).

Eyes flipped wide. What the heck, I thought, I’ll give it another look. Usually I find Geist impenetrable, hopelessly fond of literary jumping jacks and the ultra hipster feel of Vancouver on a hyper-caffeinated day. It thinks of itself as cool, above readers, unspeakably literate.

I find it tiresome.

The ukulele temptation was a poem of impossible inaccessibility. About flamenco dancing.

The Helen Humphreys review was oddly patronizing, which made me angry, but not strongly enough to feel the urge to care. I adore Helen’s writing, and I find even in her less engaging novels moments of pure transcendence. The final comment was cold: “made me want to comfort Helen. This too shall pass.” So glad you can recover quickly, reviewer, whoever you are.

The Dante article did remind me I wanted to read him, but the article was too full of masturbatory self-congratulation to be meaningful.

And then there was a whole page devoted to “I’ll-advised status updates”, an unfunny collection that surely to god we can find in too many places already. Ick. Grow up.

It all made me long for a good wallow through the much much better and less snottily pretentious New York Review of Books. Therein I learn things, I find new authors to stimulate my mind, I find actual thoughtful reviews about books and less about the writer of the review.

And that’s the thing, Geist. If you weren’t so enraptured with your own total coolness, I’d be tempted to subscribe. I like to support Canadian magazines, I regularly get and read the Walrus, Quill and Quire and such. But a gal only has so much free time for reading and I prefer to spend my time reading something of value.

So keep your tote bag. I will miss the maps of place names on a theme, though. Those are cute.

Writing emotions

51wm-tvG3pL._SL500_AA300_Apparently there is an “Emotional Thesaurus” out there to help writers describe their character’s emotions.

I now quake with fear that writing shall degenerate into a series of emotions resembling those wordy yet uninformative phrases on your elementary school child’s report card: “Alice occasionally needs reminding that others are allowed to use classroom supplies”, to describe a crayon hoarding malevolent witch child who licks every Crayola while using it and then bites it into chunks and spits those chunks at unsuspecting classmates…
See, I worry.

It’s too too easy to slip into using the same phrases over and over again.

Just think of the omnipresent F word, used as a verb, a noun, and adjective, an adverb, and an expletive.

Or the charmingly odious heroine of the repellent “50 Shades of Grey” who, upon being flown to a foreign country, f-worded to an inch of her life, fed her first caviar, and being presented with her very own jet for shopping trips, responds with a sincere, “Holy Shit!”

Of course, she also uses this when a flower arrives for her, or she brushes her teeth with a new toothpaste, or perhaps discovers that computers exist.

Someone, somewhere, is feverishly underlining in yellow (or pink, always a favourite) choice words in this emotional thesaurus, priming them for use in the very next novel they write. It’s like those word a day calendars, where immediately people think they have to work words like intussusception into the most casual of conversations.

“Oh, Gladys, that stocking seems to be suffering from intussusception!”

I foresee acres of FEELINGS, per page 34.

It saddens me.

See, the writers I like to read, and aspire to write like, don’t, I think, look in a thesaurus for feelings. They sit at their keyboards and intussuscept themselves into their characters. They put themselves in their character’s situation and let the feelings wash over them.
They wallow a bit, chew over the bits that they can’t quite swallow (don’t you adore all these mixed metaphors?), gulp the tough ones back, and then (forgive me) regurgitate them onto the page.
They FEEL the feelings, even if they are damp and perhaps a bit smelly.

How else can you explain how people like Helen Humphreys or Neil Gaiman or Alice Munro or Denise Mina or countless others pull our souls along with them on their literary ride?

It’s not a recipe, folks, this writing thing. Otherwise there’d be a Kraft Dinner box with bright yellow and blue lettering with “just add some nutrition” on the back.

I’d say it’s more like haggis.
At least, that’s how I feel.images-1

International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award – or check here to depress yourself about a writing career

Wow. Just pulled up this list, as my favourite author ever, Helen Humphreys, is on the long-list, for her wonderful book, The Reinvention of Love.

GAWD it’s depressing how many really truly good books there are out there.

It’s not that I feel envy, no, it’s just that when I read them I realize how far away my little dream of writing a really good book is. (See, even that sentence structure should tell you I am a rank amateur, unworthy of attention).

I mean, can’t you glowing wonderful, fabulous writers take a holiday or something? Just for a couple of years or so, until some of us catch up?

I am going to go drown my sorrows in a cup of eggnog latte at the delightful Cafe Brea and review my options. Perhaps I’ll give up and do needle felting for a while til the desire to write passes.

Meanwhile, have a look at the list (click the link). Every book on it is worthy of a read.


Wishing and dreading and hoping…

I have just read a novel of such unspeakable beauty that I am overwhelmed. Donna Morrissey’s Sylvanus Now is breathtaking, right from the first vision of Sylvanus jigging fish: right forearm up, left forearm down, left forearm up, right forearm down; to the vision of Adelaide’s eye, sparkling blue. It’s a novel about the changing of the fishery in Newfoundland, when large trawlers came in to rape the seas and the governments abandoned both the sea and the careful tenders of her in favour of cheap fish and way too much of it. It’s a story of a people forced to change their ways of life, and it seems as fresh now as when it was written, as we all cope with a changing economy and hang on the American election with bated breath, wondering what our future in Canada holds, tied as we are to the tails of the American Bald Eagle (a carrion-eater) and the Chinese Tiger (endangered by environmental change).

Donna Morrissey has won many awards for her writing, and they are well-deserved. Her power in a sentence is vast. Her ability to evoke the feelings of the people she describes, complicated and earthy and thoughtful and hidden as they are is astonishing.

I can’t believe I hadn’t read her before.

I feel small, I do, as I struggle to bring my words to life in even a tenth of the way Morrissey does. I know there are many authors who don’t write this way and are still successful, and who write perfectly acceptable stories and thrillers that make you want to stay up all night or love stories that make you yearn for the glory of new love (well, except for we cynics). But all of my life, despite my stated fondness for the “good enough” story, I’ve yearned to write like Morrissey, like Helen Humphreys, Frances Itani, Bronwyn Wallace. I want to wrestle feelings from readers, transport them, make them feel the sea spray or the bombs thundering or the mud or the fear.

It’s funny the reaction I have when reading such writing. I relax into the book, knowing I am in the hands of a master, knowing the book will take me on a ride and enclose me in its world. I stay awake, eyelids flipping up and down like a blind in the hands of a misbehaving preschooler, unwilling to let the world go, reading just that one more page. With lesser books, I stay alert, less involved, easier to distract, more likely to put it down, even if it is a good book. The great books show me their hearts. I can’t help but respond.

And the feeling lingers. After Sylvanus Now, I want to go out and see the sea, inhale it, feel its call, see the salt-bleached houses, run the wind through my hair.

Fortunately, I live in Nova Scotia. The sea is fifteen minutes away. “Go on, you foolish thing,” I can hear Florry say.