Hypergraphia is a condition that causes people to transcribe their thoughts uncontrollably. I don't suffer from it in the clinical sense, but I may be borderline. My blog is the cyber-wall where I spray paint my thoughts for all to see. By the way, if you came here directly through blogger --if your page has no yellow frames and no pretty pic of me in the top left corner -- you may want to visit my main site at www.hypergraffiti.com, where you can read this blog and much much more.


I'm Trudy Morgan-Cole, a writer from St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada. My books include "The Violent Friendship of Esther Johnson," "Esther: A Story of Courage," and "Deborah and Barak." I'm also a married mom of two, a teacher in an adult-ed program, and a Christian of the Seventh-day Adventist kind. I blog about writing, reading, parenting, teaching, spirituality, and shiny things that catch my eye.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

It's Good to be Queen

Hallowe'en is upon us. Christopher is Harry Potter (though for the party we went to tonight he rejected his cape in favour of casual attire), Emma is a "girl wizard," and Jason and I decided to be king and queen. King and queen of what, we're not sure, but we sure do look royal. (I should also point out that the headpiece of my gown has a black chinstrap, which accounts for the slightly bearded look I am sporting in the photos below ... not that I have suddenly grown facial hair!)

We were invited to a party tonight at the home of Christopher's school friend Jessica. As with other parties at Jessica's, we had to leave early because of the atmosphere of cat hair in the air, to which Christopher has a bad allergic reaction. Fortunately, I get to wear my royal robes again at work on Tuesday. Our theme at work for Hallowe'en is to dress up in costumes that are somehow career-related (because Hallowe'en falls during Career Awareness Week). So, I plan to tell everyone that my next career move is to find a small backward country to rule.

Although, most days, Jason and I find ruling our small backward household quite enough of a challenge. God Save Our Gracious We!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Jason's Coming Home Tonight!!

Need I say more?

All in all I think we have survived our dad-less week pretty well. Both kids seem to still be alive, which is a good thing. As for myself, I haven't noticed any new grey hairs. Of course, I haven't looked too closely!

Tonight I took the kids out for supper to Boston Pizza. My parents met us there. Eating out with the kids is a toss-up -- it always seems like it'll be less work and trouble than cooking a meal at home, but sometimes, depending on behavior, it's actually more stressful, especially when other people (such as grandparents) are there so we have worry about how the kids will behave in front of them. Tonight would be ... one of the times where eating out proved to be more trouble than staying home would have been. We were all in pretty good form by the end of the meal but there were some rough times along the way. I'll avoid mentioning any names or details in order to protect the guilty.

Be that as it may, I get my better half back sometime after midnight tonight. And as parenting these two children seems to be very much a two-person job, I will be glad to have backup again!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Quick Dip in the Shallow End

I'm afraid it's impossible for me NOT to post this "House" video. Because you know, until Jason gets home, there's really only one man around my house ....

Flying Solo, Day 5

This Tuesday afternoon finds me not at work where I would normally be, but at home with a(n) (allegedly) sick little boy.

Sick kids. Always such a tough call. I know Christopher has been a bit under the weather the last few days ... having more trouble than usual getting to sleep at night, complaining of headache, sore throat, etc. But as these symptoms usually seem to appear when he has to do something he doesn't want to do, and disappear when he's doing something fun, I've been guessing this might be more emotional, to do with Jason being away, than an actual, physical, viral-type thing.

The "I can't go to school this morning!" complaint is pretty frequent 'round our way, so I have a gold standard: you can't stay home unless you're a) running a fever, or b) vomiting. Preferably both. Neither was in evidence this morning, so I fell back on my old favourite, "Just go to school and see how you're feeling ... you can call me to come get you if you're too sick to stay." I've found 90% of third-grader symptoms disappear within seconds of hitting the pavement outside the school and seeing his friends. Not always, though.

I was heating up my lovely leftover chicken korma in the lunchroom at work when the call came. "Mom, I'm feeling really sick. Mrs. Cadigan said I felt warm to her. Can you come get me?" So I quickly ate some korma, left instructions for my 1:00 class on the board (without much confidence that they're going to be followed!) and headed off for school, where Christopher was sitting on the front step waiting for me.

No sign of fever (maybe Mrs. Cadigan has very cold hands?) but he did seem tired and listless and complained of a headache and upset stomach. So far, we've been home for about 1/2 hour and my attempts to get him to lie down and take a nap have met with little success -- after being in his room for all of five minutes he wandered out and said he had had enough sleep for now. Currently I'm trying to get him to take a nap here in my room and that's not going over so well either. He's lying on my bed trying to reprogram my clock radio, also staring at my bookshelves saying, "Mom, how many Jasper Fforde books do you have?" Doesn't this sound like someone who's well enough to be in school?

To top it all off, he just sighed and said, "I've been asleep for at least half an hour!"

Silver lining: An afternoon at home with a sick child should give me plenty of time to catch up on my writing as I push towards my pre-NaNo deadline of finishing the fantasy novel.

Which, of course, completely explains why I'm updating my blog.

BTW, if anyone's interested in what Jason's up to, check out his blog. And tell him to hurry home to his family who need him!!

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Flying Solo, Day 2

So it's Day Two of Jason's Seattle/Vancouver trip and I am coping JUST FINE. With the practical details of life, that is. I got the kids to school and back yesterday, brought friends home for them to play with in the afternoon, cooked supper, did baths and bedtime. This morning we got up and made it to church on time, I taught their Sabbath School class, got home from church, did lunch etc. Since it was a rainy afternoon with little better to do than watch Narnia on DVD and draw and do puzzles, I even managed the normally Daddy-exclusive feat of putting in a fire. Truly, I am woman. Rrrrrooooowwwwrr. (Hear that?)

The kids, of course, miss Jason -- Emma in her usual dramatic fashion, putting her head down on the table at lunch and saying, "Oh, it's so sad when there's an empty place at the table!!" I told the kids I'd probably miss Dad the most after they were gone to bed because then everything will be quiet and that's the time Jason and I usually hang out, talk, watch TV ...

"Watch 'House,'" Christopher said. It was the air quotes when he said "House" that made this hilarious.

I had been trying to look for the silver lining in my long quiet husband-less evenings. I thought, even when you love someone, living with another person always requires compromises. Jason and I have to decide who gets to use the computer, what to watch on TV, what time to go to bed and who's going to leave the light on to bother the other one who's trying to sleep ... stuff like that. So, I thought, I'll focus on the fact that for a week, once the kids are in bed I'll get to do whatever I want. I've got writing to do, and what with the Internet, and books, and of course House DVDs, I won't be bored or lonely. I can just ... do whatever I want.

Funny thing is, turns out what I most want to do ... is hang out with Jason. I miss laughing with (and at) him at the end of the day. So in the short term, that's a little lonely. But in the long term, it's good, 'cause of how we're married and all so we'll probably be hanging out together for the next 30 or 40 years at least. Just as well we enjoy each other's company!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

3000 Words

So after hardly blogging at all this week, I do TWO posts in a day! Yes, yes, I even amaze myself. Actually, I just thought my work-related blog and my family-related blog should be two separate posts. Mostly I just have some cute stuff to post to make you go "Awwwww."

Like, how cute is THIS? With the missing front tooth? Awwwww...

And, 'tis the season to carve pumpkins. We had to hurry up and do this tonight because Jason is leaving tomorrow for a week-long business trip to Vancouver (with a little pleasure trip to his sister Janice in Seattle thrown in). Jason doesn't travel much so I rarely have to function without him, but on the few occasions I've done it I've emerged with a new respect for single parents. Without my partner and team-mate, we'd never be able to do stuff like this (cause they don't let me handle sharp objects):

Finally, this week we celebrated my Aunt Gertie's 92nd birthday. Any time someone turns 92 and is still able to enjoy blowing out birthday candles, that's a good thing. But in our case it's an even better thing since one year ago Aunt Gertie was in hospital, having surgery for breast cancer (which she first had when I was five, and recovered from). Given that it once seemed unlikely she'd live to see me grow up, the fact that she is now enjoying and spoiling my children amazes me -- and for a woman of her age to recover as well as she has from last year's surgery really reminds us that every day we have with our loved ones is a gift. Here's Chris and Emma "helping" Aunt Gertie with her candles:

Theatre Rats

Today the lovely and talented Christine Hennebury came to my Theatre Arts class to do a workshop with us. She did lots of theatre games with my participants, focusing on movement and action since the students have a tendency to stand still and talk when they're acting, forgetting to move their bodies. Christine gives a great workshop and I think everyone had a good time.

I am so impressed with my Theatre Arts students. They began as a group in which a couple of people were comfortable acting and a lot were wary and uncomfortable. In less than two months they have grown into a group where almost everyone is willing to take some risks, get up in front of the group, improv a scene or try a game. It's really great to see.

I played "Party Quirks" with them the other day and I was delighted to see how they threw themselves into the game ... Vince's performance as the guy who thinks he's in an action movie, or Chris's as the melting snowman, were moments to remember. They brought the same kind of energy to the workshop today and I thoroughly enjoyed watching them in action.

I always remember that (with a few exceptions) my students at The Murphy Centre were the ones who, when they were in high school, sat at the back of the class and rarely got involved or participated -- not necessarily because they're not smart, but because they were disconnected from school, bored by it, or "in trouble" of some kind. Seeing them up front, taking centre stage and actually enjoying themselves in their own very uninhibited way, gives me joy.

I haven't blogged much about school this year but I am having a great year -- if possible, even better than last year. What I remember about this time last year is that I was excited about my classes but I was also very absorbed in the situations of several students who were having difficulty staying in school and keeping up with their classes. This year is different -- we have lost a few students who decided not to stick with it this year, and as these include a couple of my old friends from last year, I feel sorry about that. But those who are still with us seem to be pretty committed to being there and doing well, which makes teaching much more fun.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

And I'd Like to thank Starbucks....

Once again today, a couple of hours' retreat (and a chocolate oatcake) at Chapters/Starbucks helped move me a step further along the road towards having the manuscript I'm working on now completed. If this book ever gets published I will have to thank Starbucks in the Acknowledgements (and would hardly be the first writer to do so!)

All this, of course, is just clearing the decks so I can have a clean desk and an empty mind on November 1 to start a new project for NaNoWriMo.

What? You've never heard of NaNoWriMo? You've never done NaNoWriMo?? If you're a writer, or a would-be writer, and you need a kick in the pants to get moving on a project, or you need to silence your inner critic and just push forward with something rather than agonizing over whether it's "good enough" ... NaNoWriMo may be for you. Writing 50,000 words in November may seem like a tall order, but having thousands of other participants cheering you on (in the online forums ... and in spirit, I guess, for what that's worth) might just be what it takes.

As well as grinding out another chapter on The Stones of Ashreel today, I finally updated Compulsive Overreader with a few more book reviews ... and answered a bunch of emails I felt guilty about not answering. Not bad for a person who essentially didn't get out of bed till noon. Ah yes ... life is good.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Ethical Family Blogging

We think we may have fixed the problem that made the video in my last post unviewable to most people ... but now I'm feeling a little guilty about posting it, because one of the Beautiful Children featured in that video (I'm not supposed to say which one) said it was "embarrassing" and I shouldn't post it. The same child has had issues in the past with being mentioned in Mommy's blog, and I once rashly promised that I would allow said child to approve anything I wrote about him/her before posting it.

The fact that at least one child is now old enough to read my blog and have an opinion on it has really given me some pause for thought about the ethics of being a "mommy-blogger." A lot of blogging moms have babies or preschool children who obviously don't have an opinion about the issue, and a lot of others keep their own and their families' identity anonymous online. For various reasons that I've blogged about elsewhere, I choose to use my real identity online, which means I can't tell my children, "Oh, nobody knows who you are when they read my blog."

It's funny that if I write something about my students that involves quoting them directly, I ask permission, but I consider my children fair game. As a parent, I think there's a transition from babyhood, when you think of your children basically as extensions of yourself, up to the point when they become completely independent human beings. And somewhere along that process, I guess I have to think carefully about how I write about my kids, how honest and open I can be, how much of our family life they want me to share with the world.

One of my favourite writers, Anne Lamott, has taken some flak lately for the way she writes about her now-teenaged son Sam -- something she has done ever since she wrote about his first year of life in the excellent memoir Operating Instructions. More recently, some readers have felt that Lamott's very frank and open way of discussing their parent-child conflicts might be exploiting her son -- although in at least some of her writing she talks about getting his permission to write about certain things. Just as, it seems, I am going to have to get my children's permission to blog about them!

It's an interesting dilemma as a mother and writer -- I consider everything in my life to be "fair game" for my writing, but then that's easy for me to say because I get to make the editorial decisions about what gets shared and what doesn't. Is my family also "fair game"? I don't want to exploit my children for the sake of my blog or any other writing -- but I also hate the idea that a child's embarrassment might preclude me from sharing those "cute kid moments" that I so enjoy blogging about. I'll have to give this some more thought!

In the meantime, it won't embarrass anyone if I tell you that the reading Wednesday night at Mount Pearl library went well; I talked to lots of lovely people who really enjoyed my reading, and I thoroughly enjoyed other people's readings as well. It was great of Christine to invite me. There's a more detailed recap of the event up at Tina's blog if you're interested.

And now, with another week of work, family, writing and whatnot behind me, I think I'm planning an early Friday-night bedtime!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Reading Tonight

Just a reminder for anyone interested that I'll be reading tonight at the Mount Pearl Public Library along with Russell Wangersky, Tina Chaulk, and Paul Butler. If you're in the area and would like to hear me along with some other really great authors, please stop by! The readings start at 7:00 p.m.

And to balance the Shameless Self Promotion, here's some Shameless Child Promotion. You have to have a pretty high tolerance level for "cute" to handle this ... Chris and Emma making a "music video" to Great Big Sea's "Sea of No Cares." Video quality's not the greatest but we are currently experimenting with what we can do with the video function on our digital camera. Well, Jason is experimenting with it ... I'm just along for the ride!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Thanks (Giving)

Yesterday was Thanksgiving and I didn't cook a turkey. I didn't even get around to posting a blog entry listing all the Things I Am Thankful For (or Things For Which I Am Thankful, if you get antsy about ending sentences with prepositions ... which I don't).

I did cook a Thanksgiving meal -- cranberry chicken with rice -- for my parents and my Aunt Gertie and Aunt Vera. It was a pretty low-key Thanksgiving meal, not too labour-intensive, leaving me with lots of time to hang around the house taking pictures of my kids being adorable; Christopher playing with his dad's electric guitar and Emma playing with my 35-year-old Fisher Price toys. And really, when it comes to things I'm thankful for, a picture is worth several thousand words.

I just wrote a list for my last blog (thanks for the comments everyone! I still want to know who other people's crushes are!) so I'm not inclined to generate a Thankfulness List -- plus which, my list is really predictable. I'm thankful for all the things I should be thankful for -- family, friends, God's love, great job, excellent health, books, House on DVD ... There's nothing startling or surprising on my list, and why should there be? "May you live in interesting times" is a curse, not a blessing. I see enough "interesting" lives around me every day; what I'm most grateful for this Thanksgiving is that I do have all those boring, predictable things to be grateful for, and not for one second do I take them for granted.

On Sunday I gave all the change in my van's change tray (about 80 cents) to a panhandler, because he made me smile. He was standing on the median at the traffic lights at Freshwater Rd/Kenmount Rd/Columbus Drive, holding a sign that said, "FAMILY KIDNAPPED BY EVIL NINJAS. NEED SPARE CHANGE FOR KARATE LESSONS." That's so much better, in my eyes, than straight panhandling -- he put some effort into it and gave me a laugh. Well worth my change and the time it took to roll down my window -- and I don't even care what he uses the money for.

80 cents and a smile -- we each gave something, we each got something. Happy Thanksgiving, my dreadlocked panhandling friend, and to all my bloggery friends too. Enjoy this moment. May you live in not-too-interesting times.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Top Ten TV Crushes

So, the House obsession has gotten pretty intense. I'm entirely past the horror of watching medi-gore -- I still avert my eyes from time to time, but less often -- and entirely into the compelling personality of Dr. House. And when I say "into" I do mean "into." So much into, in fact, that I feel the urge to take a nostalgic tour of the Top Ten TV crushes of my life.

What do they have in common? In every case, it was definitely a crush on a character, not on the actor who played him ... while I'm interested in actors, there's a clear distinction in my mind. It's definitely the fictional character I'm drawn to, just as I might be to a character in a book (and my literary crushes could fill a whole other blog entry). There's a sense of humour, of course. And something darker -- a sort of lostness or vulnerability or need that made most of these men attractive to me. It seems, looking through the list, that the dark side gets a little darker later in my life ... possibly after my marriage to a quite nice man who is not terribly dark and brooding at all. Did my bad-boy fantasies need an outlet?

Without further self-analysis, I present: The List.

1. Jerome the Giraffe. I can't explain why I was so drawn to the giraffe puppet on The Friendly Giant, but even as a preschooler I knew there was something special about Jerome. His voice and his big, soft eyes made my little heart melt.

Later in life I made two horrific discoveries about Jerome: he was pink and blue (a fact concealed from me by our lack of colour TV; I had always assumed he was, you know, giraffe-coloured); also, he apparently didn't have a whole body, only a head and neck. Jason revealed this second fact to me when I was twenty-six years old and I have to say I was more than a little shaken up. He still finds this hilarious. When I mentioned Jerome tonight, Jason immediately burst into a soulful rendition of "I Ain't Got No Body."

2. "Alex" on the Uncle Bobby Show. Beautiful singing Alex with his guitar was my gateway into the world of Crushes on Human Beings. I found him irresistible and used to have fantasies (not those kind of fantasies!! Eeewww!!! I was four) in which Alex was in some terrible trouble and only I could save him (interesting to see how early my rescue-fixation kicked in, isn't it?)

Alex (whose real name was Alex Laurier and who appeared on other children's TV shows of the 70s, most notably The Polka Dot Door) didn't appear to have much of a dark side. But why is it nearly impossible to find a picture of him online? Why did his career sink without a trace? Some of the online bios I read made vague references to him having had a "difficult life" since the Uncle Bobby days, but one site said he had been accused of child molestation, back in the day. (Funny, too, because if there was anyone on The Uncle Bobby Show giving off the creepy-old-man vibes, it was definitely Uncle B., not Alex. Looks can be deceiving, apparently).

I hope it's not true, but if it is, I have clearly beat Sherry's record for Tragic Childhood Crushes, set after Grizzly Adams was busted for cocaine.

3. Bob from Sesame Street. Another smiling, singing man ... but a little less sinister, apparently. You just call out my name, Bob, and you know wherever I am, even if I'm only six years old, I'll come running!!

4. Gilligan. What more can I say? Hapless, feckless, the butt of everyone's jokes -- I loved Gilligan passionately. And what better object for a young girl with rescue fantasies than a man forever stranded on a desert island?

5. Captain Benjamin Franklin "Hawkeye" Pierce. This is the TV crush that really undid me, watching M*A*S*H at an impressionable age as I did. My first post-puberty TV love was doubtless the one who did the most to shape my image of the ideal man. Wisecracking, smooth-talking, yet deeply troubled -- mostly by the fact that he was stuck in the Korean War for eleven years while the rest of the world only had to stay there for three. Recently we've been watching the early seasons of M*A*S*H on DVD and I'm impressed all over again with how handsome the young Alan Alda is, and how thoroughly well-developed a character Hawkeye is, for a 1970s sitcom.

M*A*S*H ended in the early 80s, and I went off to live in a college dorm without a TV set. My first apartment didn't have a TV either, so there's a long gap in my TV crushes till we get to the early 90s and ...

6. Chandler Bing. I was a Friends fan from the early years and it was mainly my devotion to Chandler that kept me going when the show clearly jumped the shark. Chandler had it all -- the smart mouth, the self-doubt, the inner demons. And, just for the record? Monica was never good enough for him! She treated him like trash!! On the whole, he would have been better off with Janice, in spite of her annoying voice. At least Janice adored him. As I would have done, given the chance.

7. Tom Paris. Through all my years of Star Trek fandom I never fell in love with Captain Kirk, Captain Picard -- not even with Riker, really. And my interest in Mr. Spock was purely intellectual. But Voyager's ex-con reformed bad-boy always had the ability to tug at my heartstrings...and maybe stir up a little Blood Fever.

8. Danny Kincannon. Unlike most devoted female West Wing fans, I was never head-over-heels in love with Josh, or Sam, or even Toby. Maybe closest to Josh, but I never wanted him for myself -- just for Donna. It was the occasional guest appearances of Timothy Busfield as CJ's devoted suitor (but still hard-nosed reporter) Danny that made me sigh happily. And since CJ was always kind of my alter ego (smart tall girl makes good), I was extremely pleased that Danny came back before series' end to give the two of them a happy ending.

9. Captain Malcolm Reynolds. Be still my beating heart! If the hardened, embittered cynic with the well-hidden heart of gold wasn't enough to make me shiver, the fact that Nathan Fillion is just so darned boyishly good-looking (and Canadian!) would push me over the edge. From the moment Mal kissed his crucifix during the battle of Serenity Valley, my heart was lost to the Firefly captain.

10. Dr. Gregory House. See what I mean about my crushes getting darker and more dangerous? From an innocuous pink and purple giraffe to a cranky, sarcastic, misanthropic Vicodin addict -- who also happens to be the world's most brilliant diagnostician and, of course, a wounded man in need of a little love and healing. Which I, in my remotely controlled fantasies, am just the right woman to provide!

So there's my tally ... two doctors, two intrepid space explorers, two musicians, one first mate on a tour boat, one journalist, one guy who did something with data entry that no-one could ever remember ... and a giraffe. And each and every one found the way to my heart. I wonder who'll be next?

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

My Last Duchess

Now here's a sentence I don't get to write very often: Today I read a really great short story.

Generally I am not a fan of short stories. I tend to find them difficult, evasive and obscure. If I do find a short story that engages me, then I'm usually frustrated because it ends just as i'm getting interested. A collection of linked short stories, such as Alice Munro's Lives of Girls and Women, can be almost as good as a novel. But mostly when I read a good short story, especially if it's by a new author, my main reaction is, "This is good -- she should write a novel!"

Margaret Atwood has a new collection of short stories out -- Moral Disorder. Not surprisingly for Canada's best-known and most-critically-acclaimed novelist, it's getting good reviews, but I felt no urge to pick it up. I have enjoyed some of Atwood's novels, particularly The Handmaid's Tale, but I find her short stories (of which I had to read plenty in my grad-school days) more off-putting even than most short stories. Besides being obscure and too short to really engage me, Atwood's stories are also, usually, pretty much downers.

But then I read a review of Moral Disorder that mentioned a story called "My Last Duchess," about a teenager reading Browning's famous poem of that name. I knew, immediately, that I had to read this story.

I have quite the history with My Last Duchess. When I was in high school, it was in the English anthology in Grade Nine ... and Grade Ten ... and Grade Eleven. The first time we did it in class, I found the poem haunting and a little chilling, especially after the teacher walked us through it and I saw what was going on there. The next two exposures lacked that thrill of discovery and by Grade Eleven the menacing Duke and his smily Duchess had become a bit like embarrassing old acquaintances with whom you avoid eye contact in the supermarket aisle because there's just nothing more to say. The poem had been literally analyzed to death for me. Yet some faint memory of its former power to creep me out lingered about the edges of my much-graffiti'd English book.

I think I taught the poem a few times in the early years of my teaching career, but I haven't seen it in anthologies in recent years; its popularity must be waning. Its popularity came, I think, from the fact that it's an eminently teachable poem -- difficult enough that an average student won't immediately grasp it upon reading it, but clear enough that Teacher can come along and magically unfold it into something that makes sense.

Anyway, I knew I had to read Atwood's story about it, so today I went to Chapters and took Moral Disorder off the shelf and read the story "My Last Duchess." And it truly is a great short story, about a very smart and self-conscious high school girl reading the poem and trying to explain it to her somewhat less smart boyfriend, then reflecting on the duchess in the poem and all the sad, passive, victimized women who wander like wraiths through the hallowed halls of Great English Literature. I'm glad the high school English curriculum has admitted a bit more diversity since days when I, and Atwood's character, were in school -- I hope girls today are getting more varied literary pictures of how to be women. But this young woman, using literature as a tool to discover her place in the world, is a character with whom I can readily identify -- and Atwood's prose is spare, lovely, and absolutely precise.

I see, and have always see, the poor dead Duchess differently from how Atwood's character sees her -- to me she was a woman who simply loved life and loved people, and had her spirit crushed by a husband who was both misogynistic and misanthropic. Like Atwood's narrator, like the narrator's teacher Miss Bessie, she is a woman who can be read many ways, seen in many different lights -- depending on what I, as a reader, bring to the act of reading.

The story haunts me just a little, tonight. The poem, nearly thirty years after first reading, still does too.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

All Good Things Must Come to an End ... But How?

Today, with the help of a cafe mocha and a wholegrain brownie from Starbucks, I leaped over a major hurdle in my writing life, and I can't tell you how good it feels. Well, I can try to tell you, but until you've done it yourself you probably won't know what I'm raving about.

I figured out how to end the book I'm working on.

I've been stuck on my rewrite of my fantasy novel, The Stones of Ashreel, for ages now, making no progress because, to be quite frank, I don't know how to end it. I mean, I know the basic ending: (some of) the good guys win, (some of) the bad guys lose. But the actual plot mechanics of getting from where I am now ("everything is horrible") to where I need to be ("happily ever after") were a little hazy.

I don't really plot well. As a writer, I think my strengths are character development and dialogue. My weaknesses are creating a vivid setting, and moving the plot along. Two things that are pretty essential if you want to write fantasy.

The problem with describing setting I have an explanation for: I attribute to my not being a very visual person. Someone asked me at a party last night to identify my daughter's Grade One teacher by description, and I just stared at her blankly. I could pick the woman out of a police line-up, but tell you what colour her hair is? How long it is? I just don't register or recall details like that. (If you're a crime victim, you'd better hope I'm not the only eyewitness). I have a very strong auditory memory, however, which I think is why I do dialogue well: I can "hear" people talking in my head quite easily. I just can't see the room they're in, or what they're wearing.

The problem with plot I put down to me being not very bright.

I always tell people I only know one plot: person is born, lives, dies. It's a good and durable plot and I have used it in the past (most notably in The Violent Friendship of Esther Johnson, and also in my Biblical fics about Esther and Deborah. This plot lends itself admirably to historical fiction). But I require a story that's a little more plot-driven, where cause actually has to lead to effect, I find myself all at sea. As I've been, for several weeks now, with the end of this novel.

Today at Chapters I went to Shannon Patrick Sullivan's signing for The Dying Days (read it! It's good!!) and then I retired to Starbucks with the aforementioned mocha and brownie, and my clipboard and pen. I started writing out, in summary form, everything that needs to happen from here to the end of the novel. And, to my utter amazement, I got there. I'm not sure it all makes sense, but I have something that resembles an outline.

I don't normally do outlines: my writing process doesn't work that way. As I explained in my comments on the blog of the amazingly organized writer Katrina Stonoff, my writing process (if you can call it that) is inspired by the words of Theodore Roethke: "I learn by going where I have to go." I start writing with only the vaguest sense of what's happening and let the story unfold. Surprises occur. The story itself tells me where I need to go. I know some authors swear by outlines, but I can't work that way.

Now, though, I need an outline. And now I sort of have one! You wouldn't believe the rush of energy and enthusiasm I now have to get back at this project. Having a clear sense of direction makes all the difference.

Other writerly notes: A little more Shameless Self Promotion is in order. I am reading on Wednesday night, October 11, at 7:00 p.m. at the Mount Pearl public library. It's the first Michael J. McCarthy Memorial Reading, and I'll be there along with Tina Chaulk, Paul Butler, and Giller nominee Russell Wangersky. I'm also participating in Memorial Writes on October 29 (the link above is actually to last year's event, but it's happening this year again!); I'll be signing books and hopefully chatting to people from 2-4 p.m.

Also, I've just updated Compulsive Over-reader with four new book reviews, so click on over there and check them out.

Finally, this has nothing to do with writing, but we've been laughing at it like crazy ever since Jason found it last night. The kids and I have been going around singing the chorus all day. It'll only be funny to geeks like us who love a) Star Wars and b) Weird Al Yankovic -- and come to think of it, most of the people in those two categories have probably already seen it -- but just in case you, like us, have been living under a rock and missed this, here's the funniest music video I've seen in awhile: