Friday, January 30, 2015

the comforts of storytelling

An interesting Atlantic article, forwarded by Juliet in Paris, again outlines the importance of narrative to the human soul. Especially the list of seven major plots...

Author Christopher Booker claims there are only seven basic plots, which are repeated over and over in film, in television, and in novels with just slight tweaks. There is the “overcoming the monster” plot (BeowulfWar of the Worlds); “rags to riches” (Cinderella, Jane Eyre); “the quest” (Illiad, The Lord of the Rings); “voyage and return” (OdysseyAlice in Wonderland); “rebirth” (Sleeping Beauty, A Christmas Carol); “comedy” (ends in marriage); and “tragedy” (ends in death).

Write yours!

Oscar's short films

Bitter out there - oh my God Canadians are brave. We survive. With two months to go, at least.

Last night, my home class was here, wonderful writing, people sitting in my living room telling their most important truths. Particularly two students, one of whom is 87 and the other 89, strong, vital, beautiful, fascinating women in the thick of life, both writing about facing death. As inspiring as it gets. I love my job.

Today, after various errands in the freezing wind, I went to TIFF to see the Oscar nominated Live Action Short Films. I love short films and had heard several of these were worth seeing. And they were - so different, when I emerged, I felt I'd been around the world, following the drama of an Afghani girl in Switzerland, an Israeli woman meeting a Danish musician, a pair of adorable northern Irish children, an outdoor photography studio in Tibet, and a woman (the great actress Sally Hawkins) manning a crisis hotline in England, which will probably win. I liked all of them except, unfortunately, the Israeli film, Aya, which I hated, found interminably self-indulgent, slow and dull. I even texted a few times while it meandered on, because the theatre was not full and I wasn't bothering anyone. But - watching real Tibetan families pose for a camera in front of a phoney backdrop, while behind them loom the actual Himalayas - beautiful.

Then I came home to the news that Harper is fanning the flames of paranoia and hatred and extending the powers of CSIS. When he starts to speak, I turn off the radio as fast as possible because I want to throw up if I hear his voice. A loathsome human being who has done his best to destroy everything good about my country, and is still doing so.

Here, thanks to Facebook, is a fabulous bit of rock and roll history: when the musicians of Led Zeppelin were being honoured by the White House, the sisters of Heart did a cover of "Stairway to Heaven." Fabulous on a cold day especially. Will warm you right to your toes.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

the Beatles outside my door

Right now ... and very welcome they are too. Have to get some boots for my Paul, though.

a student success story

A student worked with me at U of T and then privately, labouring on her memoir. She's in high level finance, a Vice-President who'd never done any creative writing, but she had a powerful story she wanted her children to know, about growing up overseas, her charming but neglectful and sometimes dangerous father, and later her charming but neglectful and sometimes dangerous ex-husband. As we worked together, she told me the pages beneath her pen were often sodden with tears. But she finished, edited, rewrote, rewrote, rewrote. It took years.

She self-published this well-written, thoughtful and moving work as a memoir, but though people appreciated her honesty, she felt terribly exposed. So - she reworked the memoir as a novel, which didn't take much effort - she changed all the names and a few of the places and self-published again under a pseudonym - and that was it. Otherwise, it's the same story. And a beautiful story it is too. I'm sorry she can't just own her story - but I understand the need to protect oneself. 

She's going home for a high school reunion next month - and has learned that most of her old friends have read her novel and are full of admiration for her writing ability and courage (because of course, they know exactly who it's about). And now, a professor teaching a course in the history of that country has put her book on the curriculum. As I wrote in the last post, we never know where our work is going to land, but we do it anyway.

She just sent me this very kind note:
Please remember that I'd never have come up with this book if I had been left to write on my own. I needed you! To squeeze the truth out of me, to unpack and keep unpacking, to frankly tell me what wasn't working, to form the nebulous nightmare into something that others can easily understand - although not a few of those who've read it say it's a painful, difficult read, in spite of the fact that they couldn't put it down. I'd never have thought!

And what I say to that is BRAVA.

a writer talks frankly about money

At the bottom is an important article by Ann Bauer about a writer's finances. There's a chapter in "True to Life," my how-to-write textbook, about money - how incredibly little most of us make writing, and how so many of us are sponsored by our loved ones, or grants, or else take other jobs to pay the rent. I respect Ann Bauer for finally bringing it up publicly.

The problem is that we have J. K. Rowling in view - a madwoman who used her welfare cheque to pay for babysitting so she could sit in a café and write about wizards. Obviously, a lunatic who took an enormous gamble not just with her own future, but with her child's. And yet now, with talent, hard work and, yes, luck, the wealthiest writer in the world.

But a vast percentage of the time, that's not how the story ends. I was just thinking about this, because there was an event at U of T's University College yesterday celebrating U of T teachers who published books last year. There was free food and drink, so a disproportionate number from the creative writing department were there.
My two books were on display, and I was proud. But that's not to say they've made money. Neither of them had a single review in a newspaper. A linguistics professor at the event said to me, "I wish I'd known about your writing book, I needed it while writing mine." And I thought, I wish you'd known about my book too. Almost no one does.

Now I'm going to spend countless hours producing another one, with no guarantee of any more attention or remuneration than the last. Because I'm a gambling lunatic too. In other words, a writer.

Here's her honest article. A recommended reality check.