It’s a new year and, while last year’s issues linger on, we writers are ready to take on whatever else 2021 will hand us. After all, it’s life’s experiences that fuel us, inspire us and challenge us to pull out the best possible words in the best possible order and place them on the page.
At least, that is the theory. To underscore that concept and to keep you in a positive creative space, we’re sharing 10 quotes about the craft from 10 different writers. Energizing? A calorie-free fill-up, we hope. Inspiring? Probably. Challenging? We surely think so.
Robert Frost: Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.
Why be a writer?
Jorge Luis Borges:When writers die they become books, which is, after all, not too bad an incarnation.
Franz Kafka: A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us.
Last word on writing
Stephen King:An opening line should invite the reader to begin the story. It should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this.
We expect that at least one of these intriguing quotes from writers might nestle next to your muse and help keep your pen filled with unstoppable ink. As the year unfolds, keep in touch. Let us celebrate your wins and soothe any scrapes or bruises that might come your way.
The world is richer for its artists, not the least of which are the writers. In every country, indeed in every nook and cranny of Planet Earth, you’ll find storytellers, word spinners and scene makers. For many writers, there are places on the planet that will forever be associated with them. The following list offers you 10 writers with whom place has a connection — whether they wrote in that place, or wrote about that place — the connection is clear.
As with all our 10 on the 10th lists, this one is not complete by any means. But it is, we hope, an interesting list.
1 Havana, Cuba — ERNEST HEMINGWAY; The Nobel Prize winning author wrote seven books during the 30+ years he lived in Cuba. Among them: The Old Man and the Sea; A Moveable Feast; Islands in the Stream. Ten miles east of Havana, his island home, Finca Vigía (Lookout Farm/House), is now a museum and a place to imagine his inspiration.
2 Huron County, Ontario — ALICE MUNRO; Nobel Prize for Literature winner, Munro’s short stories are most often grounded in Huron County, Ontario, Canada. The fall is a lovely time to drive through Huron County and visit Wingham where her childhood home is still standing. Dozens of small towns are scattered throughout the rich farmland and it is the ordinary lives of those ordinary people Munro writes about in the most extraordinary way.
3 London, England — CHARLES DICKENS. Take a literary pub crawl through London Town with Dickens (as portrayed by an actor/tour guide) and glean inspiration and literary tibits. Tourists are invited to visit the public houses and taverns frequented by great writers. They promise you’ll meet Dylan Thomas, Virginia Woolf, George Orwell, Anthony Burgess, T.S. Eliot and others. And support new London writers! (We really liked that last bit.)
4 North Bay, Ontario — GILES BLUNT. Thinly disguised as Algonquin Bay, the detectives in Blunt’s wildly successful crime novels travel streets with familiar names for anyone who knows North Bay. His Detective Cardinal series of books and now a 3-season television series is set (and mostly filmed) in the city perched on the shores of Lake Nipissing, 2 hours north of Algonquin Park. Blunt’s characters are believable and the dynamic between Detective John Cardinal and Detective Lise Delorme adds spice to the rising tension in each mystery. Blunt, also a screenwriter and poet, was born in Windsor, Ontario and raised in North Bay. Lucky for readers, even after he moved away, he recognized how ideal it was for setting a murder mystery there.
5 Georgia, USA — FLANNERY O’CONNOR; The childhood home of O’Connor is in Savannah, the heart of which boasts some of the finest restored urban antebellum mansions. The South is the heart of O’Connor’s stories and she is unflinching in her tales of what some called “Southern Gothic” and even, “grotesque.” O’Connor said: “anything that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque by the northern reader, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to be called realistic.” She lived out the last 12 years of her too-short life in Milledgeville, Georgia.
6 Trinidad — RABINDRANATH MAHARAJ; Born and raised in George Village, Tableland, Maharaj came to Canada because he wanted to attend a masters program in creative writing. But he found that the distance from Trinidad gave him a new perspective with which to write his novels and short stories. His award-winning novel, The Amazing Absorbing Boy, captured the view of Canadian life through the eyes of an immigrant Trinidadian teenager. So while some of Maharaj’s stories and novels are set in the lush tropics of Trinidad, beautifully described so that readers will want to visit, the island flavours even his books set in Canada.
7 Montreal, Quebec — MORDECAI RICHLER with a dash of LEONARD COHEN; Montreal is a city of creatives. Artists, poets and novelists have made this cosmopolitan city their own. Chief among them, Mordecai Richler, one of Canada’s best known writers who has left a legacy of literature. Like the vivid energy of his hometown, Richler was never a background player and spoke his mind freely. That same energy was found in his characters and storylines. His award-winning novels have been made into films — The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz and Barney’s Version — and Richler’s books remain in bookstores today. In 2015, Richler was posthumously made a “citizen of honour” in the city of Montreal and a library in the neighbourhood he portrayed in The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, was given his name.
8 Ameliasburgh, Prince Edward County, Ontario. AL PURDY; In 1957, poet Al Purdy with his wife and father-in-law constructed the now famous A-frame.(Al tells the story in Reaching for the Beaufort Sea.). There he wrote poems about the area published as Poems for All the Annettes . The following year The Cariboo Horses won the first of Al’s Governor General’s Awards. Even while the A-frame was being built, it became a meeting place—for poets, for poetry lovers, for those aspiring to be poets. The list of people who travelled to the A-frame reads like a who’s who of Canadian letters—Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje; Earle Birney, George Bowering, Margaret Laurence, Jack McClelland, …. The legacy continues through the A-Frame Residency Program.
9 Lakefield, Ontario — MARGARET LAURENCE; One of Canada’s finest writers, Laurence’s novels, short stories and essays were framed by the many places she called home. Born and raised in, a small town well west of Winnipeg, Laurence set her books in Western Canada, Somaliland and Nigeria, Africa. In 1973, she settled permanently in small town Lakefield in the Peterborough/Kawartha Region. On the shores of the Otonobee River, she crafted scenes for her final and brilliant novel The Diviners. The town of Lakefield honours Laurence every July (her birthday month) with a literary festival.
10 Neepawa, Manitoba. MARGARET LAURENCE Yes. That’s two places for one writer and why not? Laurence’s childhood home in Neepawa is a museum dedicated to her and her writing. Purchased the year before her death, Margaret Laurence House hosts writers’ workshops and book launches. As an inspiring mentor to several young writers, Margaret would surely be pleased to know she continues to encourage writers to explore their craft.
I recently attended a celebration of local authors in Ontario’s cottage country. Aptly named Kaleidoscope, the book sales event offered a wide range of styles and published works for readers. Intriguing mysteries, fantasies for all ages, beautiful photography collections, wildlife explorations, compelling memoirs and biographies, and children’s picture books filled huge dining tables on two floors of the rustic Wintergreen Maple Syrup and Pancake Barn in Gelert, near Minden.
For readers, Kaleidoscope was a great opportunity to sample works by some of the many writers who call the Haliburton Highlands home. But for writers, it was an even better chance to learn from one another: what kinds of books were being inspired by the rugged natural beauty of the landscape and who are the people behind the titles? And even more important to me, how are those writers sharing their words with each other and their readers?
Even Margaret Atwood has to promote her books
I saw a range of approaches to direct sales of books and each has benefits and pitfalls. Of course, it’s always a personal choice on how one sets up their sales table. And that choice has to suit the writer. Some writers are painfully shy. I can say this because I am exactly that kind of writer. But I’ve put on my “act outgoing” pants so often now that people think I’m an extrovert. Don’t tell anyone — let’s keep it our little secret.
I toughened up my sales approach after a few years of setting up booths at Word on the Street and Eden Mills Writers Festival. I was there with LICHEN, a jewel of a literary journal I’d helped found and edit. Eventually, I learned to accept people walking past our table, avoiding all eye contact. I no longer took it personally when, after talking up a potential buyer, I watched them put the journal back and walk away. And I quietly celebrated those who bought their own copy.
I watched the writers at Kaleidoscope and recognized the many ways we promote our books:
The Quiet Table
This is the simple “here are my books on display” approach. Just the books. Stacked in an attractive display: cover out, at least one in a stand. The writer stands behind/next to the display, ready to chat with anyone with questions. This is a time-honoured marketing approach. Head to any bookstore and you’ll see lots of those display tables. Readers are attracted to quiet displays.
What you need to remember:
show the price; if there are specials let visitors know (2 for $xx or BOGO 50% off) Yes, it feels weird but it is part of marketing; most people dislike having to “guess the price”
business cards/postcards show readers you’d like to engage, even through an email or note
smile and say hello; it can feel unnatural (and really awkward if they ignore you) but you get used to it
NOTE: A recent article in Write magazine recommended displaying a question to give visitors a topic to engage with you on: “Ask me about…” — especially effective if your book(s) tackle tough or intriguing subjects that you spent time researching
The Audio-Visual Augmented Table
Video is a remarkable tool for marketing. Just like an illustration in a book, a video attracts passers-by through sound and/or images. It’s easily set up on a laptop or tablet that’s tucked in among the books.
At Kaleidoscope, a writer displayed a video of First Nation drumming scenes to share at his table. He did the following and these were exactly what we fellow writers appreciated:
consider your neighbours by watching the volume (but even the fairly low sound attracted visitors from the first floor to climb the stairs and see what was going on the second floor)
avoid constant looping to allow your visitors (and those at other tables) time and space in which to chat
NOTE: check in advance or arrive early to ensure your electronics are close to a power plug AND watch the cord for any tripping hazard (including for you)
The Multiple Offerings Table
Some readers are attracted to busy tables. And many readers are also writers (and that should not surprise you, writer!) so I make it a point to have material on hand for writers. Sometimes a jar of writing tips to reach in and pick from. Sometimes writing prompts. And, of course, I always have the latest on upcoming Writescape retreats.
offer treats or takeaways; even a jar of wrapped candy or bookmark can attract people to your table
define your space with a backdrop/tablecloth or banner (especially effective if you can tie it into the book)
get creative — for a children’s story about a picnic, use a picnic blanket and display copies of the book in a picnic basket along with picnicky items. If it’s a mystery novel, include a Sherlock Holmes cap and magnifying glass, etc.
NOTE: A plastic display stand can hold excerpts of reviews on your books or promote your next reading or event
No matter what kind of salesperson you are, writer, you know that in today’s noisy and crowded marketplace, we need to be prepared to sell our words and find our readership. No matter what, be ready to answer this question: What is your book about? A short one- or two-sentence answer should be on the tip of your tongue.
Like the writing process, marketing your book is a journey. But thankfully, with cooperative sales events like the first-ever Kaleidoscope in the Haliburton Highlands, it’s not a journey we need to take on our own.
DID YOU KNOW
Book sales events are just one piece of the marketing pie. Remember that websites and social media can also be a useful tool to introduce readers to your work. Here’s a look at Heather O’Connor’s Top Drawer post on the marketing work she did IN ADVANCE of the launch of her best-selling YA novel, Betting Game.
Invaluable and oh-so-practical advice from a successful author. And, as noted, it’s a journey.
Gwynn and I know firsthand what a thrill it is when someone validates us as writers. When you are told that you’ve won an award, a scholarship or a grant for your creative work, it’s not just about the money. Don’t get me wrong. For almost all of us, the “starving artist” is not a metaphor. It’s a hard reality.
Winning an award or grant is more than an income boost, however. It shows the world that others place worth on your craft. And it validates you as a working writer, one who is submitting their work for evaluation. That you are willing to risk the opinion of strangers.
So it gives us great pleasure to participate in an annual scholarship program with The Writers’ Community of Durham Region. WCDR is a 300+-member networking organization for writers of all types and levels. Heather O’Connor and I have been members for years and Gwynn was there at their very first meeting in the 90s. We all know that education is a prime focus for this non-profit group.
When we were approached a few years ago to be part of their annual WCDR scholarship program we said Yes! Writescape funds a $150 scholarship.
Applicants must be members of WCDR, they must complete an online form to outline their background and budget details on their writing project/plans and, most importantly, craft a compelling essay inspired by a writing prompt. All applications are judged on their practical, logical content as well as how their passion is conveyed in responding to the prompt.
Our $150 support is not tied to taking any of our workshops or retreats. Writescape has no part in the adjudication process. We aren’t on any of the judging panels, we see none of the applications or essays, and only learn the name of the recipient a day or so before the award is announced.
A prize-winning event
It’s always been wonderful to attend the award breakfast and to hand out the prize. But this year was especially delightful for me. I’ve known the winner for twenty years. I also know he was the originator of the WCDR scholarship program and willingly volunteers his business acumen and well-honed technology skills to support the group and individual members.
In short, Rich Helms a good guy.
Rich Helms is not, however, a poet. Nor does he write mysteries or thrillers or historical romance novels. His excellent resource book Book Trailer 101 coaches writers on making their own book trailers. And if you want to understand Amazon SimpleDB, Rich co-wrote a guidebook on that as well. So I was curious and asked Rich if I could see his application and essay. What technological advance was Rich taking on this time? He willingly shared his application. Turns out, Rich reaches back to the early days of civilization for his latest topic.
Rich is baking bread. And he’s writing about it.
In his background notes, Rich shows his logical side. “…40 years in computer research and development, where I took complex ideas and turned them into marketable products.” and lays out his plan “The next thing I want to tackle is how to write a recipe – an area in which I have no expertise.”
But baking bread is his passion. Does his essay reveal any passion?
“When I retired from the company I once owned, I spent a month living by the ocean. Every day, my dog, Margaret, and I would walk the shore, then stop and fish. My all-consuming thought was, what now?
I’m a computer nerd who bakes bread and writes about it, and I’m not afraid to describe bread baking as a sensuous experience. I revel in the feeling of kneading dough into a boule of smooth, elastic food that is alive and growing. I breathe deeply the smell of the flour and yeast fermenting, breaking down the starches as well as the tantalizing aromas of caramelizing sugars…”
“…Thinking back to my walks by the ocean with Margaret …when I returned each day, our footprints were gone. Only pictures on my phone proved that we had walked the shore. The sand looked clean, and all traces of the day before were removed. What remained was a clean slate beckoning us to start the walk again.
This all makes me think about my journey with breadbaking. The traces of the journey disappear; time washes them away. But what survives are the writing, the stories, the recipes and what I learn along the way. As I move forward, I am excited to knead a deeper element of writing into the mix.”
Yup. I’d say the passion is there. And a wonderful depth and elegance to Rich’s writing that I’d not seen before.
A worthwhile gift to writers
We know that every writer who has received the Writescape scholarship has appreciated the support and used the money to deepen their craft or expand their skills into new areas. This time, it’s especially nice for us to know the recipient. And I can add that I have tasted Rich’s breads: a superb cheese loaf and dinner rolls that engaged the senses and deliciously filled the belly.
This ancient craft is even older than written language. I’ll be looking for Rich’s recipe book but in the meantime, I’ll settle for an occasional taste from the hearth. Yum!
DID YOU KNOW
Writescape offers Get That Grant, a fabulous one-day workshop on the art and skill of applying for writing grants and scholarships. Participants have a pretty good track record, and we can happily boast that Rich Helms is only the latest success story from taking the workshop this past February. Heather O’Connor offers her workshop yearly in Durham Region as well as “on demand” for groups and organizations that express interest. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for details.