As some of my regular readers know, I just finished a law degree and passed the bar exams–but here in Canada, that doesn’t mean that I’m a lawyer yet. In Canada, we have to do a practical component, known as articling, which is the legal equivalent of a residency. Law firms do benefit from this, but hiring fresh graduates is still an act of giving back because most law schools don’t really teach you how to practice law–any of the mechanics of often-complex processes and on the ground steps for any kind of legal work. So, the firms generally have to teach this. And the articling students are often (depending on the firm, and how busy everyone there happens to be) thrown into the deep end and have to figure it all out. As well, if a firm has different practice areas, often what will happen is that the students will rotate through the different areas to get a taste of the different kinds of law (so every three to four months, you end up at the deep end of another pool in which the rules of how to swim are totally different). Continue reading
Once a year, for the twelve hours between sunset and sunrise, key streets in downtown Toronto shut down, and a series of artistic visions transform the urban landscape into a dream- (or nightmare-) scape of sometimes banal, occasionally extraordinary and oft-haunting projections. This is Nuit Blanche, a street art festival.
We look forward to it, but with each passing year, it has become more crowded, more chaotic and more clogged by lineups and the annoyances of having to navigate the thickly seething masses (which I generally find exhausting), many of whom are in various stages of intoxication. Continue reading
I’ve been trying to cull my book collection over the past weeks, because I have way, way too many books, many of which I’ve never read and may never get to at this point. Part of the issue is that if there’s even the remotest chance that I might read it someday, I have trouble letting go, particularly if I feel that the book is likely out of print and difficult to get hold of.
I was surveying the bookshelf this morning, debating about whether to get rid of A Handbook of Religious Symbols in Art and I realised that another facet of this issue is that my magpie nature is always looking for the bright, sparkling things that will catch my eye in a book. A striking image, an intriguing concept, a peculiar fact or unusual perspective on something. I know from experience that most of my stories are the result of serendipitous juxtapositions of often discrete ideas that catch my attention.
It’s like a LeMarchand box, except that instead of summoning a demon, solving the puzzle opens the way to a wellspring of inspiration. I’ll place one concept in proximity to another one (e.g. an article about the “off the map”, shadow city on the edge of Bogotá, the idea of Canada’s constitution as a “living tree”, the notion of colonialism’s marginalization of indigineous peoples–and suddenly, I’ve got the premise for Shadow City, my upcoming release…).
The problem is that the same combination never works more than once. So I have to keep hunting, searching for the next bright and sparkling thing to add to my collection and to keep handy, in the hopes that when placed alongside the other pieces of my collection, a new puzzle will be solved, and the inspiration will start flowing once more.
Of course, this insight doesn’t help solve my burgeoning book collection problem (all my bookshelves double stacked, with other books laid horizontally in piles on top of each row of books). I still have to talk myself out of keeping each and every book I put in the box for charity. E-books help a little, for those that are available–I’ll buy the electronic version and give away the print edition if I can bear to part with it. But bibliophile that I am, it’s a challenge. Wish me luck!
One of my major inspirations is opera. I know many people aren’t mad about it. Indeed, even though I grew up in a family that loved classical music, my grandfather, a charismatic (and loveable) patriarch, detested opera and wasn’t shy about expressing his feelings. As such, I was a bit of a black sheep when I started listening to Bizet and Puccini in my teens (I know, I’m just so wild).
There are challenges to opera of course. It’s a stylization of life that many don’t find accessible. The fact that the voice acquires its full range and power when women are a decade or two older than the supple young characters they’re playing (ditto for men) doesn’t help.
All the same, the music takes me somewhere. Its distillation of moments of emotional power and intensity, around dramatic expressions of narrative, often leaves me on the edge of tears (or indeed, over the edge).
For instance, there’s a moment in Tosca when Scarpia, the villain (who happens to be the chief of the Vatican Police), sings an absolutely magnificent invocation. See, he’s fascinated by Tosca, he lusts after her, and wants to dominate her spirit. He’s a nasty piece of work, but it’s such a beautiful piece–potent and sinister, yet oddly moving in the way that it combines the sacred and the profane. It’s unquestionably my favourite moment in that entire opera (even though Tosca’s aria Vissi d’arte is more traditionally lauded). Tre Sbirri is on my “kickass opera” playlist and I’ve heard it enough that it seems to have enmeshed itself in my psyche.
The result? Continue reading
I’ve had book trailers on my mind of late. Given that, I’ve been thinking of how emblematic (or not) they can be, of the work being promoted.
I was recently drawn in by the fantastically slick film trailer for “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”:
I seriously love this piece at so many levels. The editing, the saturation–and most particularly the way in which the music and the images/text pulse together, such that the music is closely integrated with the visuals and adds the sense of an implacable, sinister escalation of tension and danger. Wonderfully done (so good that it will no doubt be cliche within a year or two).
It actually got us out of our comfortable, on-demand film-viewing chairs and into the movie theatre–a not inconsiderable feat (esp. considering that you can’t pause films in the theatre, the popcorn is absurdly pricey, and we always seem to get stuck in front of a pair of Whispering Demons who are under some mysterious obligation to provide a running commentary during the film).
But out we went–and discovered that the actual film is rather different to what the trailer implied. Continue reading
I do this, because I never know what my muses will jump on next–which one or two bits and pieces, out of the vast plethora of things in the worlds both without and within–they will love.
I read fiction whenever I possibly can, of course. But often as not, the kernels that become full-fledged ideas don’t come from other novels. They come from anywhere and everywhere else. The key, then, is to keep your receptors open. Never assume that anything is too extraordinary, nor too mundane.
A few examples:
A number of years ago, I entered a “story in a day” contest. It was part of a storyteller’s festival. We had been given a very loose theme ahead of time–“from here to there”. The morning of, we arrived at the festival and were guided to a stage, with laptops set up for our use. We sat and wrote for four hours, at the end of which a guest author read the stories we had created, and judged them.
Over the years, I’ve made use of many different tools, technologies, and techniques to aid in my writing–and in my completion of NaNoWriMos past. Given that November is fast approaching, I thought it might be fun to put together a list (also, I just couldn’t resist the title of this post) of some of the ones that have helped me most. So, here they are (in no particular order): Continue reading
Some of you may already be committed to doing NaNo this year. Others may be feeling a little more tentative and not quite ready to take the plunge. I say–do it. Dip a toe in, or jump headlong into the deep end. Even if you don’t get to the end, it’s a really fun and challenging experience!
Many people plunge into NaNo with no intention of ever showing people what they’ve written. It’s for themselves, to be able to say they did it. Or it might be to experience the joy and exhilaration of the creative flow that comes when everything starts coming together. This range of motivations is part of what makes NaNoWriMo so great.
As for me, I like to look at NaNo, not just as an opportunity to write frenziedly and try to get as many words in as possible–I like to see it as a way to get a workable, preliminary draft of something that I can develop at some future point into a finished product. Last year, I got up to about 65K, and then had to stop because school was getting too busy.
There are, of course, all the usual tips for those who fear they won’t make it (spelling out numbers, etc.). I’m ambivalent about a lot of those, as I have to just go back and standardize them later or change them as needed to make the mss usable. I generally ignore those “word count plumping” strategies. Make use of them if you feel you need to, but if you’re thinking you might someday edit what you’ve written into something for wider consumption, then remember that they will ultimately be one more barrier to the process of getting the work cleaned up. And since I hate cleaning up (*sigh* I really do. Just ask my husband!), I’d rather minimize the initial untidiness wherever possible.
So, what are some tips that have worked in helping me to reach 50K?
I remember reading one of Stephen R. Donaldson’s author’s notes many years ago, in which he talked about his writing methods and his ways of doing things. He spoke of how he’d often have a good idea here, and a good idea there–but they’d both just sit around, inert, doing little. But then, sometimes, he’d end up combining them–one discrete idea with another–and suddenly the pairing would come to life, start flowing and forming into a novel, or indeed, even a series (I vaguely remember that the actual word he used was “gusher”).
Over the years, I’ve realised that I’m actually the same way. I’ll have random ideas all the time, but any given idea will never quite come to life until it ends up being combined with some other idea of mine. Put’em together and voila! you have self-replicating cells. Life. A story–embryonic at first but rapidly growing, filling out, and developing, until it’s ready to be written.
Given that, I’m always looking for inspiration. Ideas, that I can try out in combination with other ideas, until something connects, and the magic happens. Over the past days, I’ve been searching for such inspirations and sources–and when I’ve found promising pieces, I’ve been tweeting them. I’ve decided to compile some of the tweeted links here each week (or so), as a kind of digest of writing prompts, ideas for composition, and images that might get your (or my) creative juices flowing. Continue reading