Thursday, 17 April 2014

Author Interview Series – Charles McGarry

This week I have the pleasure of hosting author (and ex-pastor) Charles McGarry. A few months back,  I reviewed his book, Breaking the Mold: Confessions of a Hippie Ex-Pastor, and really wanted to have him for the AIS. I'm glad he accepted my invitation.  Just like his book, his answers were short but insightful. Without further ado, Charles McGarry.

Information about the giveaway will follow the interview.

Have you always written or is it something that came later in life?

I did some writing in my early teens, but nothing of much substance.  My real drive for writing sprang up within the last few years, although I have always been a creative type.

Your book Breaking the Mold: The Confessions of a Hippie ex-Pastor is a very personal (and short) piece of non-fiction.  Is this a genre you prefer?  Are you interested in writing fiction?

My main interest is writing fiction.  While I am open to writing more non-fiction, the majority of what I write will be Fantasy fiction.

Painter Chuck Close Once said, "Inspiration is for amateurs - the rest of us just shows up and gets to work." How do you "get to work?" Do you have any ritual or specific requirements to get the juices flowing?

I like to do my writing at Starbucks.  Believe it or not, I like being in a hub of activity and distraction to get my juices flowing.

Are you working on a new book at the moment?

My current project is a book of short fantasy stories that I plan to have published by summertime.

If you could sit and have a chat with any writer that has ever lived (or is still alive,) who would it be?  What would you talk about?

J.R.R. Tolkien, no doubt about it.  I would ask what he thinks about the literary phenomenon he started.  He really is the father of modern Fantasy after all.  I would also ask his advice for writing Fantasy, specifically for creating something uniquely original in an age when fantasy literature has permeated the market.

What is the one advice you would like to share with aspiring writers?

Never let anyone tell you how hard it is to become an author, and never let anyone tell you what you can’t do. The possibilities are endless if you stay true to yourself.

Our last guest, swing dance instructor (and so much more) Owen Hortop would like to know: How do you think people find or lose faith? Is it circumstance, or do they follow internal patterns?

Some would say it’s circumstance, but I really think that circumstance only serves to clarify what a person was oblivious to before.  In my case my circumstances caused me to search deeper within myself, and I discovered that so much of what I believed and taught was so different than what I knew to be true in my gut. My circumstances set me free from my religious mold, so that I could hear what my inner self knew to be true all along about the universe.

Our next guest is Andrew Sauvageau, baritone and actor.  What would you like to ask them?

What is most challenging to you personally when preparing for a performance, and what do you do to rise to that challenge? 


To win a copy of Charles book, leave him a question in the comment section.  Whoever asks the best question wins!  Giveaway ends on Tuesday April 22nd 11:59PM ET.  Answers to the questions as well as the winner's name will be announced on Thursday April 24th.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Review Wednesday – Blood Sister

Even if you're not a History buff, chances are you've heard of Henry VIII, the infamous 16th century English king who married six times. Ever wondered what were the reasons behind his actions (other than his immediate pleasure)?  Some believe he was a bit crazy by the end (watch this awesome documentary for more on that,) but chances are his reign was greatly influence by his grandmother, Margaret Beaufort, who against all odds, managed to come out victorious of the civil war we know as the War of the Roses.  If you want to know more about that war, Marguerite Beaufort and the other women who fought to defend their right to the throne, then Blood Sisters is for you.

Gristwood starts her narrative with a rising Marguerite of Anjou and ends it with Marguerite Beaufort's death.  The book follows the chronological order of event – as is customary for Historical non-fiction – but sometimes she goes back or forth in time to illustrate the influence of a specific event.  This is done skillfully which prevents the reader from being confused.  However, the overwhelming presence of Margarets and Marguerites can be a bit confusing.  The family tree at the beginning of the book comes handy at such times. 

Not only does the author paint a vivid portrait of the different event that unfolded during the war she also has a real talent to bring those long dead historical figures to life.  She often reflects on the feelings this or that woman might have feel at different points in time.  She also uses many different sources in order to create a picture as accurate as possible of the different women (as much as the remaining historical documents allow.)

Personally, I am fascinated with English history so I really enjoyed reading this book. I have read historical non-fiction that was much more drier;  Blood Sisters doesn't read like a textbook at all.  Also, the different sections as well as the chapters' division make it easy to put down and pick up the book without losing track.  I believe this is an essential read if you want to understand the Tudor dynasty.

Although the series is not as accurate, I would recommend watching the BBC's The White Queen before reading the book.  It really helped me figure out who was who and conveniently put a face on the different names.  

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Blog Hop!

Things have been a bit slow on the blog side so what better than a fun blog hop to bring things back to life!  I was tagged by Canadian author Christine Miscione (see my interview with Christine here.)  Here goes nothing!

Yay for bathroom selfies!
What am I working on?

I am currently working on a novel that differs a lot from what I usually write.  It’s a love story. *GASP* Don’t worry, no cloying harlequin format for me.  This story – or at least variations of it – has been on my mind for a really long time and is dear to my heart.  I believe this will be some kind of cathartic experience.  I need to get this story out, even if no one ever reads it or if it gets rejected a million times.  I also have two other books on the back burner, one non-fiction book about my life in Japan and a detective novel set in 1890 Montreal.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

The fact that I’m the one writing it?  To be quite honest, I don’t really know.  Usually, I write science fantasy and historical fiction.   I would say that being an introvert gives a certain angle to my stories, but many authors also are introverts.  I guess humor is what sets me apart.  I seem to manage to write funny situations without really wanting to.  If I think about my current work, I guess the fact that it takes its root in my personal experience will make it unique in itself.  

Why do I write what I do?

As I said earlier, my current work is deeply connected to me.  I feel I need to write this story to get over some things that happened to me in the past.  Strangely, this story has nothing in it that has happened to me. As for my other work, I write it because those are the stories I want to read.

How does my writing process work?

I've experimented a lot with different writing processes and the one that seems to work  best for me is to write the first draft with a general idea of where I want to take the story then, once that is done,  look at the result and fix what needs be.  Then, come the countless revisions and modification.  Right now I’m trying a new process where I write by hand in a notebook during the week then type everything up on the weekend. I really like the act of writing by hand, there is something romantic about it that definitely inspires me.

Next week:

(I was supposed to tag two people but it seems everyone I know has already been tagged!)

Friday, 14 March 2014

Dreamers Interview Series – Owen Hortop ~ Q&A and Giveaway winner

Here is the answer to the question that was asked to Owen:

Anonymous asked

Collegiate Shag - one of the "funnest" dances. What is your favorite music to Shag to? One or two specific songs, svp.

I mix it up as often as I can - but generally I'm a tradjazz (New Orleans style jazz) fan. From that genre I love "Riverboat Shuffle" by Eddie Condon. If I'm in the mood for something more big band, Gene Krupa's "Ball of Fire" is awesome. A lot of Shag dancers like to dance stuff around 250 BPM just to show off, but there's much to be said for "cruising speed" shag at around 200 or slower. For faster stuff, I'll give a shout out to my friend Gordon Au from NYC - the Grand Street Stompers have an album out with some great stuff for fast dance. 

You're the winner of the giveaway but since you commented as anonymous, I have no way to contact you.  Please send me an email to claim your prize!

Thank you once again to Owen for being a guest on ATUA!

Saturday, 8 March 2014

The Unthinkable

For the longest time, I swore that I would never get an ereader.  I loved books too much and would not be corrupted by the digital world. 

Well the joke is on me now.

In the light of recent events (which are partially responsible for my silence on ATUA in February,) I have decided to get rid of my books and buy a kobo ereader.  This wasn't an easy decision to make. Some of the books I owned I had purchased when I was a high school student (mostly French literature classics.)  But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense.  The only things these books did were taking up space, collecting dust and making each of my moves a pain in the ass.  So I purchased the ereader and started dismantling my collection.

This proved to be harder than I thought.

First of all, there was the whole emotional attachment to my books.  However, more importantly, I discovered that most used bookstores already have too many books and won't take anything older than a year.  So when I sought to sell about 30 books, I ended up selling 1 for 1$ and had to give the others away for their cheap bin; I didn't feel like lugging them back to my place.  Then a clerk at one of the stores I called to inquire about sales was a total jerk to me.  All in all, the whole experience of selling my books was turning out to be tedious and downright unnerving.

That's when I decided to donate my books to the local library.

I could immediately tell this was the right choice when I saw the staffs' faces lit up at the sight of my well-kept books.  But what truly warmed my heart is when they informed me that whatever book didn't make it to the library's collection would be given to a charitable organism which sells the books to finance summer camps for disadvantaged children.  What's not to like about this?

So there you have it.  I, the hardcore printed word advocate, am left with an empty bookshelf and an electronic device.  Strangely, it doesn't feel that bad...

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Dreamers Interview Series – Owen Hortop

After a much needed hiatus, ATUA is finally back online!  And what better way to start afresh than by  interviewing an awesome guy.  I give you Owen Hortop, swing dancer teacher at Cat's Corner (and so much more!) Owen was one of my first swing dance instructor and he's an amazing teacher.  Without further ado, here's the interview.

Information about the giveaway will follow the interview.

Tell us a bit more about what you do.

My job is (along with several other people) to keep Cat's Corner operating. That can entail anything from cleaning to sound engineering, quite apart from the artistic side of the job. Right now, I mostly teach and coach dancers, and provide customer service during the day. I'm also the studio's treasurer, although we have a bookkeeper who makes that job lighter than it used to be. I'm always glad when we end up having someone who can cover a technical thing that I'm used to improvise out of necessity; I really hope I'll never have to do plumbing again! The business is slowly growing, which allows me do more of what I love. I teach weekly at McGill Swing Kids – a university club – and last year, I animated jazz listening afternoons in a geriatric ward weekly. 

Did you always have this passion for swing dance or did you start as a general dance lover?

I didn't dance at all until I was 25 years old. It never occurred to me that I could. I was always a creative person (I wrote a lot and made sculptures out of steel wire), but I was shy and dancing scared me. One day, a girl dragged me out to Cat's Corner and I fell in love with it – not that it felt easy, but it felt totally possible. It was a world where people could just connect with each other and not say a word. So my first dance was swing, and I stuck to just that for quite a while because it was a safe space; I rarely ventured out of Cat's Corner, in fact. I was really inspired by the warm and accepting nature of the place, it seemed like there was no such thing as a dancer who wasn't also a nice person. Of course it's not that simple, but I think social dancing requires and teaches some essential respect and interpersonal skills that make folks easier to get along with. So I bonded with the people in swing dance specifically at Cat's, and that kept me coming back. What happened to the girl? She lives in Winnipeg now with her husband and two kids; I think she came out dancing about twice since that first night... 

When you started as a student at Cat's Corner, eight years ago, did you ever dream of becoming a teacher or more?

I think I asked about teaching after about six months. Of course I had no idea how much knowhow went into teaching swing! I've always liked teaching, sharing ideas with other people... but you really have to understand where people are going to guide their first steps on a journey. The people at Cat's were supportive and encouraged me to focus on becoming a better dancer before aspiring to teach, but it was always something I wanted to do. 

I was lucky in that I made a friend who was planning to open her own school in the West Island; I drew her business plan up as a term project for my entrepreneurship class (I was studying for a Bachelor's in Commerce at the time). She invited me to help her out further by teaching, since she knew I really wanted to. She invested a lot of time in me, helping me to improve my dancing and to think critically about how I was teaching. I wasn't great with crowds, and I had to learn how to deal with the occasional strong personality who'd show up in a class – there's almost always one student in every group who can be a motivator or a disruption, depending on how you treat them. It was a great training ground, small groups and lots of time to debrief since I was teaching with a dear friend.  

I kind of fell into my current position; there just kept being bigger things that needed doing at the studio. I was in school, and in my free time, I was dancing and volunteering. Then the studio moved and they needed someone to oversee the installation of the new studio location. The founder and owner was leaving, and a few of us created a new corporation to run the studio in its current form. I was there and willing to sign for the responsibilities inherent to running the place.  There are three of us who act as custodians for the dance community. Cat's Corner belongs to all of us, the "owners" just try to steer it toward success so that we'll always have a place to dance. 

What was the biggest obstacle you had to face on your way to your current position?  How did you overcome it?

I'd say that most dancers have the same nemesis in their growth, personally or professionally: their ego. Whether it's self-judgement for not getting something instantly, or pride getting in the way of learning from others, we all have to learn patience with our learning curve and not overestimate where we are or where we "should" be. Dancing is an intensely personal thing, putting a bit of your soul out on the dance floor where everyone can see it. Doing that without being vulnerable or defensive is hard, but that's the only way we grow. The more you can say "this is me, here's where I'm at, and I'm OK with working on it at my own pace," the better your dancing looks and feels in the moment and the better it will be in future. 

I've had a lot of moments over the past five years when I've felt insecure about my dancing because Montreal has so many amazing dancers. There are teachers here at Cat's Corner who are miles ahead of me and always will be. Setting that aside and knowing that I have a lot to contribute to my students' learning, as well as just letting myself enjoy how far I've already come are daily things. I have to remind myself to just love what I do and recognize that it's enough as it is. 

At Cat's Corner, we've got more than 20 people on our teaching roster. That's 20 artistic personalities full of passion for jazz and Lindy Hop, all with slightly different ideas and motivations, wildly different backgrounds, and – I repeat – egos. It takes a magician like Debbie (the senior partner at Cat's Corner) to get everyone pulling together, and I think all of us sometimes have to let go of being right so that we can move forward. 

What is your next goal?

I'm always looking to improve my dancing and expand my understanding of how we move through the world. I've started taking classes in Contemporary Dance and they're just fantastic; a great complement to what I'm doing in swing. I'm making a living with dance and that was really my big dream since I became interested in teaching. Now I'd like to travel a bit more, particularly to help smaller scenes develop across the country and around the world. I'm building a scene in Montreal for a swing dance called Collegiate Shag which isn't very popular yet, but we're starting to get momentum. I'd love to see that take off. I'm also interested in the idea of Dance Therapy, which is emerging in Canada as a valid care option alongside other art therapies. If I can manage to get back to school then I'd love to study psychology and use dance to help people express and heal themselves. 

What advice would you give to dreamers who hesitate to take the first step towards making a living out of their dream?

Hesitation is OK. Sometimes the thing that you love is best as a hobby. If you're going to go for it though, you don't have to be the absolute best at what you do. You have to be motivated and willing to find a place for your talents in the world, and it might mean making a very modest income and investing a lot of time to lay the groundwork. It's worth it, though! The day I realized that I could make a living doing this was a turning point in how I saw my life, I've been much happier ever since. Make a plan, and give it a reality check in both directions: not only "is my plan overly optimistic in its assumptions," but also "am I being so conservative that I'm cutting myself off from the future I want?"

Our previous guest, fiction author T.B. Markinson, would like to ask you: What advice do you have for people with two left feet, but who aspire to become adequate dancers? 

We all start out somewhere, which is usually awkward. When babies are learning to walk, we don't write them off as "inadequate" if they fall down a bit! For me, dance comes from connection to movement and connection to your body. If you can bop around to your favourite song, that's a step. If you have a gesture or a way of walking that feels good to you, give it some room to grow - do it big, small, fast and slow, until you find the way that feels just right. Most of the challenges I see in my students and myself come from being afraid of "doing it wrong." The less fear you have of mistakes (and I don't believe any movement you can walk away from is a bad one), the more stuff you can explore and choose from when you're deciding how YOU like to move. Do just a little every day, and be sure to include a mistake or two. 

The other thing to do is to find music that moves you. I love jazz music, but I also find something enjoyable in more recent music, from James Brown to Moby. When it speaks to you, you can't help but want to add to it, even if it's just drumming on your steering wheel while you drive. That's how you know what song to start with. 

Our next guest will be author and ex-pastor CharlesMcGarry.  What would you like to ask him?

How do you think people find or lose faith? Is it circumstance, or do they follow internal patterns?


For a chance to win a half-price private lesson with Owen, leave a question for him in the comment section.  Giveaway ends on Tuesday March 11th at 11:59ET.  Winner and answers to the questions will be posted on Thursday March 13th.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Slowing down

Lately, I have had a hard time keeping up with the blog.  Many things are happening in my private life and it's  been difficult to keep ATUA afloat.  As a consequence, I will slow down and post a little less.  I thank you for your understanding.