Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Review Wednesday – Hellucination

In this prequel to Dialogue with the Devil, we meet a younger Stephen, who, after an eventful childhood, makes a living selling bootleg videos and is addicted to hallucinogen drugs.  Like many people, he could have gone on leading this kind of existence for the rest of his (short, no doubt) life if it were not for a sudden revelation: drugs open the door to another plane of existence, drugs can lead to God.  With his poison of predilection, Stephen sets on a quest that will give him much more than her bargained for.  

After a few amazingly well-written biographical chapters which could stand alone, Biro takes us to the heart of the matter, his drug-fueled quest for God and the encounter with the Devil that resulted. Having never taken drugs myself, it was interesting to see how they can alter the body and the mind, but what really riveted me to the pages was the author's trip to the different sin realms in Hell.  The descriptions were so vivid I sometimes had to stop reading; they made me feel queasy. The author's take on the underworld is unlike anything you've read before yet, it makes so much sense.

Hellucination is written from a much more personal point of view than Dialogue with the Devil, which makes perfect sense.  Before discussing society and what is to be found outside oneself, one needs to explore their own mind. Thus, the two volumes complete each other perfectly.  The author's views and conclusions on Hell, sins and sinner are of a remarkable lucidity.  Once again, I would urge the reader to look past their beliefs to take in the message Biro is trying to convey; it goes far beyond the empty preaching words of a religious zealot.  There is a raw truth in his words.  And on the plus side, this narrative is much more accessible than the arcane content of sacred texts.

All my praises for Dialogue with the Devil's prose, format and accessibility also apply to Hellucination.  Biro's work is a pleasure to read and I strongly suggest you read his first novel.  If you've read the second book already, you know you'll enjoy this one and if you haven't, then why not begin with the start?

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Wild Writer Literary Festival – Canlit Brunch

To end this wonderful weekend of literary pleasures, a brunch panel was held at the Walper hotel.  The three  invited authors, Catherine Bush, Elizabeth Ruth and Michael Winter, discussed their latest books and their writing process.  From Newfoundland to Afghanistan, they made us travel through titillating conversation.

Elizabeth Ruth (about her latest book): Matadora is set in 1930 Spain and Mexico and tells the story of Luna, an indentured servant.  It's not exactly a novel about Canada, but the topic really excited me.  It's loud, brassy, passionate and hot.  I wanted to to about class issues and love.  Bull fighting well represents that since the spectators are part of the aristocracy and the people in the arena are poor.  Spain was still ruled by a feudal system in 1930 and the gap between rich and poor was growing.  My story explore the idea is that pain is the price of ambition and the idea of having to choose between the person you love the most and the thing you love the most.  I wanted to create a strong female character for canlit and address the concept of the space occupied by women in public.  In this sense, it's very contemporary.  This book is written for anyone trying to raise above their circumstances.

Catherine Bush:  I love the sense of community around books, a community made of writers and readers.  For my fourth novel, Accusation, I was interested in stories that pull you but also make you think.  I like to write about women with peculiar professions.  The story is about allegations and the difficulty to write about them as a journalist.  It is a morally ambiguous position.  I'm interested in characters looking for the truth and how allegations affect us.  We still end up judging people, whether they're guilty or not.

I wrote this book from a real experience.  A man was accused of sexual abuse in a children circus in Ethiopia. It's a difficult topic to talk about, because tremendous good was done through those social circuses but the possibility of arm having been done is also present.  Does the good cancel the bad completely.  I want the readers to ponder the question.

Michael Winter: My parents are from the North of England.  My father had always wanted to be a cowboy in the great West.  My mother wanted to live in New York.  So they ended up in Newfoundland. 

One summer, my dad wanted us to build a log cabin, by the lake.  So as everyone was enjoying the water, we were seating away, my brother and I, clearing the field.  Somehow, we managed to set fire to the forest.  My brother told me to wait while he ran to get help.  In the meantime, Sharon Penny, our sexy teenager neighbor.  She held my hand.  Suddenly, an helicopter dropped tons of water on the field.  I ended up on top of Sharon Penny.  My brother came back running asking if we were ok.  Sharon Penny replied "That was awesome."  We had to replant all kinds of different trees and the place became like a tropical forest.  The main character of my book, Minister Without a Portfolio, take his son to this forest at the end of the story.

A good book means to be able to connect with the characters, to share info about them. What speaks to the reader?

ER:  When writing characters, I find a way into their souls.  If you know them well, you can put them in many situations.  My book is an argument with Hemingway who stated women were too delicate for bull fighting.  The bull fighter is like a writer.  I could identify with her commitment, the possibility of failure.

Luna is caught between her two brothers who have opposite political views: one is on the left, the other on the right.  She is pressured to take sides.  If she takes the left, she's be relegated to the kitchen, but if she choose right, she'll be a traitor to her own people. The book talks about artists in time of war and of censorship. The characters operate in tandem with their time, and their sociopolitical context with a soul to soul connection. 

CB: Characters don't exist in isolation.  Sarah is part of a triangle with Raymond Renaud and her friend Juliet.  Everyone is entangled morally with each other.  Everyone wants something different.  Good fiction is defined by the intensity of desire.  The main character wants to speak to Raymond and to his accusers.

As this was inspired from real event, I had to question myself a lot.  I was able to go further than a newspaper article could have.  There were contradictions, complications and questions.  I came to realize that accusations can happen every day, to everyone. They hold a terrible power.

MW: When I was a kid, there was a radio at home we were not supposed to use.  Of course, I used it and said my brother had used it.  My mother got objurgated my brother and he never denied it, although we both knew I was the culprit.  This stayed with us for a long time.  Accusations, even samll, have power.

A protagonist who doesn't want to take sides is good.  It's hard to do that with a first person narrator, so I wrote in the third person.  Henry, my main character, wonders how much one can control.  He feels that opening his heart to other people will make him vulnerable.  Not doing is difficult, it's dangerous.

ER:   When excavating the past, the heart is important.  Luna is grappling with love.  Outside the arena is where is dangerous.  Somehow, I feel writer are so passive.  We're isolated from the rest of the world, watching the rest of the world.  Creating active life is very passive.

CB: I feel that writing is a retreat but that it's also an engagement with the world.  The questing impulse is very important.  Write what you don't know, but what you want to know.  There is an ethical component to asking questions and exploring answers.  It a commitment, though.  The real value in a novel is in telling a story that will make people think.

MW: As writers, we're always working.  We set ourselves back so we can connect things together, make them more powerful.  You have to make it seem like without the main character, the world would topple.

CB: You have to pay attention to the views of the world.  Bring quality of attention to the world.

ER:  Writing a book is a neurotic job.  It's a commitment.  I see the inherent value, but as a writer and a person, there is a continual push-pull between the real world and the world in my mind.  I tend to bring whatever is in my mind into the outside world.

What is the wildest thing you've ever done?

MW:  I have a house in Newfoundland.  One day, I was on a boat with my wife and son, we had gone for a picnic across the bay.  As we were getting back, there was a bit of fog but I thought it would be ok.  I was rowing and my wife told me she couldn't see the land.  We suddenly found ourselves stuck in the fog.  It was very quiet and there wasn't anything to orient us.  For long minutes, we couldn't see a thing.  We lost sense of time and place.  It was terrifying.   Then, I heard the sound of waves crashing.  We landed about half a kilometer away from where we were originally headed.  We could have missed land completely.  The strangest thing was that the fog was on the water only.

ER:  My entire early life was wild.  I was the only child to an unmarried mother.  We moved about forty times.  We were always on the move.  I was formed in a space of wilderness.  I left home at fifteen.  So for me, the wildest thing I did was to get married, have a family and a home I'm loyal to.

Monday, 27 January 2014

Stolen Words – Tea

This week's work was predictable, don't you think?  This is our last word of Chinese origin.  Where would you like to go next week?  Leave you suggestions in the comment section!

Sagwa character property of Cine Group and Sesame Workshop

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Author Interview Series – T.B. Markinson

Today ATUA has the pleasure to be one of T.B. Markinson's stops on the her blog tour.  Markinson is an American expat living in England and the author of two novels.
Giveaway info will follow the interview.
Have you always known that you wanted to be a writer or did that come later in life?
In the sixth grade we had to write a short story. My teacher loved my story and wrote a small note at the top of my paper. It read: When you grow up, you should be a writer. That was it. I was hooked and wanted to write. Over the years I would jot down stories and I started at least one novel but never finished it. Life always interfered. I was working full-time and whenever I tried to take my writing to the next level, something would happen and I found myself consumed with everyday life. Then over two years ago my partner’s company asked us to move from Boston to London. Suddenly I was unemployed. The transfer was supposed to last two years and my partner and I decided that I would use the time to give writing a go. So I pulled an unfinished manuscript out of the drawer and got to work. Now the book is published and I’ve completed the second one, Marionette.

Your Goodreads profile states that you had pledged to publish before 35.  What made you want to set that age as a deadline?
I’m not sure why I selected that particular number. I was in my early 20s when I made that declaration and maybe I thought it was completely reachable. And since I was still in my 20s I may have thought 35 was old. In a few months I’ll be 40 and I no longer associate my age with being old since I still feel like I did twenty years ago. However, I have more aches and pains.
I missed my deadline by four years, but I never lost the desire to succeed. For everyone out there who has a dream of publishing, my advice is never give up. 

Marionette is your second book.  How different was it writing YA?

Marionette is the second book that I’ve published, however, it was the first novel that I wrote. I worked on the first draft back when I was in college. I pulled the original draft out of my drawer last year and even though I shredded most of it, I was able to maintain the young adult voice since I was basically a young adult when I started it. Thank goodness I kept that draft for two decades. 

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 work from home so this can be challenging on some days since there are so many distractions, mainly my cat and dog who always want attention. My goal is to write 1000 words a day. Before I sit down to accomplish that, I like to get all of my emails answered and to take care of the other administrative details concerning my books and life. I find it’s best I do this first thing to eliminate one distraction. That way I can’t say, “Oh wait, did I answer my emails.”
Then comes the hard part. I sit at my desk, with a cup of tea (I’m addicted), and write. Some days the words flow. Other days they don’t. But it’s rare for me to stop before I reach 1000 words. And on most days, I go over my goal. The most important part is to sit down and do it. I know that sounds too easy, but that’s what it comes down to. Just write. 

Homosexuality and sexual discrimination are recurring themes in your books.  What motivates you to tackle those topics?
Both of these themes fit with the stories. I didn’t sit down to write specifically about these topics, they just happened to work for the characters in my stories. For me the most important aspect is the story.
Saying that, I do think these topics are important and should be discussed openly. Human rights should never be ignored, even though it isn’t always an easy conversation to have. 

Are you working on a new novel at the moment?  If yes, can we get a scoop?

The next book is about a woman who had everything going for her. She graduated from Harvard, had a literary agent, and a fantastic deal to write her first book. However, everything has fallen apart and she’s working at Starbucks to make ends meet. She has a crazy, but loving family and girlfriend. It’s about whether she can find her true path in life and get everything back on track.

What advice would you give to emerging authors?
Relationships are key to emerging authors. My advice would be to foster relationships now with other authors and readers. Marketing is important, however you can’t just shout from the rooftops, “Buy my book!” There are so many books out there. Readers want to connect with authors. If they don’t feel that connection then there’s a good chance they’ll buy a different book. And don’t expect instant success. It’s takes time. Don’t give up in the beginning just because it’s a lot of work. Patience is important.
Our previous featured guest Tania Mignacca wants to ask you: I read on your blog that you have self-published your first novel. What advice would you give to writers or comic artists who are looking to self-publish for the first time?

I recommend doing your homework. Two authors really helped me with my decision to self-publish. The first is David Gaughran. I recommend his books: Let’s Get Digitaland Let’s Get Visible. Also his website is a fantastic resource: .The second person that helped was Joanna Penn. Her book: How to Market a Book is a great resource and her website is useful: Both of these authors have also published fiction and the methods they describe in their books are ones that they have used.

There are a lot of companies out there who claim they can help you self-publish for a reasonable fee. Do your research so you don’t get conned by them. I hired my editor, cover designer, and book formatter. I would be careful about signing up with a company that says they will take care of all of these details for you. There’s no easy way out. It is hard work, but I find it rewarding. And don’t be afraid to reach out to other authors who have self-published. So many of them are willing to answer questions. It’s a supportive community. You may feel lonely, but if you reach out, it will help.

My question for Owen Hortop, owner and swing dance instructor at Cat's Corner, is:

What advice do you have for people with two left feet, but who aspire to become an adequate dancer? 


For a chance to win an electronic copy of Marionette (see my review here) leave a question for T.B. Markinson's in the comment section.  Giveaway ends on Tuesday January 28th 11:59 ET.  Winner and answers to the questions will be posted on Thurday January 30th.  Good luck!

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Review Wednesday – Marionette

Paige Alexander is one of the daughters of the rich and famous Alexanders.  What looks like a blessing from the outside is actually a curse; Paige and her twin sister are estranged and their parents are nothing short of tyrannical.  After a fail suicide attempt, she starts college, away from home.  She escapes her parents only to find herself in the throes of rising anti-gay sentiment on campus.  Will she manage to find solace and triumph over those who would see her fall?

Marionette, T.B. Markinson's second novel, is a thoroughly enjoyable read.  The author has managed to create personable characters whose lives hook the reader and make them want to know more.  Each member of the little group that grows around the main character has its own personality, its own quirks which makes them very easy to picture.  The verisimilitude of Paige's inner struggle is quite impressive.  The reader is not tricked in feeling sorry for the girl, rather, it wants to see how she will handle the situation and get out of imbroglios.  I personally quite enjoyed the evolution of Paige and Liddy's (her therapist) relationship.  I believe anyone who has ever seen a psychiatrist will understand the complexity that is beautifully rendered by Markinson's words.

Speaking of which, the author's prose is easy to read without being economical.  It is easy to see that this novel had been reworked and edited numerous times achieve such a good level of writing.  I didn't notice anything specific about it (except maybe the occasional overused expression – "like a moth to a flame") which is good, because it means that it doesn't get in the way the story.  I would love to read Markinson's next novel to see how her prose evolved.  She indubitably has a lot of potential as a writer.

For the most part, the structure of the novel was good.  There were no loose ends left dangling when the conclusion was reached and the pace was skillfully set as to keep the reader wanting more.  The ending pleased me until I reached the part about her parents.  I had been wondering for a while what was going to happen to them or how they were going to get involved but what befell them felt a bit too convenient, as bit too deus ex machina.  Although I think they got what they deserved, I feel they (as well as Paige's twin sister Abbie) should have been more actively present throughout the book.  That way, their involvement wouldn't have felt so sudden.

Lastly, I can't stress enough how I enjoyed reading a story about college students who don't own a cellphone.  The story is set in 1992, yet Markinson doesn't overweight it with constant pop culture references.  It was very refreshing and, somehow, reminded me of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  Despite its small flaws, Marionette is a great read.  I strongly recommend it.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Wild Writer Literary Festival – Saturday Night Speakeasy: Crime and All That Jazz

After a nice day of workshop and panels, the guests of the Wild Writer Literary Festival were invited in a local pub for a night of mystery.  Between a great panel of suspense writers (Andrew Piper, Mary Jackman, Brad Smith) animated by David Worsley of Words Worth Books and the live jazz of the Joni NehRita Quartet, the evening was promising.

David Worsley: Were you a crime writer early on?

Mary Jackman:  I am Liz Walker, my main character. The novel is about my restaurant and the people I would like to kill.  So I started writing what I know.  I work with great people, they're a treasure of true characters.

DW: Is Virgil Cain always in trouble?  Is he unlucky?

Brad Smith: I know a guy like Cain.  He likes to say "I don't know if trouble finds me or if I find me."  In the case of Cain, I think it finds him.  The cocaine story of the second novel was inspired by a true story.

DW: Is Demonologist related to Milton and his image of Satan?

Andrew Piper:  Demonologist is a thriller.  I had been wanting to write a scary story for a long time but I wanted to write about something better than escape.  I read a lot of possession and ghost stories.  Hauntings come in times of emotional downs.  Emotions are the reason they can happen.  In Demonologist, the demon also haunts for emotions; it isn't arbitrary, it's emotionally motivated.  The characters on both sides are plagued by depression, which creates a bridge between demons and humans.

Editorially, people liked the idea, but my different publishers say different things: US= more Milton, UK= less Milton, Canada = meh.

DW: Is Liz's story a series in the making?

MJ:  I'm having a hard time with the third book.  I want to keep the character alive but I can't answer for now.  Daniel is a combination of many chefs I've employed over the years, but they're all nuts.  They're all artists so you have to worship them.  The main character, Liz, doesn't like to cook.  

DW: Not many restaurant owners write books, so the perspective is different.

MJ: Most restaurant owners don't write books; most go home to cry.  Seriously, if you like to write, you'll find time.  I write books peppered with elements from reality.

DW: Demonologist is not a crime novel.  Where do bookstores put the book?

AP: On the best-seller table!  I don't care where it gets put, categories are not ground for disqualification; readers see through genres now.  I'd like to move past a genre define literature.  We use categories when we don't even know what they mean.

DW: Could you have written this novel ten years back?

The book is about a missing daughter.  When you have kids, you care less about yourself, so that's the worst thing possible for a parent.  If you want to want to write a scary story, scare yourself.

DW: Name a writer you like that nobody knows about.

MJ: I don't really have an answer.  However, right now, I'm reading LeCarré's Smiley's People.

AP:  Come Closer, by Sarah Grant.

BS: Peter Temple, The Broken Shore.  He's Australian.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Stolen Words – Long time no see

This week's borrowed word really surprised me.  I had never really imagined something we used so much could have come from another language.  Then again, I guess that goes for ketchup as well...

Sagwa character property of Cine Group and Sesame Workshop

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Write Your Heart Out – Contest and Call for Submission Round Up

Room presents 37:3 Geek Girls
What: Short fiction, Poetry
Length: 3500 words or 5 poems
Deadline: January 31st

Taproot V: Call For Submissions
What/Length: fast fiction, anecdotes, monologues (500 words or less), creative non-fiction (2500 words or less), short stories (5000 words or less), poetry (maximum 3 poems, totaling 150 lines or less)
Deadline: January 31st

Call for Submissions: Our Canada magazine
What: Short fiction, creative non-fiction
Length: 1200 words

The Danuta Gleed Literary Award
What: Short Fiction Collection
Deadline: January 31st

The Malahat Review 2014 Novella Prize
What: Novella
Length: 10 000-20 000 words
Deadline: February 1st

Summer Literary Seminar 2014 Literary Contest!
What: Short Story, Novel Excerpt, Poetry
Length: 20 pages, 3 poems
Deadline: February 28th


Friday, 17 January 2014

The Resolution Zero Project – Month 1: You didn't hear it from me

Last week, I discussed resolutions and how most of them are unrealistic and quickly abandonned.  This week, I want to share with you a TED talk by Larry Smith.  In his short discourse, he manages to illustrate the importance of achieving greatness in life.  

Greatness is different for each and everyone of us and it's not the scale that matters; its the accomplishment itself.  That is why you must not compare yourself to others.  You don't know what goes on in their lives, only what they choose to show you.  The only person you should compare yourself against is your past self. 

Ready to be awesome?

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Dreamers Interview Series – Tania Mignacca : Answers and Giveaway winner!

You've been waiting for it!  I'm pleased to announce that Tania's giveaway winner is...

 But first, the answers to your questions!

Meg Hanna asked

Tania, I have got to commend you on your original and optimistic take on the city that we call home. Vibrant colours, hard hitting issues, a promising message and cute characters - you most certainly have the winning recipe! I've been following Ponto for a while now and as a municipal employee starting out, I can relate to this universe that you have created. You have no idea! That being said, I'd be curious to know where you hope your art will take you in the next year. You mentioned getting your work out there and really diving into the artistic community through conventions and the web. During this process, what kind of subjects and themes do you hope to explore along the way?

Thanks Meg, it's always a pleasure to hear what municipal employees think about Ponto and I'm happy that you can relate to the comic. I have a lot of readers who work on the municipal level and they all seem to enjoy Ponto's adventures which is a huge compliment. To answer your question, I'm not really sure where my art will take me but I hope it will get people interested in what I do and maybe it will lead to possible contracts or collaborations. I also have a lot of ideas for Ponto but not enough time and resources so there's a potential for collaboration there as well. I'm also looking into going back to making bigger scale artwork like paintings which I didn't have much time to do in the last year because starting Ponto required a lot of time. As for subjects I'd like to explore, I feel what's missing in Montreal is a feeling of belonging. My sense of belonging to the city is something that I like to portray in my art. Now that Ponto's getting settled in Montreal, I hope to talk about this issue more in depth at one point in the story. I want to inspire people to appreciate how awesome Montreal is even with all the problems. If we start to feel proud about our city things wil surely start to change in a positive way. 

Mathieu asked
In upcoming issues of Ponto, will we see Mr. Turcot with the famous woolen stockings of Les Ville-Laines? Will it be something that helps Ponto to warm Mr. Turcot during our rough winter? 

When I saw this art manifestation done by the collective the « Ville-Laines » on the Turcot interchange, I thought it was the coolest thing ever! So yes, I'm thinking of drawing it. I'm not sure it will be in the comic but maybe in a special comic strip for winter.I think Mr. Turcot needs one on every leg! I wonder if this would help shield the concrete against temperature variations. 

Dave asked
I spent a couple years in Montreal, and when I first moved I remember seeing the Turcot and feeling a strange sense of pride as a Vancouverite (since all the new infrastructure in Vancouver that was built for the 2010 Olympics stood in stark contrast). Maintenant, je suis retourné à Vancouver, mais le Turcot est un bon souvenir de Montréal... d'après moi, il fait partie du personnage de la ville. J'aime bien lire des BDs de Montréal pis j'aime reconnaître mes lieus -- comme ca: Quel est le lieu favori de Montréal de Ponto? What's Ponto's favourite place in Montreal?

Hi Dave! First of all thanks a lot for this photo. I think it's awesome that your girlfriend took the time to take it. Now I know my illustration was pretty accurate! I'm also happy to learn that reading the comic helps you remember good memories of Montreal. Je pense aussi que l'échangeur Turcot fait partie du paysage Montréalais. Some people suggested turning it into an elevated park like the High Line in New York instead of tearing it down. In response to your question, Ponto has many different favorite places in Montreal since he's too marvelled with the city. He does enjoy the main landmarks but he prefers those that we sometimes forget about like the Guaranteed milk bottle, the Farine Five Roses sign or the Turcot.

 Odrie asked
J'ai vu Ponto pour la première fois à Comic Con et je suis ses aventures depuis. Bravo! Je me demandais : où est-ce que Ponto rêve de travailler à Montréal? 

Merci Odrie de suivre les aventures de Ponto! Pour répondre à ta question, je crois que Ponto rêve de travailler sur les gros chantiers comme celui de l'échangeur Turcot ou du Pont Champlain. Il espère aussi travailler dans différents quartiers pour apprécier la richesse culturelle montréalaise. Et peut-être aussi au centre-ville car il y a beaucoup d'action! English translation: Thanks Odrie for following Ponto's adventures! To answer your question, I think Ponto dreams to work on the big construction sites like the Turcot interchange or the Champlain bridge. He also hopes to work in different boroughs to appreciate all the cultural diversity Montreal has to offer. And, maybe downtown as well because there's a lot of action there! 


And the giveaway winner is... MEG! Congratulations!  Please send me an email at stephanie.noel.writer(at) to claim your prize!

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Reading Pledge 2014

If you're an avid reader chances are you keep track of the number of book you read every year.  There are many websites that offer the possibility to flaunt your fast-reading skills.  But how about the number of pages you read?  Have you ever thought how many of them your eyes devoure?

Last year, I pledged to read 8 000 pages.  When I met my goal, I upped the game to 14 000.  It was a lot of fun to see the numbers go up and to compare my progression with friend's.  This year, my reading pledge is 15 000 pages but I don't want to play this game alone.

Join me for the second edition of the ATUA Reading Pledge!  

Here is what you have to do:

1. Decide how many pages you want to read this year.
2.  Visit the official ATUA 2014 Reading Pledge page.
3.  Post your goal in the comment section.
4. Read!

You can come back whenever you want to share the titles of the books you've read.  If you've reviewed them on your blog, don't hesitate to leave a link! 

How many pages can we read together this year?

Picture source

Review Wednesday will back next week! Until then, read previous reviews! 

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Wild Writers Literary Festival Series – Writing Narrative: From Concept to Creation

Here's the fifth installment of the Wild Writers Literary Festival.  Missed the previous one?  No problem, you can read them here #1, #2, #3, #4.  

 This workshop, led by Helen Humphreys (poetry, novel and creative non-fiction author,) was an exploration of the process of moving an idea forward using practical ste^-by-step approach.  I have to say it was one of my favourite craft class.

Humphreys talk was structured around the different questions you should ask yourself when writing.

Are you obsessed by your idea?
If you can't stop thinking about your idea, chances are it's a good one.  Don't let it go.
What is the interesting story you can make out of the idea?
Try to look past the first idea that comes to mind.  Dig deeper than the easy answer. Ask yourself if there's a better way to tell the story.  Brainstorm.  Create an independant notebook or file for each projet.  Use it to hold your thoughts.

Whose story is it?  Which character is the main character?  What perspective are you telling the story from? 
Asking those questions over and over will help you tell the story is the best way possible.

What is the motivation of your main character?  What do they want?  What do they end up getting?
By answering these questions you'll be able to know if your story is one of glory or of tragedy.

Where does the story take place?
Make sure you know how much the setting is important to the story.  Ask yourself what is private and/or public about that place.

What is the beginning of the story?  What is the ending?
Make sure you ask yourself these two questions frequently as you may find out that it has changed as the story progresses.

What is your process?
Learn to know what works and doesn't work for you.  Don't think too much and follow what feels right initially.

In passing, Humphreys added that there are two main narrative types: a stranger comes to town or someone goes on a journey.  In either case, when plotting the story, start by placing the main events on a timeline then fill the spaces between.

What is the hardest thing for you to say?
Asking yourself this should get the ball rolling and allow you to start writing.  Chances are that if it's difficult for you, you're not the only one.

Monday, 13 January 2014

Stolen Words – Chinese – Ketchup

This week we continue our exploration of English words of Chinese origin.  Chop chop!  Pass me the ketchup!

Sagwa character property of Cine Group and Sesame Workshop.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Write Your Heart out – Contest and Call for submission round up

Canada Writes – CBC Creative Non-Fiction Contest
What: Unpublished work of non-fiction
Lenght1200-1500 words
Deadline: February 1, 2014 at 11:59 p.m. ET  

9th Annual ACCENTI Writing Contest
What: Unpublished and not under consideration by any other publication work of fiction non-fiction or creative non-fiction
Lenght: 2000 words
Deadline: February 7th

The Writer's Union of Canada – 21st Annual Short Prose Competition for Developing Writers
What: Original and non-publish work of fiction or non-fiction.
Lenght: 2500 words
Deadline: March 1st

Carte Blanche – Call for submissions
What: Narrative of all forms from fiction and nonfiction, to poetry and photo essays.
Lenght: See details
Deadline: March 1st

Friday, 10 January 2014

The Resolution Zero Project – Month 1: Identifying the problem

This year is going to be my year! This year is going to be different. This year I will make it happen.

 Rings a bell?

 Each year 45% of Americans make resolutions. Popular goals include but are not limited to weight loss, staying fit, spend less and learn something new. The concept of promising to do an act of self-improvement in the New Year goes backs as far as 2000 BC, when the Babylonians offered resolutions to their Gods. However, the format we’re familiar with was born and evolved in the 20th century. (For a more complete history, visit this site).

A study conducted in 2007 by Richard Wiseman of the University of Bristol revealed that “88% of those who set New Year resolution fail.”(1) Further studies have also shown that 25% of people will keep their resolution for about a week and that after 26 weeks, only 46% of people will still be keeping them. (2

How is that possible when most people, when making the resolution, take it very seriously and have a real desire to change and better themselves? 

The answer lies in the nature of the resolutions: they are vague, disproportionate and unrealistic. A smoker of twenty decides to go cold Turkey. An overweight person decides to go to the gym every day. Although these goals are commendable, they obviously constitute dramatic changes in the resolution maker’s life and are thus bound to result in failure before they have even been implemented.

 Ok. What then?

 Some people choose not to take resolutions at all, choosing the status quo over the illusion of sudden miraculous redemption. That’s a way to see it but that’s also boring. The other option is to set realistic objectives with defined small steps that will lead, over time, to the accomplishment of your goals. Sounds much better, doesn’t it? 

 This year, my goal is to get a manuscript ready for publication. This is a daunting task and so I’ve decided to create The Resolution Zero Project not only to help myself but to help you get closer to your 2014 goals. In the following weeks, I will be publishing articles, videos and numerous resources to guide you on your journey. I hope many of you will join me in this adventure. 

Your turn! Have you ever made resolutions you didn’t keep? How did that make you feel? Did you ever manage to keep your resolutions? What do you wish to accomplish this year? Let me know! I love hearing from you! 

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Dreamers Interview Series – Tania Mignacca

 Today I have the immense pleasure of hosting visual artist extraordinaire Tania Mignacca.  I've known Tania for a few years now and I've had the chance to see her goregous art soar to impressive levels.  I'm very grateful that she accepted to be featured on ATUA for she is a source of inspiration for me.

Giveaway information will follow the interview.

Tell us a bit more about what you do.

 I'm a freelance illustrator, graphic designer and comic artist based in Montreal. I work with clients and do my own personal projects as well. My inspiration mainly comes from two very different influences: Japanese manga and Montreal's abandoned architectural heritage. Through my work, I hope people will learn to see the beauty in unusual things such as in a decaying building for example and try to look for it in their own surroundings. I'm also the author of Ponto, a weekly webcomic about the adventures of a young signalization cone who comes to work in Montreal. 

When did you start drawing? 

I started drawing at a very young age. Like many kids from the 80's I grew up with Japanese anime and video games. There was something in the traits of the characters and colours that had a huge impression on me so even though I was just a child I decided that I would draw like this one day. I practiced really hard by copying illustrations and drawing my favourite characters from memory. After a short while, I got fed up and I started creating my own characters and stories. It was important for me to be original and creative. 

What medium do you enjoy working with the most?

I usually like to mix different mediums together. I make all my sketches by hand and use different tools such as crayons, acrylic paints, markers and Photoshop to add in colour and textures. I also do photography as a hobby and I often use my photos as part of the coloration process. I find that combining different media helps me give depth and warmth to my artwork. 

What was the main difficulty you had to face when you decided to make a living out of your art? 

The main difficulty I found is that it requires a lot of discipline and a certain amount of sacrifice. Since I work from home, I get to make my own schedule but I often lose track of time and end up working crazy amounts of hours especially when it comes to personal projects.The sacrifice part is mostly financial. I can't travel as much as I wish and I have to be careful about my spendings even if I have a part-time job that provides me with a basic survival revenue. However, the satisfaction I get from my work is way more gratifying. 

What is your next step as an entrepreneur? 

It'll sonn be a year since I  started publishing my webcomic Ponto. I'm currently thinking about self-publishing a print and ebook version of it later this year. I also want to create more products featuring my art and make them available on my Etsy store. Lastly, I hope to attend more art fairs and conventions because it's always great to be able to meet my readers and fans and meet new people. 

Ponto the signalization cone is the hero of your comic strip about Montreal. How did you come up with the idea? 

I was going to exhibit my work at an art fair and I was looking for ideas of products to sell. Since Montreal plays such a big part in my artistic process, I thought it would be a great idea to create button designs for people to show off their pride for our city. The orange signalization cone has a special and negative meaning for Montrealers: they're all over the city and they constantly remind us of the aging state of our infrastructures and, let's not forget, the corruption scandals. This gave me the idea to create an adorable cone character that would be too cute to hate. That's how Ponto was born. When I started selling the buttons, the reaction was instant smiles. Montrealers really loved the idea and it triggered their feeling of belonging to their city. Getting so much positive feedback, I started building a whole universe around Ponto. I chose to publish his adventures as a weekly webcomic. I've always dreamed of writing comics and I felt this was the right opportunity to start. Through the story we follow Ponto who decides to leave his hometown to live his dream of working in the big city of Montreal. Optimistic and a bit naive he will do his best to bring the glory back to the city. 

Our previous guest, Canadian author Kenneth Radu, would like to ask you: Looking through your online portfolio, I would ask what elements or aspects of Japanese art, traditional or modern, most influence your own work? 

Most of the Japanese influences in my work come from Japanese pop culture such as manga an anime. This can mostly be seen in my character designs. As I built Ponto's character, I looked into the Japanese phenomenon of Yurukyara which are cute mascot characters that are designed to promote cities. 

Our next will be YA author T.B. Markinson; what would you like to ask her?

 I read on your blog that you have self-published your first novel. What advice would you give to writers or comic artists who are looking to self-publish for the first time? 

Tania's portfolio 
Etsy store


For a chance to win two autographed 8"X10" prints of Tania's illutrations of you choice, leave her a question in the comment section.  Giveaway ends on Tuesday January 14th 11:49 ET.  The name of the winner as well as the answers will be posted on January 16th.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Review Wednesday – Price of Justice

Detective Jason Scarsdale of Austin PD didn't think is life could get any worse after the death of his beloved wife.  He was wrong. As the high profile murder investagation he's been assigned starts to spin out of control, Scarsdale finds himself entangled in a web of deception, murder and revenge.  As the tension rises, the clock starts ticking and the investigation becomes personal, will Scarsdale manage to remain the good cop?

Price of Justice by Alan Brenham is a compelling story that kept me glued to the pages. It has all the elements of a great cop story: the good cop going through a rough time, the loyal partner, the dodgy superiors, the brilliant and attractive female cop and, of course, villains one loves to hate.  The novel is well-paced, the writing craftily creating suspense and mounting tension until the tale's denouement.  The alternation of first person naration and omniscient narration was one of the elements that contributed to create fantastic cliff-hangers.  The plot is well-structured; there are no loose ends.

Brenham managed to create characters that are well-rounded and believable.  True, it seems like every hardship is happening to Scarsdale at once but let's be honest: there are times when it seems life throws everything at you, all at once.  Plus, the author makes it work beautifully.  The reader becomes invested in the characters, wanting to know what will happen to them.  Even the villains have believable motives.  In Pride of Justice, there are no absolute evil, just human beings with personal agendas.

If characters are great, the setting is amazing.  With his economical descriptions, Brenham manages to paint a vivid picture of Austin.  The reader also can't fail to notice that the author knows his stuff when it comes to the world of law enforcement.  These two combined allowed me to see the whole story clearly in my mind's eye.

In short, Pride of Justice is a riveting novel that I wish could be made into a movie.  If that's not on the agenda, I hope to read more of Scarsdale's adventures.  This could well be the start of the great series.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Wild Writers Literary Festival Series – How to Kill a Man: The Secrets of Mystery Writing

Here is the fourth installment of the Wild Writers Literary Festival Series.  Missed the previous ones?  Read them here #1 #2 #3!

This workshop was animated by Brad Smith, author of the Virgil Cain mystery series.  It took the form of a casual chat between the participants and the writer.  Here is what emerged from the exchange.

  • The writing process is much more important than where the idea came from.  Chances are authors will prefer being asked about the former rather than the latter.
  • Newspapers can be a great source of inspiration for subplots.
  • Writing is a mental and physical process.  There are no right or wrong.  You have to do what works for you.
  • You can work with or without an outline.  One way is not better than the other.
  • Macguffins are great tools to get the readers into the story.
  • Don't switch P.O.V. in the middle of a scene.
  • Do your research.  Although Google is an amazing tool, to really "get" a place, you need to go there.
  • Write your first draft then do the research.  That way, you'll know what you need.
  • Pay attention to your secondary characters.  Give them quirks, traits that don't necessarily help the story.
  • Create a back story for your characters.  You don't need to put it all in the story, but it will help you create more believable characters.
  • Eavesdrop on other people's conversation to create good dialogues.  Find a voice for each characters.  Be aware of rhythm and cadence.
  • Use your others senses.  See things from a child's point of view.

Monday, 6 January 2014

Stolen Words – Chop chop

This year, we set aside the hipster lingo and we educate ourselves on the borrowed words of the English language.  Each month, we'll travel to a different country to see what terms we've stolen from other languages around the world.  In January, Chinese words!

Sagwa character property of Cine group and Sesame Workshops.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

The Sunday Special – Feel Good Factor in 30 days

"I can only describe this part of my journey to be like peeling layers of an onion off one by one – there are lots of them, they are difficult to peel and at times it may make you cry!" 

With the New Year, a lot of people decide to make a fresh start.  For some, it's time to get serious about losing weight, for others it's time to change their take on life, to create a new mindset.  For these people, the Feel Good Factor in 30 Days might be just the book they need. 

This short work by Andrea Morrison is the result of a lot of introspection and experimentation on the part of the author.  Morrison, like many of us according to society's criteria, had it all.  She had the great husband, the great house, the great children and the great job.  Yet, she didn't feel fulfilled.  She was stuck on the treadmill of life and stepping off just felt impossible.  Luckily, she was diagnosed with chronic fatigue.  This forced her to stop and to reconsider her life, which led her to reinvent herself.  No matter what other said, she found who she really was. 

Rich of her experience,  Feel Good Factor in 30 Days gives the reader the tools to achieve a positive outlook on life.  Thanks to its "dip into," lesson-a-day format, this book is very accessible and can be picked up and put down at one's whims. There is no reading order; the tricks are independent of one another. The lessons are short and can be combined to the reader's taste. This truly is a "Pick what works for you" advice book. At first glance, the content may seem very simple, but in our complex world, it can be beneficial to go back to basics.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Review Wednesday – Dialogue with the Devil

"You can call me whatever you want; a self-deluded fool, a Christian, a madman, a classic case of paranoia with schizophrenic tendencies, a visionary or even a prophet of utter magnitude that can pierce through the heart of understanding."

Stephen Biro used to be an atheist until he found God after having been deceived by the Devil.  This whole experience was recorded in his first book, Hellucination.  In Dialogue with the Devil, Stephen recounts his second encounter with the Devil, a meeting through which Satan tried to get him back on his team by revealing the truth of our world.

It would be easy to scoff at the content of this book and deem its content the rambling divagations of an addled brain.  That would be unfortunate however, and quite beside the point because Biro, whether his experience was real or pure fantasy, addresses, through the voice of the Devil, many of the plagues that have befell our society and continue to thrive thanks to our inertia.  His observations on television, the love for money, the almost religious nature of fame worship and the omnipresence of technology as a form of distraction are dead on.  In this social commentary, the author shows the readers what has been there for them to see all along with little hope of them acting upon this new knowledge.  Unfortunately, one can't help but know that he is right.  It only takes a quick look at the news and the world outside to feel that we may well be on our way to the "apocalypse" if nothing is done.  And according to Biro's Devil, it's already too late.

Dialogue with the Devil is a well-written  book with a very accessible format, which is a blessing as the content would suffer were the readers to be distracted by the writing.  The book is a bit destabilizing at first, as its content is not necessarily organized in a linear way – the Devil speaks about what he pleases in the order he pleases – but a pattern soon emerges and before long, the reader is taken with the narrative (I must confess I read it in one sitting.)  The book contains a lot of vulgar language, but such a way of speaking is to be expected from the Devil himself; it doesn't hinder the reading, quite the contrary.  Biro, as a main character, is easy to relate to, especially because of his feeling of helplessness but also because of his resilience and his strong faith.  One can't help but feel his distress as he is put through this ordeal.

Dialogue with the Devil is an excellent book, and I think that regardless of your religious beliefs, it should be added to your reading list.  It's often shocking, but we all need to be taken out of our comfort zone.