The Need for Stories

The story of a writer often begins with the story of a reader. It begins with a passion for the written word, a longing for stories. I consumed stories. I was voracious. I read far above my grade level, and below it as well, reading the books on my classroom shelf, my parents’ shelves, and the stuff my younger sister left lying around. At twelve I was reading Stephen King, and the Bailey School Kids, and the Redwall books.

When I read that’s all I do. I disappear. I don’t hear people around me anymore. I read until I have to stop, or until the book is done. I have burnt dinner. I’ve been late for work. I’ve stayed up far past my bedtime. When my son was born I read a lot while nursing. I tried to do this when my daughter was born but realized it wasn’t safe – I’d lose track of my then-two-year-old son. I put books aside almost entirely for a few years, only flipping through a few old favourites to satisfy my need for words, books I could put down easily because I knew what happened in the end.

Often people ask writers where they get their ideas from and I’ve written about inspiration and motivation before. I think before we have ideas for individual stories we have the idea that we can write stories. Something clicks inside of us and we go ‘hey, maybe I could do this’. And then the story ideas start. There’s still time to turn back at this point, still time to say, ‘no, it’s too much trouble, I’ll just keep my nose in this book’, and that’s what many people do.

For me that click very quickly became a need. I realized I had stories to tell, stories that were important to me, ideas I wanted to share. I often feel like I have no choice in this anymore. I must continue to write. The ideas come faster than I can record them. I have projects I will never finish, and more I will never even have time to start. I am driven by a need to reach out to people, to communicate across time and space and reality, just as so many authors were able to do with the books I have read.

I have been inspired to start and continue this journey by so many authors, big name or indie, local or international, best sellers or obscure. I cannot list them all, I cannot remember them all, but here are a few books and authors I recommend:

Misty of Chincoteague: my mother read this to us when we were young and I remember the cover. It was a hardcover edition from the library with this close up of a grey horse face and the mane flowing around it. It was magical and stuck with me even when I couldn’t remember the name of the book. I did find it back again and reread it in high school along with King of the Wind and Cinnabar.

MAUS: A difficult read, one I undertook at thirteen when we did WWII in school. One of my favourite books of all time. It was dark but somehow humorous at times. It was honest, about his father’s life and his own, even his own failings. I think it’s that honesty and the stark black and white style that grabbed me.

Stephen King, Tamora Pierce, David Eddings, Anne Bishop, Patricia Briggs, Mark Leslie, Geralyn Wichers, Marianne Curtis, George RR Martin.

And it wasn’t limited to books – I learned a lot about story telling from television as well. TV can teach you about pacing, character, cliff-hangers, and more, but it cannot teach you about sentences and words and paragraphs, for that you must read.

X-Files, Xena, Andromeda, Sliders, The Lost World (TV show and the movie), Buffy (TV show).

I find it fascinating what inspires people and what pop culture helped shape them and their voice/vision. This is just a part of my list. Which books/movies/TV shows/authors are on your list?

The Birth of a Story

My story started with an 18×24 inch, three panel, yellow folder.

Each student was given one of these folders in the second grade. On the front it said “Writing Portfolio” and under that, in the impossibly neat printing of an elementary school teacher, it had my name. When you opened it up and set it on your desk or on the floor you were in a private little cubby, like the study desks at the library. Perhaps that’s why I preferred the study desks in the hallway at St Paul’s over the library tables. Perhaps I was remembering this folder.

When open it had three pockets. The left pocket was for ideas, brainstorming, and rough drafts. The middle pocket had our dictionary and our editing materials. And this wasn’t a professionally published dictionary – it was 26 pages, half-sheet size, stapled together and we had to write in the words we had trouble with as we went along. On the right was space for our nearly finished work. Then we would neatly print the story and draw a picture for it and post it on the bulletin board.

This is one of my most vivid memories of elementary school.

When I was young my mother kept one of those school memories journals for me, and one for my sister, and at the end of each school year she’d ask us who our friends were, what our favourite subject was, and what we wanted to be when we grew up.

Kindergarten: Doctor, Artist, Teacher

Grade 1: Storyteller, Writer

Grade 2: Gymnast, Teacher, Writer

Grade 3: Hairdresser, Olympic athlete in soccer or gymnastics

Grade 4: Writer

Grade 5: Author

Grade 6: Author, Piano teacher

In junior high I had an extra binder just for my stories. They were fan-fiction, though I didn’t know what fan-fiction was back then. I knew plagiarism was wrong though so I’d change things and try to make the story my own, but it wasn’t.

In high school my writing became more original but it would be years yet before I became a published author.

Now I’m 30. I’m married with 2 kids. I work from home as a full-time author with nine original books. Seventeen years ago I started writing in earnest, trying to learn this amazing craft. It’s been one heck of a journey so far, and it’s far from over.

Review: Transverse

Transverse is a poetry book written by Theo Ashford and is a companion to his “memoir” Transform. One can be read without the other, I haven’t read Transform yet.

Transverse is not a long book but it was very moving. Each poem was unique and captured a distinctive emotion or moment. Theo relies strongly on images of breaking, shifting, change, emptiness, and confusion to illustrate his own personal journey.

He has provided an honest look at one person’s journey of discovery, one that is on going – at least that’s the sense I got from these poems. There was a sense of being stuck in the middle of a fight – he shares the things he struggles with, and against, and in doing so highlights where the world is failing.

As someone who identifies as “hetro-normative” in pretty much every way I really appreciated being able to read this book. It opened my eyes to the inner turmoil, yes, but it also shone a light on how people like me are failing at being supportive.

Definitely a glowing 5 our of 5 stars from me.

Review: Electric Blue

Electric Blue is a collection of poetry by Lia Rees being released this weekend. I had the opportunity to read an advance copy for this review.

This book contains 20 poems. They are generally personal in nature, reflecting on the self rather than on nature or the state of the world. Most of them are free form though a few are loosely metered and rhyming.

My two favourite poems were If My Doctors were Electricians and Apocalyptic Bethlehem: A Fable.

Poetry is a very subjective and personal writing form. It’s easy to dismiss as rambling lines, incomplete sentences just thrown on a page, but good poetry is deeper than that. Good poetry paints vivid images with only the necessary words. Quite a few poems in this book had real power and drive, others were heavy with emotion. And yet, they remained almost conversational in nature. They were profound but also personal.

Poetry is a tough market these days so best of luck to Lia Rees with the release of this collection. I give it four out of five stars.

Review: The Ultimate Tragedy

It’s is Monday morning following Mother’s Day that I am typing this review. I mention this because this book deals with the loss of a child and on this weekend, as we celebrate mothers, this book is especially moving.

The Ultimate Tragedy is a memoir by Doreen Pchajek. Doreen lost her daughter in a car accident and originally wrote this book 5 years after her daughter’s death. She added an update at the end when she released the second edition roughly 10 years later. It was this second edition that I read.

Reviewing a memoir is hard. To criticize any part of it feels like you are criticizing the author’s life. There were parts of this book that were difficult to read, emotionally, but also technically. There were a lot of medical terms that I found difficult to follow.

The story itself was very sad. Losing a family member is hard, losing one in a sudden accident, well I wrote an article on sudden passings and slow deaths. I don’t know which is worse but I do know that to lose your daughter so young in an accident while you were driving the car must be devastating.

Doreen does a good job of conveying the despair and helplessness she felt.

Doreen has started a memorial fund in honour of her daughter. The Stacey Pchajek Memorial Fund provides scholarships to senior 4 grads in Southeast Manitoba, as well as awards to grade 8 grads.

Doreen’s journey has been a difficult one. She’s right – you never “get over it” but I think she’s reached a point where she can fit her grief into the rest of her life without it constantly overwhelming her.

Book Review: Finding Gloria

Finding Gloria is a memoir written by journalist Marianne Curtis. It can be found on Amazon here: https://www.amazon.ca/Finding-Gloria-Marianne-Curtis-ebook/dp/B007XA222Y (NOTE I do not receive any money from the sales of this book)

Finding Gloria is honest, sometimes funny, and often painful. Given up for adoption at birth Marianne lives through a traumatic childhood. She breaks free as a teen only to find that the emotional trauma has left scars, scars that send her reeling from one bad experience to the next.

Though brutally honest Marianne treats every member of her family and community with respect. She repeatedly states that this is her experience and her memories and nothing more. She omits every name, allowing those involved to maintain their privacy. And if she is honest about the shortcomings and failings of others she is twice as hard on herself.

This book was hard to put down. Our book club read it and we were all deeply moved and disturbed by the things that occurred in this book. But the book was uplifting as well. Here among the horrors of her childhood were the good people who helped her along. And she was able to eventually find her birth family.

5 stars. I would recommend this book to anyone, if you like non-fiction, if you or someone you know is a survivor of child abuse or sexual assault, if you are considering writing your own memoir, this is a must read book.