Review of Ursula K. Le Guin’s ‘Steering the Craft’

I just finished reading Ursula K. Le Guin’s ‘Steering the Craft : A 21st-Century guide to Sailing the Sea of Story’.
It is a short book and covers a lot of the craft of writing. I nodded in agreement over and over. ‘Read your Prose Aloud’ is something I stumbled on years ago. It is amazing how much awkward writing can be found with this tip. Her admonitions about adverbs echos so many writers, but her observation that ‘Those of us who were brought up to be unaggressive in conversation are liable to use qualifiers … that soften or weaken words they modify. In conversation they are OK; In written prose they’re bloodsuckers.’ The chapter on point of view and voice was excellent. I didn’t complete all the exercises in the book, but only because I had seen from experience how well a chapter or scene can be improved by re-writing it from another characters POV. And again how re-writing from third person to first, and vise-versa can have a huge change in affect. (And the difference between affect and effect.)
Le Guin also uses extracts from some great literature in her examples. Now I need to read Virginia Woolf’s ‘Jacob’s Room’ and Charlotte Bronte’s ‘Jane Eyre’ again.
This is a great book for writers. I find as I am rewriting and editing books like this one help put me in the right frame of mind. Well recommended.

Review of Brenda Ueland’s ‘If You Want to Write’

Brenda Euland’s book ‘If You Want to Write’ was recommended in Julia Cameron’s ‘The Artist’s Way.’ I am working through the twelve-week program in Cameron’s book and will post on it separately.
Brenda Euland’s book reminds me of the Dorothea Brande book ‘On becoming a writer’ and they published both in the 1930s. Euland’s ‘If you Want to Write’ is an inspirational, almost spiritual book. Rather than speaking to techniques for writing, she encourages and coaches writers. She is a cheerleader to the writer’s soul, but not by repeating slogans but by encouraging each writer to find their truthful voice. It is this truthfulness that will give a writer a voice that readers believe.
I generated a list of things I took from the book:
Ueland is encouraging slow, thoughtful behavior rather than frantic grinding out of material.
Learning to live in the present and seeing, really seeing, what is around us.
Writing honestly and truthfully. Simply. Truthful writing is good, and easy to spot as good.
Art is Infection. To infect the reader with the same thoughts, feelings and ideas as the writer.
The Imagination works slowly and quietly.

Her chapter titles are great: Be Careless, Reckless! Be a Lion! Be a Pirate! When you write.
Why you are not to be Discouraged, Annihilated, by Rejection slips.

And even in the footnotes I found gems: 31 – I know a fine concert pianist who says sadly of a terribly hardworking but hopeless pupil: “She always practices and never plays.”

This book is going on my list of strongly recommended writing books. A small book that is well worth the time and effort to read.

Week One of ‘The Artist’s Way’ Program

I have begun working through a program as prescribed in Julia Cameron’s  https://www.goodreads.com/series/246709-the-artist-s-way ‘The Artist’s Way’. Saturday I completed the first week and so today seems a good place to check in.
The entire book is very good, inspirational even. I will do a separate review after the program. The core of the program is to keep ‘Morning Pages’, a daily journal of approximately 750 words, to complete a weekly ‘Artist’s Date’, and to complete the exercises for each week.
My first thought was that the Morning Pages would be easy. I already keep a morning journal so that bit will be easy. Wrong.
My journal entries averaged under 300 words a day, sometimes just a few sentences complaining about my health or the weather. And because I am recovering from a spinal and head injury in June, I have lots to moan about. I found that 250 to 300 words was my easy and normal output. 750 words was a stretch. I ran out of stream-of-consciousness rambling and found I needed to start thinking more. I started summarizing the previous day’s activities, but soon found that un-fulfilling. So I started developing my plan. Putting my goals for writing down on paper.
My plan:
Complete some short stories, get them critiqued on ‘Critique Circle’, an on-line writing group I am a member of, and then try to get them published. I borrowed a copy of the 2019 Short Story and Novel Market book from the library and started the research. My goal is one short story out the door every month.
Read and Critique 50 books this year, alternating fiction and non-fiction.
Finish my novel, ‘Hopes Up’, and get it beta-read by a few people I respect.
Start on a non-fiction book I have been thinking about.
Start a second novel.
Continue with both Critique Circle as a method to develop my craft, and as a monthly book club member at the library.
Evaluate my life, consider my over-riding goals, who do I want to be?

I realize that this accident, that changed my life so radically, is also providing an opportunity to re-invent myself and decide how to spend the next twenty years or so.
So the program and the ‘Morning Pages’ are providing me with a forum to work through all of these thoughts, plans, hopes and dreams. Seven days in and I am already seeing a huge value.
It takes more of my time. I used to write in my journal while having breakfast, now I am still writing 45 minutes later. My dog Sawyer doesn’t like it, he has to wait longer for his morning walk. But if a writer is defined by writing, I am now twice the writer I was, my output has more than doubled. A good result. And the material is more focused, also good.
A slight digression, in Julia Cameron’s book she suggests other books that have inspired her. One is Brenda Euland’s ‘If you want to write’. A short, easy book, I also read it this week and found it very inspirational. Both Cameron and Euland have some spiritual ideas about God and creativity that I will learn more about. I will review Euland’s book separately.
So from the first of the three requirements in Cameron’s ‘The Artist’s Way’ I am seeing great value. I am committed to the twelve-week program.
The second requirement was a bit of a bust, this week anyway. Cameron prescribes going on an Artist’s Date. I am working up a list of things I want to do, including the museum of man out at UBC and the Vancouver Art Gallery. But her suggestion to visit a dollar store and have some fun, for the first date, fell flat. It was easy as there is a dollar store beside one of my favourite coffee shops, Waves in Lynn Valley. But as I wandered the isles, the fun disappeared and the cheapness, gaudiness and consumer crap just overwhelmed me. I will try again next week.
But the third requirement, completing the exercises hit pay-dirt for me.
There was some taking stock, reviewing the morning pages process, (Rather than the material) and confirming the positive affirmations and the negative blurts. But the exercise that surprised me was the time travel, going back in time to remember three people who had been ‘enemies of your creative self.’ And then to write out one of those horror stories.
Mine was an English teacher in High School, very last term. We had read D.H.Lawrence’s ‘Sons and Lovers’, frankly a tough text for high school. And I had struggled with some of the material. But I loved books and reading so I wanted to understand it. I asked a question, and the teacher replied with such vile venom that I remember my cheeks burning. He had attacked my work ethic, my intellect, my decency. I was horrified and very nearly cried. I could never understand the response. I put down books and literature for over five years after that.
But I came back to literature when I went to UBC at night, and had to choose a major. I chose English Literature. I have read dozens of novels, and have found that Lawrence’s ‘The Rainbow’ is one of my all-time favourites.
So the question stirred up some ashes from a long dead fire. Why had he been so mean? And instead of hate, I found sympathy. As well as being a teacher he was a local elder in the Baptist Church. I remembered him as leading a youth group called Sentinels, much like Boy Scouts with a more Christian leaning. He was probably a moral man, maybe even self-righteous. And ‘Sons and Lovers’ is a difficult text. It deals with love, passion, and sex. It was probably a prescribed textbook from the Ontario provincial education ministry. And he didn’t know how to talk to young adolescent men and women about it.
So the course is stretching me, making me work and think. And opening my eyes to things I might not have seen before. I am getting value and enjoying it. I will post an update each week.

Review of ‘When Life Gives You Lululemons’

‘When Life Gives You Lululemons’ by Lauren Weisberger was a North Vancouver City library book club selection for this month, January 2020. If I had not felt an obligation to read it, I would have quit in the first five pages. I am glad I didn’t, it turned into a fun and funny romp. That first impression was a portrayal of ‘The Lifestyles of the Rich and Vacuous.’ A shallow materialistic bunch of catty Connecticut house wives. And there is lots of snark. But when the reader level sets from high literature to beach reading and just goes with the flow, this is a good entertaining read.
Lululemons follows Emily Charlton from ‘The Devil Wears Prada’, a movie I have watched again and again, because I think Merle Streep is outstanding as Miranda Priestly. That Ms. Weisberger created such a strong character is a triumph. The characters in Lululemons were not as great as Priestly, who makes a cameo. I felt the main characters all shared a common voice that made it difficult to differentiate them as some points. If a line didn’t have ‘Emily said’ or ‘Miriam said’ it was difficult to follow conversations. Anyone could have said it. And there were a few scenes at parties or social gatherings that I felt explored the shallowness of life rather than advanced to plot. There were a couple of points I wanted to just see what was going on with the main story but had to wade through the minor story arcs. Although these scenes are hilarious.
Spoiler: I did think there were a couple of weaknesses of the ‘Tell vs Show’ variety. We learn that Miranda Priestly affects the plot in a major way but we only see the result. I would have liked to see that scene. And the whole artificial insemination of Karolina when Graham had already had a vasectomy sounds so unethical that I expected the women to sue the doctors and clinics involved into oblivion. But nothing.
I felt it got a little sentimental and over sweet at the end. Emily and Miles had never wanted kids, but Emily getting pregnant was all good?
Something I like about reading a book by a good author is learning their points of view, listening to and enjoying their intellect and wit. Reading a novel is an investment of time, eight, ten hours or more. I want to spend that time with a writer who treats me like an intelligent adult and never condescends. If the book makes me feel I am being brought into the writers confidence, that they are sharing important intimate truths, I am pleased, and filled with some positive energy. Ms. Weisberger passes this test. This is not a book I would normally read, but that is one of the reasons I have joined a book club. I am glad I read this. A fun read and a good way to start 2020.

Review of How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead

I just finished reading ‘How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead’ by Ariel Gore. It was a book I picked up off the shelf while wandering through the 808 section of the North Vancouver City library. The title is light and funny and a little outrageous. The book follows in that impression.
Reading this book I felt like I had happened across an interesting stranger in a coffee shop or brew pub, struck up a conversation, and had then found myself held captive by the stories, language, attitude and enthusiasm. Quite simply, this book is fun.
Ariel Gore has a sharp mind, and her wit and intellect come through on every page. She has a ‘can do’ attitude that creates an infectious energy in the reader. Sure it will be hard work to become a famous writer before you’re dead but here is how to get started. Come on, let’s go.
I saw some parallels to  A. L. Kennedy’s ‘On Writing’ essays. Both women have done stand up comedy work and that busy, active mind comes through in spades.
Funny, quirky even, the book is a bit of a thrill ride. Wait, slow down I think, I need to write this down. But then I realize it is a book, not a conversation, and I can go back at my leisure.
She finds she cannot get the reclusive Haruki Murakami to sit down for an interview. No problem, she will just imagine the conversation, thereby ‘Showing rather than Telling’ that imagination can overcome so many obstacles.
Short chapters keep it moving, and the real or imagined exercises give the reader great take aways.
Like most writers, I am a little shy and introverted. Whether I can put these directions into real action might be a stretch. But I think the plan and directions are solid.
Highly recommended.

Review of You are the Placebo

I rarely review books I didn’t like. On June 3 I suffered a serious spinal injury while mountain biking. Since then several friends have given me books to help with my recovery. ‘You are the Placebo’ by Dr. Joe Dispenza was one such book. I had just finished reading ‘The Brain that Changes Itself’ by Norman Doidge so I had some understanding of neuroplasticity and the ideas that the body and brain can adapt. So I had high hopes.
The book begins with some interesting research on the placebo effect, and how mind over body is a real measurable phenomenon. Okay, I thought, this makes sense. But Doctor Dispenza veered off track and left me scratching my head. He gave a long anecdote on a research project where a subject was hypnotized to commit a crime. Interesting, I thought, but what does this have to do with the book subject? I think the author had an interesting story he needed to tell. His editor should have told him this isn’t the place.
But I persevered and continued reading. My analytical mind didn’t want to blow this off too quick.
But then he hit me with another caveat. He tells the readers that people with strong analytical minds may not be able to use this material as they are resistant to suggestibility. I think I am open to new thoughts and ideas and have read a number of ‘new age’ books that I have enjoyed and put into practice. I am currently working through Julia Cameron’s ‘The Artist’s Way’ and don’t have any resistance. (I will do a review when I complete the 12-week program). But to get halfway through a book and get this warning was irritating at best.
But the best was yet to come. I studied University physics. I learned a tiny bit about quantum mechanics. The probabilities of particles being in one place or state at any time is a difficult concept. That things move between states, not in a straight line, but jumping between levels in ‘quantum’ jumps takes some time to accept and understand. This is some hard stuff.
Dr. Dispenza suggests that these jumps can somehow be used by the human mind to communicate to the body and soul. This is pure bunk, and I nearly tossed the book at this point. But I was almost done and felt the need to finish. Mistake.
The final flaw of the book is the blatant way it is meant to goose up sales for the authors program of workshops and seminars. I kept having visions of a Tom Vu advertisement, ‘Take My Seminar’.
Take my advice. Give this book a pass.

Review of ‘Tilly and the Crazy Eights’

I have completed Monique Gray Smith’s ‘Tilly and the Crazy Eights’. This was a fun book to read and I think I learned a lot while reading it. Native/Aboriginal/Indian issues are in the Canadian mainstream right now so this book has found a fertile time to land.
It is a bit too sweet at times and definitely pulls on the heartstrings of the reader. If you don’t laugh and cry while reading it, you should probably get your heart checked. It is an entertaining read with an interesting ensemble of characters.
But, it is the characters with which I find the first weakness of this brave novel. I had trouble picturing these people in my mind’s eye. There is very little physical description of them and few quirks, habits or tells to queue the reader to them. The voices are not distinct between them so following dialog relied on Tilly said, Sarah said, etc. I think this was a flaw that made it harder for this reader to associate and empathize with the characters. I little more description and personalization of the characters would have gone a long way. I wondered what nation these people were from, but had to guess.
There was quite a bit of ‘Telling’ versus ‘Showing’. We are told Rose is gruff and cold, we are told Pancho as a good heart. These things ‘shown’ would have made a better novel.
And the choice of omniscient point of view is something I don’t much like. Larry McMurtry and Cormac McCarthy pull it off, but I feel it keeps the reader from getting into the heart and mind of the characters. A good reason to read is to experience what the characters in the book are experiencing, without the risks involved. To fall in love, to watch a loved one die, to dance in a Pow Wow. This experiencing is best done with close third person where the reader becomes the character, immerses into their world experience. This wonderful spell is broken in omni, especially when the author jumps between points of view. I would be experiencing something from Tilly’s POV then suddenly head-hop to Pancho’s POV. The spell is broken.
There is some tough material covered in this book and I salute Gray Smith for taking it on. Truth and Reconciliation, Residential schools and the sixties-scoop, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. Life on the rez.
The book led me to look up Pendleton blankets and to watch a You-tube video of the world Pow Pow in Albuquerque. I must try out fry bread. And like I said above, I did both laugh and cry. A good read that I recommend.

Gathering of Nations Pow Wow, Albuquerque NM https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mGAThB2D2T0

Personal Status to September 7, 2019

Hello all

Sept 7, 2019
Three-month update by Danny Aldham.
Progress is slow. My medical team tell me to judge progress in weeks, not days. And I do have a team. Three doctors: My GP, a Physiatrist, and the Neurologist. Two Physiotherapists, a Rehab assistant and an Occupational Therapist. I visit Lionsgate hospital three or four times a week.
My walking is pretty good, only a little wobble. My stamina sucks, I can barely make it around the block, and only once a day. My goal for next week is to make it twice. The dog would like that.
My hands have been slower to come back. I can feel hot and cold, but my sense of touch is very reduced. I am typing with two fingers. I try to touch type, but make too many spelling mistakes. I can’t hold a pen and write yet. The OT said we will start on that next week. Driving is out of the question.
I have good days and bad days. More good than bad. The pain is less, I have been off the hydromorphone for a while. Still taking a few other drugs.
I am in a bit of a weird spot with therapy. The protocols for how to treat my injuries are at odds. On the physical side they say I will improve by pushing hard, doing the exercises, working up a sweat. The old ‘no pain, no gain’ approach.
But on the concussion/neurological side, they do not want me to push. If I work too hard mentally I get physically ill. Getting to that point is counter-productive and delays my healing. Trying to be aware of that upper bound of mental activity is what I am working on.
It is frustrating. I have lots of free time, to the point of being bored, but I cannot read too long, or concentrate on new skills. I had thought I might learn Spanish with my time, but I can only do that for twenty or thirty minutes a day. I can’t multi-task at all, and my memory is shaky.
The doctors are all cagey about how long this should take. My GP said most people heal from this type of injury in five or six months. I said, ‘Well, that’s not too bad’. At which point he backpedaled and said not to get my hopes up, it might be longer.
For a Project Manager, used to having a schedule with time-lines and clear deliverables and dates, this drives me around the bend. Patience is not my strong suit. 🙂

Cheers

Danny

Review of D. H.Lawrence’s ‘The Rainbow’

I just completed re-reading D. H. Lawrence’s ‘The Rainbow.’
I first read it as a young man in my early twenties. Then I was struck by the relationship of Tom Brangwen and the older, more sophisticated Lydia Lenski. I thought I had forgotten the book, the characters and the story until I wrote a novel myself.
Mine is a story of a younger man falling in love with an older woman. I chose the name of my main female character (MFC) as based on the older sister of a friend when I was in High School. A crush. And then I wanted to explore, in my novel, the horrible experience of having been cheated on by a lover. I had gone through that. So I began reading old journal entries from over twenty-five years ago. Unfortunately, there was nothing there to help me with source material. I had simply stopped writing for six months when that happened.
Ah, but what a pleasant surprise I found. My notes and thoughts about the aforementioned Lydia Lenski. She is the only main character who we don’t get inside. She remained enigmatic, aloof, and so incredibly attractive. And, I began to question why and how I had chosen the name Lydia for my MFC. I would need to re-read ‘The Rainbow’. I am so glad I did.
It is considered Lawrence’s best work. I think so.
It follows the sweep of three generations of the Brangwen family at the turn of the twentieth century in the mid-lands of England. It begins with Tom and Lydia, follows their daughter Anna, and then Anna’s daughter Ursula. I won’t spoil the story or plot here. But the plot was not what makes this novel great.
It is the characters, the relationships, the deep introspective points of views that are unlike anything that I have ever read. The intensity of the feelings, thoughts, wants and fears are overwhelming at times. And Lawrence’s ear for the speech and actions of his characters puts a reader right there in the scene.
His descriptions of the farms and meadows, the animals, the smells, sights and sounds are immersing. The sounds of the rail cars and the descriptions of the miners trudging home from a shift at the pits, covered in black coal dust. But this isn’t a Dicken’s tale, railing on the Pit owners and romanticizing the workers. They are just decent hardworking men coming home for tea.
The countryside is a character as much as Tom and Anna are. It is easy to tell that Lawrence loved this country. It is in every word of his wonderful descriptions.
And the sex. It was a banned book when published. Today is to laugh. But sex and loving are always part of the relationships of the men and women. And there is a very close look at those thoughts and feelings. The physical, intellectual and emotional wants and needs. The love. The passions, the hurts, the hopes, the gentleness and the striking out.
It can be an emotional roller-coaster to read. As can any great love affair. But it is well worth the time and effort.

What Trump and the GOP Fear

Political pundits wonder aloud why does nobody in the Republican Party stand up to Donald Trump? A superficial analyst would say they fear him. If you cross Trump your political career is over. But this week Trump made a slip, and we saw what they all fear, President Trump included.

A Trump rally in North Carolina disgusted most decent people when the crowd whipped itself into a racist chant of ‘Send Her back! Send Her back!’ Echoes of ‘Sig Hiel’ and waving swastikas appeared in this former Confederate state. The next day worldwide condemnation had Trump backing down. He lied and said he had tried to cut them off. But then the tell.

Nobody accuses Trump of thinking four or five steps ahead. It’s not his forte. But he can think ahead to the next rally. And he knows those chants will come up again. The calls, the angry braying of the mob, the spittle and the hate flying in the air. ‘Send her back!’

And as Trump tried to position himself back in front of that angry mob we saw what they all fear. Hate now calls the shots in the Republican Party. And any sitting GOP member knows, crossing that angry mob will bring it’s focus on you.

Political parties of all stripes have their fringes. The kooks, the single issue fanatics, the crazy aunts we keep in the attic except when we need their donations or votes. We pay them lip-service, give them a nod, a wink or a dog-whistle to keep them on-side.

We don’t invite them into the wheelhouse and let them steer the ship. Except the Republicans have. It was a way to win. Pander to the White Nationalists, the Gun nuts and the Abortion Evangelicals. A core of single issue fanatics that have coalesced around a message of hate. A crowd stoked by cruel treatment of unfortunate refugees fleeing Central America. Cruelty is acceptable now. Anger and hate are ushered out of the shadows and celebrated in packed arenas and stadiums. The mob has over-run the GOP establishment and are asserting control.

Many are making the comparison to 1930s Germany. But I think that was different, in that Germany was lead by the fanatical true believers. This reminds me more of France after the Revolution in 1793 when a mob terror swept up everyone into a blood lust of retribution. A monster that nobody controlled.

Can you tell me that anyone controls that mob shrieking ‘Send Her Back’?