Why we read. A Review of ‘North of Normal’

I recently read ‘North of Normal’ by Cea Sunrise Person.
I can see that this book took a huge amount of courage to write. I hope I can find that courage in my writing. Recognizing that bravery I am reticent to throw stones, but I feel the book slightly misses the mark.
Spoiler alert, I am going to discuss content.
As I read the book, following the story of young Cea, I was puzzled by my reaction. The story is written in First Person Point of View (POV). This usually leads the reader to get very close, intimately close, to the main character and narrator. But I didn’t feel that. It was always as if I was watching the action and the behaviour of the people around Cea. I wasn’t getting an emotional reaction, I wasn’t feeling either the joys or disgusts that I would think the narrator experienced. Or the fears.
This lead me to the larger question: What do we want to get out of great literature? Why do we read?
I think it is to get those experiences. I want to know and feel the joy of falling in love when I read. What does it feel like, what is the effort, challenge and excilaration of climbing Mount Everest. And then losing friends up there.
Can I bare the fear of walking through a jungle as a platoon trooper on patrol in hostile territory?
What is it like to be in the command of a mad man chasing a white whale around the globe? Or serving under Nelson at the battle of Trafalgar?
The anguish of rejection by a lover.
The fear of the totalitarian state.
The overcoming of incredible obstacles.
The loss of holding a dying child in your arms.
I want to feel and experience these things, without the costs and effort they would take in real life. And that is what a great book delivers. Not a view to the action, but a role to play and experience in that action. To live it in our minds.
‘North of Normal’ only gave me a peak at the action. So it is good, but not great.

You’re Project is Not Important

With nearly twenty years of Project Management experience, I have had the luck the last five or six years of managing big, important projects. Often the biggest project in our portfolio. The kinds of projects that come with a big stick.
So it was a shock recently to be given a small project. We didn’t have a lot of work in the funnel, and I have never been one to think any good work is beneath me. I was happy to take it on. It will be easy I thought.
I ramped it up like I would any project. Reviewed the Statement of Work and the Budget. Pulled together the team for a kick-off. Built a plan with dates, documented a charter, started down the road to building our deliverables.
And missed the very first design deliverable. The architect kept missing meetings.
We all know how to deal with this. Get them to commit to dates, times, and deliverables. Ask them to commit in writing to meeting the new dates. Micro manage if need be. Bully, nag, threaten. Every Project Manager has these tools in their tool box.
Now if I had to use these tools on every project, every day, I would have moved on to another career fifteen years ago. We all know it is best to inspire people, get them enthused about the project, have them take some pride in what they are delivering. A team that ‘owns’ the project is a team that will deliver superior results. And most people take pride in their work. Unless they are told it is not important.
And that was the message our organization was sending to this project team. There are important things to work on, but this isn’t it.
First the architect, then the detailed designer, then one subject matter expert after another was told to back burner this project work, and make the more important work their focus.
Nobody ever told me. I was told this project needs to be delivered on time, on budget come hell or high water. So I pushed, I prodded, I escalated. I went to a director and complained about resources. And he gave me the straight goods. Lighten up Francis, you’re pushing a rope.
Fair enough. I get it. Organizations need to set priorities, and this project is a low priority. So I put it on the back burner just as the larger organization had. I worked it enough to keep it moving forward. I did at least two project change requests to extend the end dates. Three months, then another three.
I’m an experience senior project manager, and I have had the luck to be managing those big projects that suck up all the good resources. Now the shoe was on the other foot. Fairs fair.
But, a new Program Manager came to town. He needed to show the world he was tough, he could get things done, he would get these yellow and red projects back on track. The new broom that will sweep clean. And he set his sights on me.
If I was a young inexperience project manager, he would have broken me. He tried to convince me I was lazy, incompetent, underperforming. He started hounding me, micromanaging me, nagging me, bullying me. All those tools we talked about above. And if that is all he has in his tool kit, his career is already half over.
A junior PM would have been in real trouble. But I am not a junior PM. And I can call a spade a spade. The organization has made a decision. Well above both of our pay grades.
In the very nicest language I know, I told him to pound sand. Now I didn’t use exactly those words. But he got the message. He went and complained to someone; who I am sure told him, ‘lighten up Francis, you’re pushing a rope’.

How to Avoid Cultural Appropriation

This thread comes from the ‘Writing Ethnically Different Protagonists’ thread and concern I have from a reviewer.
I have a character in my work, Ruth, who is a North American Native woman from Saskatchewan. She is abused. I am neither a woman nor native. An artist friend who is reading the draft suggested I could be called out for Appropriation of Voice with this character.
I have done some research and found the Canadian Author Margaret Atwood was accused of the same thing with Pauline and Surfacing.
I don’t want to change her background, her culture or her history. She plays an important role in the story and as a metaphor for our Canadian society.
But I want to be empathetic to the Aboriginal culture, history and concerns. Does anyone have any thoughts on how to avoid the charge?
thanks

 

Book review of Frances Itani’s Tell

I recently finished reading Tell as a NVCL Book Club book. I was underwhelmed. In fact, I had to force myself to complete the novel.
I had trouble visualizing the characters. Tall, short, dark, fair, I couldn’t see these people, the descriptions were lacking. But that was only the beginning of my issues.
The story revolves around secrets that are kept in the small town. I grew up in a small southern Ontario town, so I thought I could relate. Not so much.
In truth most small towns are full of busy-bodies who love to talk about each other. That these secrets could be kept for decades was a little dubious. But reading fiction involves a suspension of disbelief, so I will give the author that. That the secrets were only revealed at the end felt a little forced.
The ice rink. If it was a metaphor for something, I missed it. Maybe the big snow wall. But there was too much description of building the rink for my liking. As above, I lived in Southern Ontario, I get it.
Too often I wanted to take the characters and bang their heads together. Just speak for god’s sake.
But the final killer for me was that the novelist showed a lack of caring and empathy. The main female character Maggie cheats on her husband Em. Neither Itani nor Maggie showed any thoughts to the pain they were inflicting. Not a second thought. My idea of a good writer is one who has empathy for the world, and shows it in their work and their characters. Itani failed at this.

Danny

Consenting to Learn in Public

“Consenting to Learn in Public”

I am beginning a journey.
A flag was raised when I had my first draft of a fictional story reviewed. A major character in that story is an aboriginal women named Ruth. She is a North American native from Wood Mountain Saskatchewan. She is abused. And a reviewer suggested I drop the native character as I might be accused of Cultural Appropriation or Appropriation of voice.

I don’t want to change her story or her background, or make the issues invisible. Native people are a real part of the Canada I love and call home. I do want to be empathetic to the real concerns of the community. I don’t want to steal anything. What to do?

The plan is to do some research. To read. Books, web sites, blogs. And to speak to the people I know who have a Native background.
To look for organizations that can teach me, inform me, educate me.

So the journey begins.

I might make some mistakes. I may ask some really dumb questions. I may publicly show my ignorance. Please forgive me in advance.

 

#Consentingtolearninpublic

Anais Nin’s letter to the collector

I had never read this letter until today. It’s wonderful. And puts into words what so bothers me about sex scenes without emotion, passion, love.

“Dear Collector: We hate you. Sex loses all its power and magic when it becomes explicit, mechanical, overdone, when it becomes a mechanistic obsession. It becomes a bore. You have taught us more than anyone I know how wrong it is not to mix it with emotion, hunger, desire, lust, whims, caprices, personal ties, deeper relationships that change its colour, flavour, rhythms, intensities.

You do not know what you are missing by your microscopic examination of sexual activity to the exclusion of aspects which are the fuel that ignites it. Intellectual, imaginative, romantic, emotional. This is what gives sex its surprising textures, its subtle transformations, its aphrodisiac elements. You are shrinking your world of sensations. You are withering it, starving it, draining its blood.

If you nourished your sexual life with all the excitements and adventures which love injects into sensuality, you would be the most potent man in the world. The source of sexual power is curiosity, passion. You are watching its little flame die of asphyxiation. Sex does not thrive on monotony. Without feeling, inventions, moods, no surprises in bed. Sex must be mixed with tears, laughter, words, promises, scenes, jealousy, envy, all the spices of fear, foreign travel, new faces, novels, stories, dreams, fantasies, music, dancing, opium, wine.

How much do you lose by this periscope at the tip of your sex, when you could enjoy a harem of distinct and never-repeated wonders? No two hairs alike, but you will not let us waste words on a description of hair; no two odours, but if we expand on this you cry Cut the poetry. No two skins with the same texture, and never the same light, temperature, shadows, never the same gesture; for a lover, when he is aroused by true love, can run the gamut of centuries of love lore. What a range, what changes of age, what variations of maturity and innocence, perversity and art…

We have sat around for hours and wondered how you look. If you have closed your senses upon silk, light, colour, odour, character, temperament, you must be by now completely shrivelled up. There are so many minor senses, all running like tributaries into the mainstream of sex, nourishing it. Only the united beat of sex and heart together can create ecstasy.”

 

Anais Nin

A Month of Critique Circle

I have been a user of Critique Circle http://www.critiquecircle.com for a month now. I want to record and share my experience, thoughts and feelings about the last month.
I had been trying to put together a group of people who could meet once a month or so. It just wasn’t working. I kept writing but I didn’t share.
There is a monthly ‘Dare’ program here as part of the North Shore Writer’s Assoc, but it is really just a chance to read your work. You don’t get more feed back than ‘I liked that’ or ‘Where do you see the story going?’
I needed real criticism.(And not from my mom.)
I have taken some writing courses, and have received that sort of ‘Single-threaded’ critique where the Prof gives his feedback. One person every week or so. I needed something better. And more.
Then I found a web link that pointed to a dozen good sites for writers. I decided to try Critique Circle.
I joined and began to work through the check list. I read a few critiques and then tried my hand at a few. I did four over a two week period before I posted my first piece.
Giving critiques I found harder than I expected. First I had to read 3 or 4 pieces for each one I wanted to critique. Some I didn’t like and some I thought were such poor quality I didn’t know how to tell the writer that. I wanted to say nice things, because I want people to say nice things to me. Or so I thought.
I asked a couple of questions on the forums and got good friendly responses. I read quite a few critiques, trying to get a feel for how to criticize professionally. And I found some great critiques. I so liked one critique I saw, that I wrote the critter and asked him if he would be willing to crit my work when it came up. I wasn’t sure if this was out of line. I was afraid I was committing a CC faux pas but really liked this guy’s critiques. He told me not to worry, most people here are pretty friendly, and that he would be happy to crit my work.
So then I took the plunge and posted a chapter from a novel I am working on. (In hindsight a mistake.) And held my breath. The next week was exhausting.
It took a day or two to get my first critique, during which time I feared getting no feedback. Did people think my work was so bad they wouldn’t give it the time of day? Did I write crap? Should I give it up now and go back to ditch digging, or whatever. (Writers can be brutal on themselves I learned.)
And then the morning I got my first crit. I’ll admit, I was excited. I opened it up and it was about commas. A whole critique on commas. I had too many, not enough, in the wrong places and missing from the right places. That was it. WTF? Alice through the looking glass I thought.
File that one away and wait. I had to wait two more days. I would compare it to waiting for a child to be born, but that would be a stretch. But I was on edge for two days.
And then someone smiled on me. I opened a crit the third morning and it was just what I was looking for. No sugar coating. She pointed out spelling mistakes and grammar errors. (I thought I had read the piece 10 or 15 times. How had I missed those?) But the critter also made suggestions that I instantly knew were right. ‘How about saying this instead?’ Yes I thought. ‘I am not sure that sounds natural, how about this?’ Yes, your right, that is better. Every suggestion was good. I looked at my work and realized I could make it better. A lot better.
Then another crit came in. Same pointing out the spelling, grammar and formatting errors. But helpful suggestions. And questions about the story. ‘What is the MC thinking?’, ‘I don’t understand why she did this”, and I realized I had not been clear enough. I thought things were obvious but I know the piece too well.
The week became a bit of a roller coaster ride. Up to get a critique at all, down to have the same spelling mistake pointed out, up to have a helpful suggestion.
Then I got the critique I had solicited. Ouch. But in a good way. I realized I have way too many spelling, formatting and grammar errors. I want feedback to help me with the story, the plot, the feel, the characters, the themes, the experience of a reader. But my critters kept seeing these ‘table steak’ issues. I realized I need to submit work that is as close to perfect as I can, so that the critters can move past the spelling errors and get to the real substance. A light came on.
And then I got what I thought was my best critique. (Although I rated three perfect). Questions or comments that probed right into the story, the characters, the motivations. Echoes. And a comment about POV and breaking the story flow. Showing vs telling.
I ended the week exhilarated. I spent as much time re-writing my 1,500 words as I had spent on all the editing I had done in weeks before. I was motivated. I was encouraged. I was inspired even.
Five of the Six critiques I got were gold. Solid Gold. I was a little overwhelmed at times. I am now looking at the larger work and realize I have a ton of work to do. A mountain of work. And just that thought exhausted me. I need to do to those 60K words what I have done to the 1,500 words this week. And I am not done with the 1,500 yet.
Exhausted and Exhilarated. But happy. I have found what I was looking for, what in my heart and head I know I needed. What my writing needs.
Thank you.

Danny Aldham

Vancouver Maker Faire, So Great

A good friend invited me down the the Vancouver Maker Faire at the PNE yesterday. I am so glad I went. http://makerfaire.ca
I was impressed by the people. I am a techy from way back, so the robots and 3D printers and laser cutters were right up my alley. But what I was really impressed by was the energy of all the people. Every booth was staffed by people putting their hearts into things. Real enthusiasm. There were electronics & robots, beside furniture makers & hand spinning wool exibitions. There were rocket launchers & jewelry makers, Lego machines & Hack space providers, Bee keepers & Sailors, Universities and the Boy Scouts.
But the most impressive thing was the people. These were bright energetic people putting their hearts and passion into whatever they were showwing. I spoke to a few and evesdropped on a dozen more conversations. It was worderfull to find such a large space full of so many positive happy people. I know it is hard work, my friend told how long it took to setup on Friday night, and I am sure it will be just as much work to break it down and take it home. Plus all the long hours staffing the booth. They all do that. But you could see they loved what they were doing.
Go for the crafts, the tech, the learning. But savour the dozens of interesting, passionate people. It is good clean fun. A really great event.

http://makerfaire.ca

Review of ‘All the Light We Cannot see’ by Anthony Doerr

I read Anthony Doerr’s ‘All the Light We Cannot See’ in about 4 days. It was one of those books I didn’t want to put down. It is truly wonderful. The best book I have read in at least a year. Superb.
The main characters, Marie-Laure and Werner, are wonderfully developed. You care for them, you worry about them, they light up the book.
You see characters act with courage in fightening situations. The huge scope of war with armies moving across Europe tosses all the characters about. So many show goodness and compassions, and some show greed and malevolence. As in real life.
I give this book 5 stars. I wish I could write this well.

Book review of Station Eleven

I finished Emily St. John Mandel’s ‘Station Eleven’ this week. Really enjoyed it. A dystopian novel with some nice people.

There are 4 or 5 main characters that are tied together through 20 years, tied back to the night it all began. And St.John Mandel does it really well. Little clues like the name of the dog, Luli. What are the chances? The intersection of Kirsten, Jeevan and Arthur. It held the book together.

I like books with characters you come to like, or at least come to care about what comes next for them. This book has that.

And I like books with a positive message. This book sort of has that. As compared say to Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Road’. Finishing that book was painful.

I didn’t understand howTyler could go so bad, and I would have liked to know. But then I am not sure how the good characters went and stayed good.

And a few of the plot elements didn’t quite work, like believing that nobody at the airport was exposed to the flu. Or that such a devastating flu could not be caught, like ebola or Sars was before it. But never the less, I enjoyed it. Well worth a read, and I will look at reading other books by the author.