Friday, August 26, 2011

Random Act of.....Reading

Somewhere far, far away – far from where I live, at least – in Georgetown, Ontario, Canada, is someone who loves a good book.

And had a need to share.

I had six glorious minutes of peace, quiet and tranquility before my bus was to arrive. In my busy life, as for many, six minutes of peace is nirvana, and where better to find it than along loud, bustling, smoggy, tourist-laden Douglas Street in Victoria, BC.

Along a row of benches I found THE perfect bench to savour the moment. As I approached THE perfect bench, I spotted the object of my many desires and affections.

A book.

I tried to ignore it, but couldn’t. The authors’ name along the spine, Anita Shreve, had me whipping my ponytail in double-take. What a perfect find - an author whose books I enjoy, no less.

Do I pick it up? Should I pick it up?

What if the book was just lost, the owner frantically searching all over town for this treasure? What if it was being used as bait, kidnappers luring me in and waiting around the corner so they can throw me in the back of a truck?

Seeing that no one was running back for the lost book, no kidnappers were in sight, and that four of my six minutes had flown by during all this turmoil, I decided if it was covered in mud and goobers, in the trash it would go. And if I get kidnapped….well…..

With a quick glance around and looking unassuming and not-so-famous, with the stealth of a panther, the sly approach of a fox, and a nonchalant flick of my hair, I grabbed the book and made for the bus stop. With a quick flip through – it was goober free – I stuffed it in my bag before anyone could see. I wasn’t stealing, I found it, but I felt the adrenaline rush of a spy for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

On the bus, and eager to peruse my prize, I flipped it open, and written just inside the front cover was:

*Ann Smith
Georgetown, ON
Enjoy a good read!

*(I changed the name for her protection. Even though she took it upon herself to write her own name, I just felt that for things like freedom of information and privacy, identity-theft (for her sake), stalkers and the like, it might be a good idea.)

It took me a second to realize it wasn’t an inscription, as in gifting a book from one to another. But it WAS a gift to whoever picked it up. She was passing it on, sharing a book, and making her mark.

Who was she? What kind of person is she? Does she always do things like this? Did she like the book?

Where did she buy the book? How far had the book travelled? By plane or by car? Did she drive across Canada this summer, and purchase the book in Eyebrow, Saskatchewan?

What made her want to inscribe the book in such a way, and hope that someone picked it up? Has she done this before?

Intrigued and exhausted (from all that thinking, wondering and spying), I had deep thoughts while the bus jostled me to and fro. I HAD to write my own inscription for the next person – whoever that might be – and do as ‘Ann’ did, and pass it on. Hopefully the next finder of the book will write an inscription, and leave it for someone to find.

Here’s what I wrote:

Found this book in Victoria, BC Canada, by someone who wanted to share a good read. I am passing it on to you, hoping you will read, enjoy, inscribe, and pass it on. Write me and tell me where the book has been. (then my name and email)

As I finally spilled from the now jam-packed bus at the stop by my house, I was giddy with the wonder of the whole concept; the point of a ‘free book’ now forgotten. Kind of like a message in a bottle/chain letter kind of thing, I wondered if ‘Ann’ was on to something here. If she only knew what she set off in my imagination. What started for her as a simple random act of kindness, turned into, hopefully, something much more.

Now I just have to figure out the best place to leave I drive to the airport? Go to the washroom in the Empress Hotel? a restaurant? a bus? What to do, what to do....

Will keep you posted if anyone writes me….

(oh…right…forgot one bit. ‘Rescue’ by Anita Shreve was fantastic. Read it in one day – go get it.)

Friday, August 19, 2011

Finding History at Whippletree Junction

(A shorter version of this appeared in the April 2011 edition of Nanaimo Magazine - here it is in long play)

10 minutes south of Duncan, BC, or, 45 minutes north of Victoria, BC, (depending on which way you are travelling, mind you), sits a little ‘town’ – Whippletree Junction. Just off the Trans Canada Highway on Vancouver Island, 14 restored buildings from the early 1900’s house coffee shops, speciality shops, and restaurants. Antiques and artifacts nestled in the gardens between the shops further enhance the ‘old time’ ambiance.

But most importantly, to me at least, is the presence of a washroom. Nothing beats modern plumbing and electricity - thank you very much.

On the day I made the journey from Victoria to Nanaimo for a writing-related function, my halfway-mark pit stop at Whippletree Junction found me dodging puddles as I raced to the door bearing the ‘Ladies’ sign. The rain was awful – there is no flowery, fancy, or literary way to put it. Going 50 km/h on the typically 90 – 120km/h highway, I white-knuckled it as I fought each hydroplane-inducing puddle. The usual pit stop at the ‘town’ was much welcomed; not only for my bladder, but also for my nerves.

But as I made my way back to the car, already dreading the rest of the drive home, something caught my eye. In the alcove of a building sat a forgotten piece of history, rusting in the elements of Mother Nature. At first glance it looked like something out of Star Wars, circa 1977. But I soon realized Darth Vader’s throne, it was not.

Fighting the wind with my umbrella, my feet soaking in a puddle, I poked around this contraption, and figured out it was some sort of printing press.

Okay, I’ll admit it – the very large keyboard bearing still-intact letters was my hint.

As my research would later tell me, this particular ‘line casting’ machine, a printing machine able to print whole lines of type at once, was produced around the 1920’s by Intertype Corp., in Brooklyn, NY. With its 90-character keyboard (half upper case, half lower case, and the rest special characters – no qwerty anywhere), along with its countless levers, handles and gizmos, a hot metal ‘slug’ would be produced bearing words and sentences (I am giving you the extremely condensed version, here). Line those up, and you have yourself a whole paragraph, article or story! And Extra! EXTRA! You got yourself a newspaper.

Fun fact: The first line-casting machine was purchased for newspaper publishing by the New York Tribune in 1886.

How fitting I should notice this piece of history when my mind was abuzz of writerly thoughts, post meeting. I picked away a few stray pieces of grass, and juggling my umbrella, my purse and the rain drops, I snapped a few photos. How contrary this was, to be standing in front of this piece of rusted history, when only an hour or so before I was discussing e-publishing, e-books, e-readers – basically ‘e-everything.’

And I wondered – will our children, their children, and THEIR children line up to take pictures of our long discarded cellphones, laptops, Blackberries, iPads, Notebooks and god-knows-what-else has yet to come along? And in the typhoon-force rains like I was in, no less?

And what about those long past masters of their craft, able to multi-task all the levers, keys, and switches to produce copy for distribution. Have they been forgotten? Only their memory remains in this piece of history that sat before me, covered in old paint splatters, rust, grass and twigs.

What a long way we have come. Yet, now all we do is sit on our butts, type on a 104-key computer keyboard, 26 of which are actual letters, and moan that the printer is too far away from our arm to reach.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The One-Armed Rancher

In Princeton, British Columbia, just east on highway 5A, is a gently paved road.

I say gently as I am sure somewhere deep under the potholes and rocks, time and logging trucks have compressed the gravel and dirt into something resembling smooth driving terrain.

The gently paved Summers Creek Road, 32 kilometres long, leads to a subdivision of 120 cottages surrounding Missezula Lake, a once highly renowned trophy fishing lake. To the normal driver, 32 kilometres doesn’t sound long, and would take maybe 15 – 20 minutes to drive if paved (if you drive like me, that is). But when you’re navigating your way around potholes, gravel the size of boulders, ground squirrels and chipmunks making a mad dash to and fro, never mind inching along sections wide enough for only one vehicle to slink around a blind corner, it takes a good hour to get to the other end. The cattle guards rattle your teeth, the twists and turns somersault your stomach, and the dust clogs your pores.

But as you reach for the anti-nausea pills, be mindful of the cows.

Yes, the cows. Forget about great fishing – give me the cows, any day.

Ranches flank the winding road, and except for the horses, the cows run amuck. The teeth-rattling, ankle-twisting cattle guards keep them where they should be – sort of.

I mean really, the ranchers can’t be everywhere, all the time, can they?

But I can.

With the hour-long bumpy ride behind me, and after the nausea cleared and I steam-cleaned my pores – in the wilderness, no less - three days into our stay at the lake, I found my calling.

While everyone slept off their s’mores, I maintained my daily walking regime. My early-morning treks to the lake were refreshing, albeit invigorating, to say the least. At nearly 4,000 feet above sea level, the walk around the subdivision has one who is accustomed to living well below sea level working up a good sweat.

One particular morning I set out, and just as was I pondering the whereabouts of cougars and bears, I could hear the cows mooing their little (or big) lungs out. Just outside the confines of our haven protected with a cattle guard and barbed wire, the cows ran and mooed their way down the road – towards our subdivision. Despite wondering if they were being chased by a bear or a cougar, I kept walking. That’s what cattle guards are for, to keep everything out - right?

With the cows still on my mind, I hiked the gravel roads twisting between the cottages, and watched the mist from the lake rise and disappear into the surrounding hills. But not even the entertainment of a mother loon and her babies fluttering between the docks could dispel my growing concern for the cows. I figured I better get back and check on the wild bovine; bears or cougars, aside.

I made my way to the entrance-gate where I suspected they would be, and there they were. The only thing between me and them were the mosquitoes, fresh mountain air, and the cattle guard. But I HAD to get closer. I side-stepped and slowly inched my way over the dusty pipes, out of the subdivision. I already had my arm in a sling; I didn’t need any more catastrophes (more on the arm, below).

I have been up close and personal with horses; riding them, grooming them, and getting bucked off them (the wrecked arm not a result of). But having nothing between me and ‘wild’ cows was a tad – intimidating.

They looked at me.

I looked at them.

I don’t know if the bull was there, but I suspect if he were, he wouldn’t be too thrilled with me traipsing around his harem.

They were on one side of the road, but I much preferred them on the other side, in the meadow - where they belong.

The rancher I am raised my ‘good’ arm in a ‘herding’ sorta way, and while making some cattle-call noises I was SURE ranchers EVERYWHERE use, I got them running. Across the road, through a break in the fence, and out to the meadow – where they belong.

Except for the big-horned one who engaged in a staring competition.

Uh oh. How fast could I run over the cattle guard with my arm in a sling?

But then he (I think ‘he’ - I didn’t ask if I could ‘check’), ambled his way through the fence, and carried on being a cow.

And I stood in awe of one of my greatest feats, ever.

I had become The One-Armed Rancher.

(As for the arm - I tripped and fell the week before the great ranching expedition and did ‘something’ to my arm. BUT, I can finally apply mascara with the wrecked arm if I tilt my head ‘just so.’ Aside from my sling that needs a good washing from all that dust, the cows survived, as will I. I am invincible.)

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Vancouver Island Chapter of Romance Writers of America Presents Mary Buckham

September 10, 2011 (all-day fall workshop)
Speaker: Mary Buckham
Topic: From Thought to Plot
Location: Comfort Hotel and Conference Centre, Topaz Room, 3020 Blanshard Street, Victoria (Free Parking)
Time: 9 am to 5 pm (registration 9 – 9:30)
Cost: RWA members: $65.00, Non-members: $95.00 (includes lunch and coffee breaks)
Registration Deadline is September 1, 2011.

Break Into Fiction® From Thought to Plot

Mary will show you how to develop a budding idea before you begin to plot. This is not the two-day Power Plotting retreat, but a brainstorming workshop where she will show you where the stories and characters break down before the point of plotting. The backbone of a strong story begins with developing these critical elements in the early stages of brainstorming so that you aren’t trying to “shore” up your story later. Most stories that “don’t work” had the same problems at the inception stage, but once a writer has invested a significant amount of work in manuscript pages it becomes daunting to back up and make changes so they press ahead, band-aiding weak spots.

Come to this workshop with a new idea you have not fully developed. Learn how to spin your story ideas and characters to be fresh and different build a strong infrastructure for the plot.

You will learn:

Set Up to Character: Knowing certain things before the character steps into the story provides Checks and Balance on the characters as you write to assure your character stays “in character” and does in fact grow internally by the end.

Setting up to Conflict: In setting up the conflict, keep in mind that a conflict is only as strong as the character’s motivation to battle for something and the stakes that make the battle worth winning.

Setting up the Twist Points: In creating twist points, there are key elements to keep in mind: Motivation drives the character’s action. Decisions up the conflict and create a platform for action. Stakes drive the character’s motivation to act.

Do You Really Know What A Bigger Book Is? Tired of hearing, “Great story premise, strong voice, interesting characters…but it’s not big enough” – on a 400-page story with a subplot? Or maybe you’re ready to make the leap from category to single title. Learn what the differences are between a small concept and a bigger book!

Early Bird Draw: Register and pay by August 10th. Winner will receive free registration for the workshop.

Space is limited so register early! Registration Deadline is September 1, 2011.

Visit for more information on registration.