Wednesday, February 14, 2018

28 Plays Later - Halfway Thoughts

This month I decided to sign up for the '28 Plays Later' challenge. Essentially, this involves receiving a different challenge each day in February, writing a short play inspired by the challenge, and sending it in to the organizer within 36 hours. I took this on for several reasons. I hoped it would help me work through some general writer's block issues I was having, and build up a habit of fitting writing into my life on a daily basis. I also hoped that it would help me with some more specific issues I was having with playwriting. Most of my writing is fiction, along with some poetry and non-fiction, but I have always also had an interest in writing scripts. Lately I'd been trying to develop some ideas in that area, but found that I was really having difficulty getting the dialogue to flow. As a storyteller, I have gotten in the habit of reducing any dialogue in a story to the bare minimum: a few punchy lines tend to be effective in that context, while long conversations between characters become confusing. I found that I was feeling my scenes were done and not knowing what to add to them, even though they were obviously far too short.

I am now halfway through, with my 14th little play just waiting for a quick final edit. I managed to get through being away at an event where I had neither time to write nor internet access for most of the weekend, which meant sending in one play the Friday night and one the Sunday night within just a few hours of looking at the day's challenge. I have really liked the variety of challenges so far: the organizer does a great job of encouraging writers to try different angles and approaches from one day to another. I have found myself able to come up with a concept and put it into a reasonably complete form to submit every day. Whether I'll be able to continue the momentum with other writing after the challenge is over remains to be seen of course: I have not always been successful with that when doing other challenges such as NaNoWriMo. But at the very least I have reminded myself that I am, indeed, capable of sitting down and writing in a focused way on a daily basis.

As to improving as a script-writer, I'm also a bit uncertain. I am definitely practicing the tools of the art, and although the scripts have all been short, I have written several relatively long scenes. However, there have not been any scripts that I felt were really strongly written, and where there are longer scenes it is often simply because the characters chatter on without anything very interesting happening. I went into this challenge with the idea that I would not worry much about quality, but am suspecting that I perhaps am taking that further than I should, and am not so much avoiding perfectionism as simply doing a half-assed job. There are little bits and pieces in the scripts so far that I like, but nothing that I feel really inclined to come back to after February is over. I tend to send the scripts off with the feeling that I would be quite happy never to look at them again. I hope that I am gaining a bit of fluency with playwriting, but I suspect that part of what I need to do with the scripts I really want to develop, is to go deeper into the characters and the themes of the play, and build the dialogue up from there. Writing plays under the time constraints of this challenge does tend to mean that once the play is drafted out, I don't go back for that deeper look.

I will endeavour to post again after 28 Plays Later is finished.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Orange Shirt Day

I am wearing an orange shirt today to show my support for residential school survivors, and my sympathy for all those whose families are affected by the legacy of those schools.

The history of residential schools is certainly a reminder of the dangers of racism, and I don't want to minimize that. But to me it is also a reminder of the importance of parental rights. I firmly believe that parents should always have the right to choose whether their children take part in any sort of education, and the right to have access to their children. If the parents of the children that were taken to residential schools had not been denied these rights, a lot of the harm that took place could have been avoided.

It is easy to underestimate the importance of simply having the right to bring a child home. A parent cannot always justify or show evidence for why a child needs to be taken out of a situation. Often the child will not talk about what is happening to them, and the parent simply has a gut instinct that something is wrong. When it comes to protecting children, there is no substitute for the judgement of the parents who know and love them.

Over the years as a homeschooling parent, I have met many families for whom the decision to homeschool was a reaction to a situation in which the well-being of their child was threatened. I know that there are people striving to make our schools inclusive and positive for everybody, but the fact is that bullying and abuse will always thrive in situations where the victim is not able to simply walk away.

The arguments that are made against choice in education today are sometimes reminiscent of the arguments used to justify residential schools. I have heard it argued that parents who don't speak English are not giving their children a proper education. I have heard it argued that parents who teach their children from a religious perspective outside the mainstream are not giving them a proper education. 

It seems to me that there is plenty of time in life to learn about English grammar or evolution, but there is only one chance for a safe, loving, childhood. I hope that we will never again see children having that chance so brutally taken away as we did under the residential schools. I also hope that we will continue to progress toward a world where families are valued and given the freedom to seek out the way of life that is best for them.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Story in NeoOpsis (and WWC/Chatauqua)

NeoOpsis 28 is now available to order, and it includes my story 'Broken Dishes'. Here's the link:

When Words Collide was wonderful as usual. Lots of inspiration and good company, and I also got some practical advice about self publishing. I am leaning more and more towards going that route with my current novel. I just need to find time for a few final revisions and figuring out how to format it and making a cover and all the other stuff that I'm sure I'll discover needs doing. . .

The Chatauqua event also went well, and gave me an excuse to explore some really interesting areas of history. Dawn Blue was great to work with: it was one of those cases where we were very much in tune with our ideas of what sort of stories to tell, and the set just naturally came together.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Read 'By Hadrian's Wall' online! Also Pure Spec

I decided to try submitting a story to Vocal Media / Omni. This is a platform that, as far as I understand it, works sort of like youtube for writing in that if you get enough views on the things you post, it is monetized. I am hoping to get more stories and poems up and see whether I can build a presence there. In any case my first story is up now. It called 'By Hadrian's Wall' and is a sort of quirky future fantasy piece about glaciers advancing and about fairies and about the importance of heritage and the ties between people, land, and livestock.

Here is the link to my author page, from which you can view (and hopefully read!) the story:

While I'm posting, I also wanted to mention that I had a terrific time at Pure Speculation this year. I am so grateful to all the friends who helped me bring Overtime - The Musical to life, and also the people who came out on a Saturday morning to support us. The whole event just had a wonderful, positive community feel to it, and the programming was great. I was also introduced to the work of Zenna Henderson, who I need to read more of! (Inner grammar nazi: that should be 'of whom I need to read more' I think in correct old fashioned Standard English. . .but I just would feel like a Jane Austen character or something putting it that way. . .)

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Upcoming Events

I have a lot going on the next few weeks:

July 26 I am doing a song for Weird Al Karaoke at the Buckingham on Whyte.

July 28-29 I am at the Pure Speculation festival where, among other things, I am going to be presenting my musical version of Charles Stross' story Overtime, with a wonderful group of my friends (and children) that I managed to talk into singing and dressing up as zombies and things of that sort.

August 11-13 I am at When Words Collide in Calgary

August 16th I am doing a set of historical Canadian stories for Strathcona County's Chatauqua event, along with Dawn Blue.

Also, when I came on this blog to post, I discovered that most of the text of my last post somehow came out as black-on-black, which hopefully is fixed now. The poem is, in fact, more than one line long.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Lesser Slave Lake

I went to Lesser Slave Lake Provincial Park last week with my daughter's Environmental Education class. Here are a couple pictures and an attempt at a Sapphic Ode.

Under weighted clouds now the rippling blue lake,
pale as fairy's eyes in the land of songbirds,
calls the shy spring from beneath the bleached blond
grass to arise fresh.

Birches shine white, echoed by juiceless driftwood.
Left behind by winter, a lonesome snow ridge
hides behind sand dunes and the fiery dogwood,
cool in the damp wind.

Saskatoon twigs rise into gleaming gemstone
buds and starkly black, among muted wood tones,
trunks of burnt trees linger erect like charcoal
marks on the landscape.

Further off, bird banders are watching flocks swoop,
knowing all their patterns of flight and shrill calls.
Morning brings them captives in spider web nets,
tangled and wide eyed.

Hands as gently firm as those of midwives
hold the small captives as they stretch and measure.
Softer yet, breath rustles the feathers, flows through,
revealing pink flesh.

Soon the task is done and the bird is set free.
Up it flies now, grazing the top-most tree limbs,
scenting nesting grounds in its waking homeland

north of the pale lake.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Storytelling Conference

The Storytellers of Canada/Conteurs du Canada annual conference is coming up in just a couple of weeks, from May 22 through 28. This event rotates through the country, and having it here in Edmonton is a wonderful chance to experience some of the best storytellers from all over Canada. The link above goes to the webpage with all the details, but I would like to highlight a few things:

On Saturday and Sunday afternoon there will be free storytelling sets in Old Strathcona. There are both adult-oriented and child-oriented venues, and a great variety of tellers. There are also story concerts and slams on several evenings (there is a small charge for these, and some are adults only) including a Francophone concert.

There is also a free introductory storytelling workshop during the day on Wednesday, taught by MaryAnn Lippiatt. MaryAnn is a very entertaining teller, who I am sure will put together a fun and memorable session. The workshop is geared toward adults, but motivated teens may also register.

We are still in need of volunteers. Help is particularly needed during the Saturday and Sunday afternoon sessions. Also, I am running a merchandise table for the conference and am looking for helpers on Thursday morning and Sunday afternoon. If anyone sees this and feels inspired to help, email me at and I can give you more details.