My parents sent me a copy of A Bright and Steady Flame, a new memoir by Luanne Armstrong. It’s a beautiful story, if harrowing at times. Personally, I loved the book most for its descriptions of life along Kootenay Lake in the 1970s.
While Luanne was struggling as a single mom and emerging writer near the southern end of the lake, my parents were chasing bears off our property about 40 minutes north, in Crawford Bay. And though she was an adult while I was a child, we apparently shared quite a few experiences: geodesic domes, carob chips, trailers, and random books scrounged from unusual sources.
My dad used to bring home cardboard boxes of books from Jual Auction. Opening one was like cracking a chest from the bottom of the sea. It could be full of sand or it could be full of treasure.
Even if you’re not from the Kootenays, A Bright and Steady Flame is a wonderful read. It’s the story of a woman struggling to find her artistic identity amidst poverty and social change, and the story of a friendship which endured it all.
My son wasn’t wearing the elastics he was supposed to put on his braces, and none of my nagging had helped. So I made him a deal: if I caught him not wearing the elastics, he’d have to give me a Pokémon card.
Well, I’m here to announce that I’ve found the solution to braces compliance. He immediately started wearing his elastics. But the two times I caught him without them, he took great pleasure in giving me the worst possible Pokémon.
I’m now the proud owner of two cards. There’s Spoink, which does nothing but switch places with another card, and there’s my personal favourite, Nincada. Nincada does 10 damage… to itself.
I went with my son to see Bumblebee over the holidays. As we waited for the movie to start, he said: “Here’s what’s going to happen. It’s going to be a lot like Pete’s Dragon. First, a kid will meet a scary monster. The kid and the monster will become friends. Then other people will find them, and the new people will be scared of the monster. The kid and the monster will have to fight to survive.”
“If you know what’s going to happen, why are we here watching the movie?”
“Because it’s going to be awesome.”
For the record, I did not think it was particularly awesome. But my son did. Even though it played out EXACTLY as he predicted.
Maybe I should adopt this plot for all future books?
I made it to 76 books in 2018, a mere 74 less than my fourteen-year-old daughter. A few of my favourites…
In the nonfiction category, I loved YourHeart is the Size of Your Fist, by Martina Scholtens. She’s a North Vancouver doctor who worked for ten years in a clinic serving newcomers to Canada. The book was empathetic, poignant, and a window into lives completely different from my own – everything I want from a work of creative nonfiction.
In the world of children’s literature, my two favourites were polar opposites. I loved The Agony of Bun O’Keefe, by Heather T. Smith, which basically rips your heart out, shreds it up a little, and hands it back to you changed forever. And I loved Clara Voyant, by Rachelle Delaney, which is goofy and sweet and leaves you bubbling over with hope for the world.
In my defence, I had a cold, I’d just gone skiing for the first time in 25 years (and survived), and I was tired.
I was baking a pineapple upside-down cake for our New Year’s Eve dinner. I’d already melted the butter in the pan and sprinkled on the brown sugar, the coconut, and the pineapple. I’d mixed the dry ingredients in one bowl and the wet in another. I poured the batter over the pineapple toppings, put the pan in the over, turned around…
… and found the bowl of dry ingredients sitting on the counter.
It’s true that I’m famous for forgetting ingredients. I often serve a curry, then look in the fridge later to find the cilantro garnish sitting on a shelf. Or I open the oven in the morning to find the dinner rolls that were supposed to be served the night before.
But forgetting to mix the dry ingredients into a cake batter… this was a new low.
I removed the pan from the oven and tried to scape the wet batter off the pineapple, which of course worked NOT AT ALL. So I ended up pouring everything — toppings, pineapple pieces, wet, dry — into a bowl and mixing the whole darned thing together.
And it was delicious. No one had any idea I’d planned an upside-down cake. My daughter asked if the cake had been difficult to make, and if we could eat it again soon. (It’s possible this question prompted snorts from my husband, who had joined me in the kitchen to witness the batter-scraping fiasco.)
Let’s hope 2019 continues as it’s begun… with mistakes that turn into delicious new creations.
In grade nine or ten, in a class called Consumer Education, we all took a computerized aptitude test. About half of us, including me, were told we should pursue careers in air traffic control.
I’m terrible in crisis situations, so you should all be happy I didn’t take that computer’s advice.
And surely those programs must have improved by now.
Well, my 14-year-old daughter, known on this site as Silence, took her own computer aptitude test in health class yesterday. My tiny, book-loving daughter who most recently dreams of becoming a paediatrician. And what did the computer recommend?
Stacey Matson and I are teaching an Ink Well Vancouver workshop on plot tomorrow, so my brain is bubbling over with different kinds of outlines. Fichtean Curve, Hero’s Journey, Heroine’s Journey, Blake Snyder’s beat sheet, John Truby’s twenty-two steps…
Ironically, neither Stacey nor I are outliners. When we were planning this workshop, we discovered that both of us start writing, get halfway through a project, realize we need structure, and THEN start plotting.
But it’s possible that story arcs are even more necessary for writers like us.
Writers, that is, who plan workshops on structure in this sort of highly unstructured way:
It’s going to be a whirlwind. I teach a workshop on conflict and one on voice in children’s books, I speak on a children’s book panel, I meet individually with writers, and I try to remain socially appropriate for an entire weekend. (Possible? Probably not.)
I spoke at this same conference about five years ago, and it was fabulous. They do an amazing job of creating a welcoming, inclusive, exciting atmosphere, even when hundreds of us are introverts.
Plus: hotel room by myself for three days! (Not to imply that I didn’t love sharing those adjoining rooms with my sister and our four children over the Edmonton weekend, of course. But “room of one’s own” and all…)
This weekend’s writing conference is sold out, but if you feel inspired, there’s a cruise. Just saying.
After the conference, I’m home in time to create a haunted house at my son’s school, because somehow I’ve been put in charge of that. (Occupational hazard.)
Hope your own October weeks are fun, productive, and pumpkin-ish.