Useless Worry

Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy.” Leo Buscaglia

When I worry, as I have done a lot of recently, I repeat Mr. Buscaglia’s quote. I also ask myself: why are you thinking about these things? What are you afraid might happen? Sometimes understanding the underlying cause helps, other times, not so much. I run or exercise to get my mind off of my worries. Breathlessness seems to help erase anything else I’m thinking about.

Another strategy is talking things through. It takes me a while to do this. I have a tendency to mull problems over on my own before I share them. I know this is hard to believe since I’m usually such an open book. But don’t let appearances fool you.

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Endurance and Survival

We don’t know how strong we are until we are forced to bring that hidden strength forward.” Isabel Allende

On Friday, April 13th the Whistler Writing Society will be hosting the Outdoor Endurance and Survival reading event at the Squamish Lil’Wat Cultural Centre in Whistler. You might ask yourself what does Stella know about outdoor anything? Basically I don’t. Sure, I live in an outdoor sports-obsessed community, but I remain a proud city-girl. Our audiences however, have asked for an event that showcases the writing of outdoor adventurers, explorers and athletes and I like to deliver.

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Stuck

If you get stuck, draw with a different pen.” Paul Arden

“I don’t understand how you can start with so much stuff and when you get to the middle, you can’t think of anything else.” She’s sitting in the passenger seat, her hands open and flapping as a frustrated bird might do in an attempted take off. We’ve just set off for the science centre.

So what do you do?” I ask. I’ve got two others in the back seat I’m keeping an eye on because they have a propensity to argue when they sit too close to each other. The roads are icy and the traffic is backed up because of an accident. I need to pay attention, yet I want to hear how she tackles this problem of hers. It’s mine too.

“I go over it again and again to see if I get any ideas.”

“Does that help?”

“Sometimes. But what really helps is to just keep thinking about it. When an idea comes to my head, I make notes, I don’t give up.”

She’s ten and a budding novelist and artist. I’m her 100-year-old (according to her) grandmother, and stuck at the moment too (and I’m not talking about the traffic). She’s reminded me to go back to the page. It’s been scary to do that lately. Nothing seems to come, nothing useable anyway.

The traffic has eased a bit. She looks at me. “It’s the only thing I can do. There are no other tricks to getting the story done. Right?”

“Right.”

© All Rights Reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, all blog content copyright Stella L Harvey

Another Life Lesson

The best protection any woman can have…courage.” Elizabeth Cady Stanton

“We don’t want to put bubble wrap around him.”

Why not? It’s my job to protect him, as he did for me when I was a child. I wanted to say this, but she continued with her probing questions. I had taken my father to his yearly appointment with his cardiologist. We were in her office.

She asked him a number of questions about his lifestyle, what he’d been doing, and how he was feeling. “Oh, I feel pretty good,” he said.

My father never complains and because his memory is fading, he doesn’t remember his recent hospital stay for angina, or his need to go up and down the stairs to lug his vacuum cleaner, or that he insists on shovelling snow even though we have someone who does this for him.

I filled in the blanks and gave her the details. “I remind him that he doesn’t have to do these things, but he does them anyway.”

“Do you feel out of breath when you shovel the snow?” she asked. “Do you have any pain in your chest when you climb back up the steps?”

“No, I relax when I need to,” my father replied. “Then I start again.”

“I’m afraid he’ll go outside and forget his jacket and collapse in the snow or he might fall down the stairs or …”

“You don’t want to shrink his life,” the cardiologist said.

I’m reminded of how protected I was as a child, how I fought against that stifling we don’t want anything bad to happen cage of love and concern. I tell myself to relax. And, those of you who know me know what a feat this is. It takes a great deal of courage to let go. I haven’t mastered it, but I’m trying to let him live whatever he has left of his life. I know it’s the right thing to do, but a daughter never stops being a daughter. As I think this, I’m reminded of what my mother used to say; a parent never stops being a parent.

How is it that I’m still relearning these life lessons?

© All Rights Reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, all blog content copyright Stella L Harvey

Oh, To Be An Artist

Many things which cannot be overcome when they are together yield themselves up when taken little by little.” Plutarch

This week, I finished another section of my new novel. It’s not really a novel yet, but I’m working on it. Every word, every sentence, every chapter, and then every section is a triumph. It keeps me motivated even though I have no idea where I’m going.

I was reminded of what it means to be an artist according to Georgia O'Keeffe (https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-artist-georgia-okeeffe) in an article sent to me by one of my students. Yes, Ms. O’Keeffe was a visual artist and I’m a writer, but the four lessons she lived by—observe the world around you, closely, hungrily, organization is key to productivity, don’t sweat mistakes, learn from them, and pay no attention to trends, be yourself—apply to all artistic pursuits.

Happy writing!

© All Rights Reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, all blog content copyright Stella L Harvey

Roots

Roots are not in a landscape or a country, or a people, they are inside of you.” Isabel Allende

I’ve wanted to do this for a long time. I told myself it would be another piece of information, giving me more links to those connections I’ve long pined for.

I did some research and read a number of different articles including those that told me not to do it. I thought about it some more.

The website extoled the ease by which I could proceed and listed everything I would discover. So I leaped, or rather, ordered, spit (really), and then prepared myself to discover a new world and another piece of my puzzle.

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Raw And Still Sore – Apparently

Writers are not just people who sit down and write. They hazard themselves. Every time you compose a book your composition of yourself is at stake.” E.L. Doctorow

Last Saturday I gave a reading to the on-line students in Simon Fraser University’s The Writing Studio program (TWS). Prior to any reading I practice my presentation, determining which sections I’m going to read and how I will introduce them. This was the first time I’d read from both my novels in one session.

I immediately noticed that two of my key protagonists in Nicolai’s Daughters and The Brink of Freedom were children who were left behind by a parent or parents.

Writing a novel can take years (or at least it does for me). My characters become family. Even when I’m not writing, I’m thinking about them. Then the novel is published. Yeah! Someone likes it as much as I think I do (this relationship with my work is complicated: sometimes I love it, sometimes I hate it).

A tour follows. I’ve read at festivals, visited book clubs and schools, and when the promotion is done, I eventually put the novel away and start something new.  

As an author, I create new characters and throw different problems at them to solve.

Or at least that’s what I thought. Well that is until last Saturday. Themes of abandonment run through my work. I’ve never been deserted. At least, I don’t think I have.  And yet here I’d created two protagonists that had been.

My family immigrated to Canada when I was about the same age as my characters.

Leaving something you were so rooted in for something completely foreign can destabilize a person. I get that. But who knew the abandonment I was writing about and creating for my characters was touching something raw and still sore inside me.

© All Rights Reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, all blog content copyright Stella L Harvey

Exploring the Terrain

It’s like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” E.L. Doctorow

Did you know where your novel would end? How the story would unfold? Students, book club members, and most people, who have read my work, ask me these questions.

And my answer is always the same. I never do.

This is strange coming from an obsessive-compulsive planner, but my actions and behaviour at my day job and just about everything else I do are completely separate from how I pursue and practice my craft.

My new projects start with something that catches my attention. A question or two usually follow. Why? What if? What would happen next?

And off I go. Exploring the terrain, I take in what I’m able to see in the shadows: a character’s shame, fears, and hopes. Slowly their motivations come into view. And their story unfolds.

It’s not a quick process. In fact, I have to be incredibly patient, more so than what comes naturally to me. My eyes remain wide open for every turn because along with impatience, I also suffer from night blindness. It’s not for the faint of heart, but it can be a great journey. I remind myself of this whenever I fear what’s ahead.

© All Rights Reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, all blog content copyright Stella L Harvey

That Critic

A word after a word, after a word is power.” Margaret Atwood

I give this advice to writers all the time, yet find it hard to truly believe myself, particularly when my writing isn’t flowing. Mind you, when does writing ever flow?

Staring at my meagre daily word count I wonder how I’m ever going to complete my current project. It’s demoralizing. And then the negative self-talk begins.

Is that it? Why can’t you do more? Figure this out? Why are you such an idiot?

And on it goes. We all have that inner critic no matter what line of work we’re in.

The question is what we do about it.

In my case, I listen to that critic giving her as much space and time to hit me with whatever she’s got. Then I fight back. I shut her up by showing up, no matter the circumstance or excuse. And man, I can come up with a lot of excuses.

I draft a to-do list every night for the following day. The first thing on that list is: Write. I wake up early. I go to my desk (or plop myself on the floor in the spare room when I’m visiting my dad or in the bathroom if I’m in a hotel and don’t want to disturb my husband) and I reread what I’ve written. Those words and sentences and twists and turns weren’t there the day before. I created them. One word at a time.

Reminding myself of this moves me forward and silences the critic.

She never completely disappears, needling at me when I least expect it. But perhaps I need her. There is nothing like a battle to bolster determination.

© All Rights Reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, all blog content copyright Stella L Harvey

Detour Ahead – Part 2

See any detour as an opportunity to experience new things.” H. Jackson Brown Jr.

I spent last weekend reading the printed pages of my new novel-in-progress. Interesting experience. And I mean that in the best possible way.

It was good to read my manuscript in one sitting, to see that I had built links in the first pages that bore fruit in later chapters. I like the story and how it’s unfolding. The characters, for the most part, are fleshed out.

I’m experimenting with the introduction of new protagonists in each section and overall it seems to work, but it’s too early to tell how successful this approach will be. Still I confirmed for myself that it’s worth pursuing.

I was also able to see some blatant inconsistencies I wouldn’t have been able to catch if I’d simply continued going forward.

On the word front, I realized how much I Iove descriptors like shiver, tremble, quiver and shake. You’d think I was writing about an earthquake. Talk about overuse. So shuddering with trepidation, I crossed out many of these lovely words. This forced me to delve further into what my characters were experiencing.

Reading my work in progress helped me map out a way forward. I’m sure I’ll get stuck again, but this detour taught me that going back is not always a bad thing.

Onward!

© All Rights Reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, all blog content copyright Stella L Harvey

Detour Ahead – Part 1

What screws us up most in life is the picture in our head of how it’s supposed to be.” Anonymous

The one piece of advice I give about writing is: keep going, get it down and save revision for later. For me, editing is so much easier than creation. And when I’m honest with myself I admit it’s my way of procrastinating. I don’t know where I’m going so why not tinker. But if I continue to fix and revise what I have, I’ll never get the project done. Realizing this little tidbit helped me get my first novel done.

I’m about to shake things up, take a detour.

I have printed the pages of my third manuscript this week with the intention of reading what I have and making changes longhand.

I feel a little lost at the moment with my project. Not sure where I’m going. I tell myself to keep at it anyway, but if feels a bit hollow. I’m not committed, although I have to say the more I go forward the more I discover the story. Hm, perhaps I should rethink this diversion.

Still it’s good to shake things up a bit and see where it takes me. Stay tuned. I’ll likely have more to say about this in the next blog.

© All Rights Reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, all blog content copyright Stella L Harvey

Critique Group – A Gift

Critique, feedback, reaction to one’s work or the way they have presented it, regardless of intention, is a gift.” Mark Brand

Last weekend, I met with three wonderful writers in Squamish. They are writing in various genres and have a variety of different interests, but they’ve come together to discuss their individual projects and find a way by which they might support each other.

During this first meeting they discussed some of the issues writers face: waning motivation, finding time to write, uncertainty about where the story is going and how to know when it’s finished. These topics and other similar ones were coupled with business questions: where to submit work, what are the steps in getting work published.

They shared advice: the more you write, the more you write, even when you don’t think anything is working; show up at your desk and the story will follow; at times you might have to step away because the subject is too difficult to deal with. It’s okay, you’ll come back to it when you’re ready.

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A Time Zone, A Province Apart and Yet Still There

Being there at the moment is everything.” Unknown

You could say that again.

A few weeks ago, the phone rang just before four in the morning. I have the phone by my bed these days because I never know if I’ll get a call from my father or when he’ll need something: reassurance, advice, or help.

And yes, it was Dad. He was complaining of pain and wasn’t sure what to do about it. I’m not a nurse, but I know many of you with elderly parents will attest to how quickly you learn to ask the right questions.

The pain was centered at his side, but because he has had previous heart attacks and none have had typical symptoms (or as his cardiologist says, he doesn’t present with the ordinary indicators), I asked him to call 911 for an ambulance. At that moment, he didn’t know what I meant or what I was talking about. He seemed confused. His speech a bit slurred. I tried to explain. But he still couldn’t grasp what needed to be done. I told him I’d call him back.

I called my siblings who live in Calgary, but they didn’t pick up. I was at a loss at what to do and tried to breathe. My mouth was dry and my stomach felt as though it had dropped down to my wobbly knees.

I called my dad back. The pain was more severe. Again I told him I’d call him back.

How do you call 911 when you’re in Whistler and the emergency is in Calgary? I didn’t know so I called the local RCMP detachment. I got a message. Of course I would it was four in the morning.

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Attitude

Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.” Winston Churchill

I want to know who brought us to this country.

I’ve just dialled my father and before any sort of greeting, this is what he says into the phone. I tell him it was his decision. I was a child and no one asked me. He laughs and says he doesn’t believe me. I had an opinion and a mind of my own even then.

It’s been twenty-five below in Calgary all week. When he opens the front door to let the homecare worker in, he feels the chill enter the house. Why don’t we buy an apartment in Greece? he asks. The same one we rented. It’s perfect.

You’re 88 years old, I respond.

So what’s your point? He says.

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That Time of The Year

I think in terms of a day’s resolutions, not the years’.” Henry Moore

Mr. Moore has a point. Over the last few years, I’ve slowly inched my way towards this mindset. You can imagine this hasn’t come easily to a planner with a need to control every possible detail of her life. Still I try to think of each day and what I want to accomplish that day. If I do that I figure the year will take care of itself.

Yes, I still reflect on the year that was. I can’t help myself. But I see the danger in this more clearly now. It can leave me feeling less than and overwhelmed with what I think I need to fix. And none of that feels very good, nor does it motivate.

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Compassion

Compassion is not a weakness and concern for the unfortunate is not socialism.” Hubert H. Humphrey

Il genti sono bravi.  The people are good. Lucky for me she speaks Italian because my Greek is at best étsi ki étsi (so, so).

I had arrived back in Athens and wondered if she was there. I’d wandered down to see. Yes, she was where she’d always been since I met her in 2014, sitting on the marble stoop of a high-end apartment building selling packages of Kleenex. Many people walk by and refuse to make eye contact. Others give money and don’t take the Kleenex. Some bring her coffee. Others, a croissant. This is how she makes a living and supports herself and her daughters.

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Maybe I Don’t Want to Remember

There is no pain so great as the memory of joy in present grief.” Aeschylus

Where is my father? Am I late for work? Is my brother still asleep? I should get him up. What happened to my mother? Where is your mother? Why do I live alone?

These and others like them are some of the questions my father asks me every day. When I remind him very bluntly that his parents, his brother, some of his sisters and my mother are dead, he looks at me with the vacancy of renewed grief and disbelief.

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The Journey – Part 5

I am impelled, not to squeak like a grateful mouse, but to roar like a lion out of pride in my profession.” John Steinbeck

I returned to Canada a few days ago, so I’m still in a state of transition (jet lag, disorientation), but wanted to take the opportunity to thank everyone who made my trip to Greece possible. I’ve written copious notes (yeah, at least some writing was done) and taken lots of pictures. The information I gleaned will help me take the steps I need to complete my new novel. Fingers crossed.

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The Journey – Part 4

Give light, and the darkness will disappear of itself.” Desiderius Erasmus

After hearing about my latest project and my search for information regarding the Greco-Turkish war of 1919-1922 and the Greeks of Egypt, among other topics, a friend of mine, author, Bessie Livanou recommended I contact the Gennadius Library. I met with senior librarian, Irini Solomonidi this week. More about that in a minute, but first let me tell you about the library. In a word: incredible!

The Gennadius is located in a gorgeous neo-classical building near Mount Lycabettus. It was designed by American architect, Stuart Thompson and opened in 1926 with 26,000 books donated by diplomat and bibliophile, Joannes Gennadius. It now holds over 120,000 books, manuscripts, and archives.

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The Journey – Part 3

Inspiration exists but it has to find you working.” Pablo Picasso

Upon the advice of friends I’ve taken a different tack this week in terms of my writing. I’m absorbing the culture, the vibe and the information that comes my way while I’m in Athens. I write notes, things to remember, information I need to include in my novel. And I set aside an hour each morning to write.

Most of the time I sit and stare at the screen. Other times I look at a scene I’ve created and ask myself if a reader would be able to see or feel what is going on. If I’m lucky I add a little more detail. It’s not much. I know this, but I remind myself that every word is a gift and I let myself be. As a natural doer, this isn’t easy. I know. I know. I’m prone to understatements.

By sitting and focusing on story, even when words don’t come, I’m working. And in that labour, inspiration will find me and I will remember what ignited my imagination to start this project in the first place. That’s my hope.

In the meantime, onward. And for good measure, my fingers and toes and everything else are crossed.

© All Rights Reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, all blog content copyright Stella L Harvey

The Journey – Part 2

All things are ready if our minds be so.” William Shakespeare

Yes, if only my mind was ready. I’m talking about writing. Again.

It’s been another slow week of it. I get up early enough. I usually have two hours before the rest of the household gets up. I sit at the laptop in the dark (my favourite time) and hope the words come. Sometimes they do. Other times? You know.  

So I find my consolation in the research I’m doing while I’m here in Athens. Even though I’m not sure how it will all fit into my new novel, I’m doing something, moving, and that’s always a good thing. Or at least that’s what I tell myself.

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The Journey – Part 1

Life is a journey. When you stop, things don’t go right.” Pope Francis

We arrived in Athens a week ago and my time has been spent adjusting to the new time zone, reconnecting with family and friends and sorting out a routine that would balance work with the pleasure of being in this great city. I had a plan to start back on my novel as soon as the plane began to climb. Needless to say, my excitement, scattered brain and simple exhaustion didn’t allow that to happen.

Then I told myself I would take Tuesday off because we’d arrived so late on Monday night and I was too tired. I would get back to my project on Wednesday.

The days have passed without a single word being written, but I have connected with some of the people I had hoped to talk to regarding my project, I’ve set up meetings and I have been to the Athens War Museum where I got some great information and pictures. I’m hoping some of this will help inform my new novel.

It’s a start. That’s what I tell myself. The next step is to write. That’s the real purpose of this journey. I’ve been moving. Yes. But not in all the ways I should.

© All Rights Reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, all blog content copyright Stella L Harvey

Developing Characters

Good character is not formed in a week or a month. It is created little by little, day by day.” Heraclitus

This rings true for everyone, including those individuals we writers create in our fiction. I was reminded of this by one of my students last week. She sent me an article about old age and what it's really like.

Author, Ceridwen Dovey, explores the issue of aging and the stereotypes writers sometimes attribute to our older characters.  It’s a wonderful reminder to go deeper, ask more questions, and continually search for what makes your characters (at any age) who they are.

Enjoy the read.

© All Rights Reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, all blog content copyright Stella L Harvey

Entering the Forest

And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.” Unknown   

This quote captures for me the essence of the art of writing. As a writer, you enter a world you think you know. You’ve outlined, you have an idea of where your story is going and you think you have a pretty good grasp of your characters.

It all starts off so well. As the author, you think you’re in control.  And for a control freak like me, that’s a good thing.

But as you progress, the scene seems to shift, subtly at first, so as not to rouse your suspicion. But you are meant to notice. So more and more discoveries are thrown your way until you finally pay attention. It’s at this point that the story takes off in ways you never anticipated.

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Back at It

There are seven days in a week and someday isn’t one of them.” Anonymous   

This week I have finally been able to turn my attention back to my own writing. It isn’t easy to get re-acquainted with my characters or their stories particularly after such a long absence. They are likely upset with me. I haven’t forgotten about them, but I definitely have to reorient myself to their lives and what they’ve been up to while I’ve been out gallivanting, as my mother used to say.

As a way to start back, I told myself I would spend an hour a day in front of the screen, in the heads of my characters and see what happens. Not many words have come in the past week, but even a single word is more than I had last week. And one word, leads to another and another. I keep telling myself this and believing.

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A Week Later  

Throw your dreams into space like a kite and you do not know what it will bring back, a new life, a new friend, a new love, a new country.” Anais Nin   

I’ve been spending the week debriefing the writers festival that was, completing final reports and applying for grants for next year’s festival. The Whistler Writers Festival is over for another year, and still the craziness continues. At least most of this work (not the debriefing part) can be done in my pyjamas. Yeah!

So I won’t say anymore and risk boring you.

Instead I’d like to share a wonderful article from a recent arrival to Canada. Vasileios Tsiannos expresses perfectly how I feel about the two countries I love.  

Spoiler alert, I’ve begun planning my escape from one love to another.

© All Rights Reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, all blog content copyright Stella L Harvey

A Grateful Heart

Thank you expresses extreme gratitude, humility, understanding.” Alice Walker   

When the day closes today so will the 16th annual Whistler Writers Festival. The effort to put on such an event is enormous. But I’ve come to learn that anything is possible with vision, dedication, hard work and the support of so many people of like minds. A bit of insanity doesn’t hurt either.

Every year, I am reminded that no one succeeds alone.

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One Week to Go

Run the first two-thirds of your race with your head and the last third with your heart.” Anonymous   

All the months of planning come down to the final week. The Whistler Writers Festival is set to begin this Thursday, October 12th. I’ve been focused, strategic and doing all those other things that come from the head. It is now time to let go and hope that our combined efforts result in another spectacularly successful festival.

Letting go is not one of my strong suits. Okay, perhaps I’m understating this. Stop laughing. But really, this one final push comes from the heart. Well, all this labour has come from that place too. Otherwise why would we do it?

If you haven’t bought your tickets yet, this is a great time to do so.

Check out, Feet Banks’ article in The Whistler Insider. Feet will again be hosting the Crime Writers Lunch on Saturday October 14th starting at 1 p.m. at our festival hotel, the Fairmont Chateau Whistler. Giller Prize short-listed author, Michael Redhill will join our other guest authors, John MacLauchlan Gray, Sheena Kamal, Alisa Smith and Jenny D. Williams through the twists and turns of the crime, mystery and thriller genre, all while enjoying a delicious lunch.

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The Reviews Continue

Life is a ship wreck but we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats.” Voltaire  

As I write this, we are three weeks away from the event I have organized and watched grow over the last 16 years: the Whistler Writers Festival 2017. Sixteen years! Yikes! Who knew? Well, I know every time I look in the mirror. Double yikes!

There are still many last minute details to take care of and yes, as usual, I’m freaking out, but I’m trying not to forget to put one foot in front of the other, make lists and most importantly, sing (bad voice and all).

Continuing on from last week, here is another review, this time by local author, Nicola Bentley who shares her thoughts about One Brother Shy, the new novel by multi-award winning author, Terry Fallis.

Terry will be appearing in two events at the festival. The first event is the Literary Cabaret on Friday October 13th at 8 p.m. He will also participate in a new event, a Sunday morning walk with authors hosted by Grant Lawrence.  

I look forward to seeing you in three short weeks.

© All Rights Reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, all blog content copyright Stella L Harvey

Keeping Track and Reviews

Twice and thrice over, as they say, good is it to repeat and review what is good.” Plato   

Since November 2010, I have kept track of all the books I’ve read. As I write this, I know I am again sounding as though I have an obsessive-compulsive tendency. Okay, maybe a slight one.  Stop laughing.

It’s good to remember books I’ve read, what I liked about them, whether I’d recommend them to others, and what I learned from them. When I know the author, I also like to share my impressions with them. I think authors like to hear about how a book influenced or impacted the reader. Or at least that’s how I feel when readers find me and tell me how they felt about something I’ve written.

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