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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The Count Down Begins

Time is like a handful of sand—the tighter you grasp it, the faster it runs through your fingers.” Anonymous   

Five weeks to go before the festival from h… I mean the Whistler Writers Festival. Yikes! I’m dumbstruck. We begin planning in November of the prior year. And when we do I’m full of hope. I check off tasks one at a time, calmly, gleefully. But now, as in previous years, all those last minute tasks rear their monstrous heads and scare me half to death.

How is it possible to have so much left to do when we’ve been working so hard all year? I don’t know. All I know is that I see time disappearing and my desperate attempt to hang on and grasp for more is for naught.

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Finding a Way

Risk comes from not knowing what you’re doing.” Warren Buffet   

You don’t typically associate the word, risk with the business of writing. You might imagine that writers work on their own in quiet comfort. Here’s the reality.

I stare at a blank page every single day with no guarantee I’ll produce a single word. Sure I have ideas. Many. I ponder what my characters want and need. I have notions of the trouble they will get into. But figuring out the truth of their stories and why it matters is toil of patience, resilience and one heck of a lot of risk. And in the end, who knows if anyone will read what I’ve written.

In my work I’m trying to reveal something about life, something I’m trying to understand and shed light on. I do this through my characters, but I realize that whatever I write also reveals who I am, what I think, and worry about. As a writer, I’m completely exposed, an open book, as it were and that is frightening business.

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Honour and Good Sense Speak Louder than Political Rhetoric

Never give in-never, never, never, never in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense.” Winston Churchill   

Some time ago our prime minister tweeted about our welcoming society.  I had never been prouder to be Canadian. That feeling has not changed despite the questioning of Mr. Trudeau’s statement from Conservative Michelle Rempel. I suppose she feels she is speaking to her base, hoping to rile them up to the horrors of the few hundred asylum seekers who have crossed our borders. Please.

She doesn’t speak for this immigrant Canadian. Nor does the Toronto Sun.

I want to tell them both to get over themselves, focus on the big issues that make a difference to all of us as Canadians and stop dickering around. No one of good sense is listening.

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Barely Upright, Still Smiling

“A smile is the curve that sets everything straight.” Phyllis Diller   

I’ve been on the treadmill for months. Oh, yes, I own one, but I’m not talking about that instrument of torture, the everlasting staircase, used in the 1800s on prisoners and later reinvented for the fitness industry. I almost wrote, reinvented for the crazed, because I do feel a bit like that when I’m on mine. Pushing, pumping, sweating to get in whatever number of minutes or steps I’ve convinced myself to do.

There are many similiaries between that contraption and the work I find myself doing every year.

Yes, the movement is slower, more methodical. I’m talking about my organizing work now, not my running. And yes, it stretches over a longer period of time.

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Sneak Peek Whistler Writers Festival 2017

Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” T.S. Eliot   

The festival program goes on line tomorrow along with ticket sales. We’ve reviewed all our collateral material about 100 times and I’m sure there will be mistakes, things we overlooked, but it’s now time to let it go and hope we did everything we could. As promised here is a look at the high level program for this year’s festival. For more information visit us on August 14th at www.whistlerwritersfest.com

Whistler epitomizes what it means to take risks. When you think about the place, you will no doubt imagine the ski hills or the biking and hiking trails. But we’re also known as a center of artistic excellence. This part of our growth has come about because so many of us took a risk, created something and hoped an audience would come. And you did. Thanks so much.

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Overalls Are Optional, The Work is Not

Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” Thomas A. Edison   

For the last few weeks I’ve been head down, reviewing, editing, and attempting to finalize the work that seems to have no end. Don’t get excited. I haven’t been working on my novel. All my focus has been on the festival I organize. The program and tickets go on sale August 14th. Yikes!

I will give you a sneak preview next weekend. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, while I haven’t done what I call real writing, there isn’t a moment I don’t think about it. These thoughts take a typical form. First I beat up on myself: why am I not writing, if I were a real writer, I’d be writing, I have no talent, that’s my problem. When I’ve exhausted that focus, I go into planning mode: how do I build in some writing time, when can I write, I don’t have enough time now, maybe tomorrow. If I can’t find the time or more to the point, if I won’t make the time, I spin back to thrashing myself. And the cycle continues. No writing takes place.

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Out of the Mouths …

It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” Fredrick Douglass   

“You know what his problem is?”

At this point I was fuming and unfocused, thinking of what I said and more importantly what I should have said to the stranger who was a redneck twerp.

“He doesn’t listen, doesn’t let anyone give their opinion,” she said. The simplicity of this insightful conclusion stopped me.

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An Update

Remember then: there is only one time that is important – Now! It is the most important time because it is the only time where we have any power.” Leo Tolstoy   

I love starting new ventures. There is so much hope in the fresh, never tried. The day-to-day maintenance is much harder for me. This applies to writing, organizing and my latest venture—meditation.

I started meditating a few months ago. Organizing, planning, list making and that I’ve got to do focus took over every waking hour (and some sleeping ones too) encroaching on the part of my brain that needs quiet reflection in order to write.

A friend suggested meditation and I jumped at this glittering new promise for relief from my over-extended, hyperactive, obsessive-compulsive nature.

Most days I’m not sure I’m doing this mindfulness stuff right. But Andy at Headspace (the application I’m using) tells me this is normal. The mind is difficult to train.

No kidding.

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Why Risk?

Do one thing every day that scares you.” Eleanor Roosevelt   

We went out for lunch this week to a new restaurant started by a couple who already have a successful catering business. The food was wonderful and the service was excellent, but I wondered what would possess them to start a new venture into the unknown when they are already successful in their own niche. Why rock the boat? Why not simply settle and enjoy what you’ve already built? I mean it can’t be easy to start a new restaurant in a town already crowded with some incredible eateries. How would you even find your patrons? How do they find you?

It was destined to be a week of questioning.

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Righting Wrongs and Other Hopeful Stories

It always seems impossible until it’s done.” Nelson Mandela   

I’m a sucker for hopeful stories. I love the naiveté and eagerness I imagine is at the heart of those who simply won’t accept that something can’t be done.

Seventeen-year-old Leah Denhok photographs the homeless. She has created a book that features the stories and pictures of the people many of us ignore. “I'm trying to portray two goals," Leah said of her work. "First of which is to shine a spotlight on the plight of the homeless, and second, I'd like to humanize homeless people because so often they're seen as subhuman individuals." Proceeds from the sale of her book will go to the Barrie Bayside Mission Centre.

And then there’s 17-year-old, inventor Anmol Tukrel. He has created an app called iDentifi, which helps visually impaired people identify the object in front of them, including the brand name and the text.

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Humble and Understated But Proud

A nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people.” Mahatma Gandhi   

Canada is celebrating its 150th birthday this weekend. In addition to the parties and street celebrations, several companies have taken this opportunity to support Canadians to do what we do best: give back. Check out the Royal Bank campaign  to help youth make a difference in their communities. Or how about the special initiatives other organizations have implemented to celebrate our sesquicentennial.

These initiatives tap into the essence of our Canadian character: kindness and generosity. And as it turns out, this was the theme of my own story, recently published in CBC's What's Your Story. This national storytelling project, launched to celebrate Canada 150, collected personal stories about what defined Canada.    

Spoiler alert, there are some embarrassing pictures in my essay about a strange school project, I had to complete about 100 years ago, but hey, it’s the least I can do for the country that gave me a home and every opportunity to succeed and belong. I’m teary-eyed and filled with pride as I write this line and humble and understated as any other Canadian.

Happy Canada Day!

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

Silver Linings

I know God won’t give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish He didn’t trust me so much.” Anonymous   

Have you had days where everything seems to go wrong? How about a whole week of one calamity after another?

I won’t bore you with the details because we all go through times like this. You have to take the good, the bad and the sometimes ugly. Yes, our basement had a minor flood this week. The culprit, a corroded pipe stuck deep in a wall. Yikes! The ongoing mess has been incredibly difficult on an obsessive compulsive like me.

Such a thing and others like it (lost wallets, missed appointments, I could go on and on) add one more layer of madness to an already crazy life.

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Oh, those Ah Ha Moments

Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” Mahatma Gandhi  

As some of you know I’ve been mentoring students in the creative writing program at Simon Fraser University. I have loved everything about this experience. The students are talented, keen and all have great writing futures ahead of them. I’m honoured to be a small part of their development.

During our last meeting this week, we discussed two books we’ve talked about in other sessions. The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi is a guide to several different emotions a character in a story or book might have. The jacket description notes: One of the biggest problem areas for writers is conveying emotion to the reader in a unique, compelling way. When showing our characters’ feelings, we often grab onto the first idea that comes to mind, and our characters end up smiling, shrugging, and frowning too much.

The book defines several emotions from amazement to worry and everything in between, and then lists the physical signals, the internal sensations, mental responses and the cues that a character might exhibit.

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Still Trying

If a story is in you, it has got to come out.” William Faulkner  

The key word in this quote is: if.

How do you know a story really is inside you? I don’t.

I think about a story I’m working on whether I’m out for a hike, working in the garden or sitting still. Okay, that last bit doesn’t happen very often.

I get what I think are brilliant ideas, even write these down, only to have them disappear when I finally get in front of my lap top and face the actual blank page. Glaring at that page, I eventually start to put down whatever comes into my head.

My hope is that I will work my way into my story, uncover the keepers and get rid of everything else. Most of the time this process works. Yes, I’m a big believer in what April Young Fritz said about writing: the worst thing you write is better than the best thing you don't write.

At the moment, in my new manuscript I’m stuck, so I’m trying a different approach. I’ve printed off the pages I have and I’m reading them as a reader, not a writer. This means without a pen in hand. When I’ve finished reading, I will begin again, this time with pen and red ink. It’s a painful process. It takes time and patience. And you know as well as I do, I’m not good with either.the worst thing you write is better than the best thing you didn’t write.

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The Twilight of Memory

If in the twilight of memory, we should meet once more, we shall speak again together and you shall sing for me a deeper song.” Khalil Gibran  

Am I going home today? He’s asked this question nearly every single day since he’s arrived. In those first few mornings, when I’d gone to wake him up, he’d also asked, what is this place? Where am I? How far away am I from home?

And yet, and yet, as we walk through the village, he points to a new restaurant and asks, what happened to the Greek restaurant that used to be there?

That place hasn’t been here in years. I wonder how he remembers that old hole-in-the-wall, but not his daughter’s house, a home he has visited many, many times.

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Kindness Shared

No act of kindness, no matter how small is wasted.” Aesop  

Last week my father ran out of one of his medications. These things keep him alive. I understand this to my core. My dad on the other hand, takes it all in stride. What’s a few days without it? It won’t kill me. Yikes!

The homecare worker gave me no prior warning, my father no longer drives and my siblings were both travelling away for work. I wasn’t sure at this point what to do, but a problem shared is a problem solved so I called the pharmacy.

I spoke to Fawn, who knew my father by his first name. As I started to spell his last name, she said, oh you mean George. How is he doing? We haven’t seen him in awhile.

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Meditation

I am a traveller on a sacred journey through this one shining day.” Richard Wagamese  

Over the last few weeks I have been trying different meditation tools to assess them and try to find one that might be best for me. Why meditation? I ask myself that question too. I like the idea of it, but I’ve never been able to stick with meditation. It’s likely my personality, my need to move, do, and make stuff happen. On the other hand, it could simply be my unruly mind. Whether you’ve known me casually or forever, you’ve likely deduced that I tend towards being a bit manic. Stop laughing.

Of late, I have felt even more out of control. I can blame a busy schedule, a ton of things going on, and too many worries, but this is true for everyone. Life is hectic. I am not unique. Typically when I’m stressed, I keep going, blindly hoping everything will sort itself out. I add more things onto my plate, perhaps thinking that these new tasks will take my mind off the other ones I’ve been obsessing about.  I know I’m not making much sense (do I ever), but here I go again, adding meditation to the schedule. I’ve convinced myself that this is something completely different.

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Under Threat

Writing means sharing. It’s part of the human condition to want to share things—thoughts, ideas, opinions.” Paulo Coelho  

Years ago, my husband took a certain photograph of my father and me that reflected what I had been taught to do my whole life: never shy away from a good discussion.

In the picture we stood facing each other as swordfighters from another time, our concentration intense and focused. I saw the vein in my neck, our mouths open and of course, we were both pointing a finger at each other. These, along with our words, were our swords.  

I was reminded of that picture this week after receiving this letter of apology from the Executive Director of the Writers Union of Canada. The letter apologized for an opinion piece by the magazine’s editor, Hal Niedzviecki. I wish I could find Mr. Niedzviecki’s editorial on line so I could include it in this blog, but it has been removed from the Writers Union magazine. I have my own paper copy and several articles written by a number of newspapers and magazines that quote his article entitled, Winning the Appropriation Prize.

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