The writer’s room by Yvonne Maximchuk

After fifty plus years of at least semi-conscious introspection I conclude I am somewhat disorganized. I no longer fight this, but accept it as an essential element of my creative being. A certain amount of order is necessary to actually pull a concept into tangible manifestation; however this does not begin in a writer’s room.

The first writer’s room is in my mind, independence from distracting stimuli the only requirement. Because I live in wilderness and consequently am extremely sound sensitive, earplugs are sometimes needed for this writer’s room.

IMGP0085 copyLuckily the creative force is powerful and absorbing. Mrs. Ferguson, my grade five teacher, called it ‘daydreaming’ and encouraged me to write down the beautiful thoughts and word strings so I could weave them together into a larger narrative. Hence a pen and notebook are also needed in my writer’s room.

Often a writer, including me, takes years to birth a book from a stew of incomplete ideas so, at a certain time, a physical space becomes important. I must be comfortable to write; good back support, padded arm rests, feet at the right height from the floor. In my writer’s room a black ‘wheelie chair’ has pride of place. My neighbor built a cedar picnic table for me, which I painted white and is now stained with layers of paint splashes. The half of it dedicated to writing is stacked with piles of notes relevant to several projects.

When I raise my eyes from the computer, one window reveals the camellia, clematis and Japanese maple tree – color for all seasons and a rest from the screen. The other window shows ever-changing sky, distant islands and closer conifers. Both views allow me contemplation space and eye relaxation. Windows are essential for my writer’s room.

On a shelf below the window sits a CD player/radio. Often my daughter Theda’s inspirational music plays. Nearby, a bookshelf rich with the beauty and meaning of the ages; dictionary and thesaurus, books about root words, the writer’s art and artist’s rights, books of other authors’ journeys of discovery and on every aspect of my favorite topic, the coastal world I inhabit.

My writer’s room is my artist’s studio, which embraced its dual role around 2000. It was a comfortable transition as my writing habits are the same as my painting habits… notice, contemplate, imagine, notate, gather, assemble, sit in one place often enough to shape something new and interesting. I love my writer’s rooms.

Paula’s note: Yvonne Maximchuk is an artist and author of three books including a Tide Ripsmemoir of her wilderness life in the Broughton Archipelago, Drawn to Sea – From Paintbrush to Chainsaw, Carving out a Life on BC’s Rugged Raincoast. Yvonne and the legendary Billy Proctor are touring Vancouver Island with their new publication Tide Rips and Back Eddies, Bill Proctor’s Tales of Blackfish Sound. Dates and venues can be found at




Rebellious Worker-Bee Rides the Back of the Alligator – guest blog by Amanda Hale

The act of writing is a fine balance between hard work and inspiration. Personally I lean towards the worker-bee end of this spectrum and have spent many years slogging away, chained to my desk while putting in the necessary hours with dogged persistence. There have been spells of rebellion when I’ve surrendered to the seduction of an inspiration which has usually taken me over the top, requiring ruthless editing on the return to worker-bee mode.

In recent years I have found my balance as a writer by crab-walking away from these two extremes to place myself somewhere apparently quite different, but ironically in balance. The essence of this exercise is that I catch myself by surprise. I will tell you a story.

Several years ago I travelled to Cuba, laptop in hand, for a three-month stay. My intention was to write a novel I had been researching for several years, a dark accumulation within me. The novel was set in WW II Europe and it dealt with a family whose absent father was interned during the war as a fascist.

Baracoa, Cuba

I sat on the patio shuffling through papers and notebooks, listening to roosters crowing and pigs snorting nearby, frustration building in me as I tried to place myself under the dark cloud of Europe while all I wanted to do was jump on my bicycle and cruise the streets of Baracoa.

After a week I shoved my research papers back into my briefcase and began writing stories about the life going on around me – about my Cuban friends and their daily adventures, and about my own struggle to understand their extraordinary culture.

Cuba, like much of Latin America and the Caribbean, is a surrealistic place where North Americans and Europeans are confounded by the absence of that familiar logic which enables us to function smoothly. Typically I hit the wall half way through my annual stay in Cuba, then I can surrender and fully enter the Cuban reality.

Thus evolved my collection of Cuban stories – In the Embrace of the Alligator – Cubans call their island ‘el caíman’ – the alligator. I did not intend to publish a collection of stories about Cuba. I began to write those stories out of desperation because I have to write. That is how I make sense of the world. The stories crept up on me, demanding to be written and shared.

Intention is a great and necessary thing – it gives direction – but enslavement to it is death. Everything must break away from its origins in order to achieve full potential. What I’m talking about is letting go of control in order to let the characters breathe, to let the story live.

I believe that most characters are emanations of the writer, and that there is a mystery which requires us to stand aside and wait to be surprised, challenged, and enlightened by our own creations. Writing at its best is a journey of discovery, and while the writer must be in control she must hold the reins very loosely and be prepared to let the alligator take her deep, to the limits of her lung capacity, with trust that she will surface to rewrite and edit what she has learned, and to cruise the streets once more for inspiration.

Amanda Hale

Paula’s note: Amanda Hale is the author of three novels, a collection of stories, and a novella. She is also a poet, screenwriter, and has recently written a libretto. Amanda  divides her time between Hornby Island, Toronto, and Cuba. To find out more visit




Preparing to launch Part 3 – guest blog by Rick James

Well, con­trary to Susan and Harold’s exper­i­ences with book signings, I actu­ally looked for­ward to my book launch of West Coast Wrecks & Other Maritime Tales with a good deal of con­fid­ence. Per­haps too much.

For one, I have no short­age of taste­ful, bet­ter qual­ity shirts in my closet. (Christmas presents over the years from Mom and also cour­tesy of Paula’s brother who man­ages the fash­ion­able out­door store, REI, in San Francisco). Plus I had just bought a new pair of black jeans. And since I don’t live in Merville like Harold, my fin­ger­nails stay reas­on­ably clean.

But I do make sure I get a haircut just before a presentation. Oth­er­wise, my unruly, white locks tend to make me look like a deranged Albert Einstein.

Also, I credit my abil­ity to stay relaxed before a group to the fact that I’ve given a fair amount of slide shows and present­a­tions over the years. And for some bizarre reason, I’ve become a more social animal as I age and actually enjoy standing up in front of a group. (This been a sur­prise to Paula who often reminds me that I used to be a quiet and retir­ing Fanny Bay recluse.)

Last fall I had my book launch at the Vancouver Maritime Museum. And, gad sakes! some 60+ people turned up and they were all out there in front of me!! Man, I was pumped and I think my publicist from Harbour Publishing was surprised too. Turns out she mis­judged the num­ber of people who would attend and hadn’t pur­chased enough pastry items; a dis­ap­point­ment for those late getting to the goodies table.

The PowerPoint presentation went over exceed­ingly well. A good indic­ation of suc­cess was the comments afterwards and question period that lasted for about 15 minutes. The worst thing that can hap­pen at the end of a presentation is that every­one sits there with a deadpan, bored expression on their faces.

So I was brim­ming with an over­whelm­ing sense of suc­cess and good­will as I made my way to the book sign­ing table where a crowd had already lined up. Then it happened; about seven signed cop­ies along.

As I looked up at this big, middle-aged, bald­ing guy with a pony tail I asked, “Who should I make it out to?” And he answers, “Rick James!” I did a double take and replied, “No, that’s me, the author, I mean, what’s your name?”

Rick back in the 1970s before he developed his published author persona.

“Rick James!” he declared again. “Don’t you remem­ber me from the old days in Victoria? How could ya for­get, I mean, we not only have the same name…” And con­tin­ues in an overly loud voice, “Oh man! We even used to smoke dope together at Keith’s place on Burdett back in the early 70s!”

Thankfully most of the folks around the table were old friends or work col­leagues who were probably already aware of my past. Still, I could tell some people were startled. You know, the strangers I had man­aged to con­vince over the past hour that I should be looked upon as a respect­able West Coast mari­time his­tor­ian and writer. Who knows what they thought after the other Rick James finished talking?

So there you go, no matter how well prepared – and groomed – a person is for a book signing, some­thing totally unexpected can still bring you to back to reality with a jolt.

Preparing to Launch Part 2 – guest blog by Harold Macy

Whatever the occa­sion, going to town requires thought as to dress, or could require thought if one was given to care. A quick run to the feed store or Central Builders is pretty straight­for­ward. But for such an event as a book launch, espe­cially if it is one’s own book launch, may call for a bit addi­tional consideration.

If it is a high-brow lit­er­ary event, would I wear the tried and true tweed jacket with suede elbow patches, pos­sibly over a sweater vest?—how time­less is that combo? Or is it so dated to be pathetic. Or per­haps I could try the po-mo look—lots of black, maybe even a fake pier­cing and a temp ‘tat.’

My cri­teria are not driven by the whims and caprice of the Style Section of the Globe and Mailwhich we buy each Saturday, but rather by neces­sity. Something that doesn’t show dog hair is high on the list. There is enough black hair in the seat crevices and cranny’s of my truck to knit a new hound. Something that relates to the weather, usu­ally water­proof, rein­forces the gum­boot archetype.

Harold Macy is the author of The Four Storey Forest, As Grow the Trees, So too the Heart

But really, I don’t care. I take les­sons from my Grandpa. His long legs were per­petu­ally clad in blue denim over­alls. Annually, upon Grandma’s urging, he bought a new pair, stiff as boards, which he ini­tially saved for church. After a few months, they became his town and house pair. Eventually they were worn in the shop, on the tract­ors and in the calv­ing barn doing the chores he loved. After a year or so on this duty, they were fit only for wipe rags. Grandma made quilt squares from any sec­tion that was not thread­bare, grease stained or soiled by the wet but messy mir­acles of anim­als, but there were only few.

But it is not your clothes that are noticed at a book launch. It’s your fin­ger­nails.

I gave a talk recently and was set­ting up to sell and sign books to the good folks in line, money in hand. I glanced down at my hands and saw the half-moon of cargo delin­eat­ing each and every nail. Not only that but there was a stub­born smear of chain­saw oil giv­ing the edge of my hand a del­ic­ate blush of purple, not unlike a fresh bruise. Various scratches. Enough grit in my fin­ger­tips to make cop prints and a dust­ing of Merville Silt, appar­ently a par­tic­u­lar nox­ious ele­ment accord­ing to the Sears Carpet Cleaning Technician who does our rugs once a year.

So, as the first pink-fingered, smooth-handed lady passed me my book to sign, I almost felt the urge to make some glot­tal grunt to match what really mattered, my hands there on the page. Now her page. Soiled. She glanced down at the vir­ginal page, at my stub­born grime and made a small silent “Oh” with her mouth. I felt her gaze, looked up, and gave a wan smile.

Don’t worry about the clothes, check your fin­ger­nails first.

Paula’s note: Harold originally sent the above in as a comment to Preparing to Launch, a guest blog by Susan Ketchen. It’s so well written – and funny – that I decided to run it as Preparing to Lauch Part 2.

The subject of clothes, fingernails and potentially embarrassing moments that happen to authors at book signings seems to have struck a chord for many writers. Check back in a couple of weeks for Preparing to Launch Part 3 & 4.