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 www​.yvon​nemax​imchuk​.com.




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 www​.aman​da​hale​.com.




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