Traditional "Roses are red / Violets are blue" poetry has undergone a transformative shift. While the Canadian poetry scene respects the time-honoured stylistic conventions of the past, it also embraces the use of inventive styles. This evolution is welcoming of other disciplines—some quite unexpected. I therefore would like to share my poetic practices in terms of how I weave these intersections into my craft and how these connections have contributed to global causes—a poet’s superpower!
Poetry does not have to be married to poetry. It can partner with different fields without being gimmicky. Rather, this encourages a broader audience by attracting people who don't usually read poetry but appreciate the commonalities associated with various disciplines such as music, science, math, and medicine.
Two points should be emphasized here: First, I'm not just referring to poems about these subjects but additionally to poems that are physically transformed into the essence of these domains. Second, while I have composed ekphrastic poetry (i.e., poetry describing works of art such as sculptures, paintings, etc.), which is intersectional in its own right, I nevertheless would like to focus here on visual/concrete poems.
Poetry need not be associated with the written word in stanza form alone. There is poetry in music, and I am not referring to song lyrics. For instance, I wrote my poem, “Cool Jazz”(1), onto music staves with treble and bass clefs in order to resemble a page of sheet music. Meaningful to me as a pianist, my hope was to have this piece resonate with other musicians. If you'll excuse the pun, it did strike a chord and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize by The Worcester Review.
I've written many science poems which are a blend of traditional and non-traditional forms. An illustrative example is “Balanced + Well Well → Balanced”(2) which is comprised of a series of two-column, two-line stanzas. Each stanza consists of chemical equations along with their corresponding rhymed transliterations, transforming science into poetry and vice versa:
Of course, sometimes an infusion of humour can draw people toward science as in my poem, “Witches' Brew”(3): “Incantations cackled over a roiling cauldron / stirred by warty hands – / the bubbling brew not so sinister a potion / as the three black and midnight hags(4) intended”. This tongue-in-cheek poem uses science to disprove the ill effects of the ingredients added to the witches’ cauldron in Macbeth.
Math is another area where poetry has the potential to attract people who might be intimidated by it. For “The Fickle Nature of the Parabola”(5), I wrote my poem in the shape of two parabolas graphed onto a Cartesian plane. Although the poem was traditional in the sense that it rhymed, its format and content were explanatory, teaching a lesson in algebra and geometry.
The intersection of poetry and psychology is profound. Two of my poems that immediately come to mind are “Ghosts”(6) and “Ransom Note”(7). The former, an exercise in negative space art, is written in a square shape wrapped around the image of a ghost at its centre. “Ghosts” deals with the memories of people who have passed on and muses, “Like them, we too will become shadows – / our unfamiliar images haunting / the yellowed photos / of someone else's dust- covered album.”
“Ransom Note” is composed of coloured letters cut out of magazines and pasted onto a poetic kidnap note sent by Depression. It alerts people that their mental state can literally hold them hostage. Perhaps psychologists might consider using this type of poetry to supplement counselling.
Writing and translating poetry in six languages provides me with multiple opportunities for poetic intersections. It affords access to a larger readership as well. While I generally write a poem in one language at a time, I prefer to be more linguistically playful. For instance, I enjoy writing poems with alternating non-English, calligraphic-type alphabets which require a line to be read from left to right and then the next line from right to left. Another technique I like to employ is side-by-side translation formatted into columns, each in a different language, as in my poem, “Incertidumbre / Uncertainty / Incertitude”(8).
Poetry is a means of remembering past atrocities. Philosopher George Santayana's saying, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” epitomizes the intersection of poetry and history. Accordingly, two of my long poems deal with the history of social injustices never to be forgotten. “Misogyny at Its Best”(9) examines the brutal treatment of women spanning the years from the Spanish Inquisition to the Salem witch trials: “I implore ye, good sirs! I am innocent! / Do not thus seal my fate! / Ye know me not! By what leave / possess ye so much hate?” “The Devil”(10) chronicles the Holocaust and the valiant struggles of its victims: “yet smoke still belched from crematoria / with tell-tale acrid smell, / unable to camouflage the flames / of those who burned in hell.”
One of the most important poetic intersections, though, is the convergence of poetry and advocacy. I would encourage writers to support charitable causes with their craft whenever possible. Not only can they contribute their work to peace exhibits, but they can seek out socially conscious publishers. Instead of providing payment in the form of cash or complimentary contributor copies, these publishers earmark payments to be directed to various charities.
Why not proudly represent Canada via these humanitarian poetic intersections? The opportunities are plentiful. In fact, my poetry has helped support global causes such as medical aid, animal welfare, scientific research, literacy, and child advocacy.
Although poetry is considered a solitary art, it does not have to be so. A poet's reach extends far beyond the pen or computer. The possibilities of poetic convergences both for the entertainment and betterment of societies around the world are many. Perhaps these intersections are somewhat unexpected, but therein lies their appeal.
1 Shards of Crystal (book by Fern G. Z. Carr), Silver Bow Publishing – New Westminster BC,
Canada; The Worcester Review – Worcester MA, USA; The Art of Music – Del Mar CA, USA
2 mgversion2 – Le Reposoir, Haute-Savoie, France
3 White Wall Review – Toronto ON, Canada
4 Macbeth (4.1)
5 Windsor Review – Windsor ON, Canada
6 Montana Mouthful – Helena MT, USA
7 The London Reader – London, England
8 Triadae Magazine – Madrid, Spain; and Toulouse, France
9 Legal Studies Forum – Morgantown WV, USA
10 Poetry Super Highway – Los Angeles CA, USA
Fern G. Z. Carr is a lawyer, teacher, and poet. She composes poetry in six languages, including Mandarin, and has been published extensively worldwide. One of her poems is orbiting the planet Mars on NASA's MAVEN spacecraft. Her book, Shards of Crystal (Silver Bow Publishing 2018), is available on Amazon. Find Fern at ferngzcarr.com.
At a recent edition of Interior Dialogues, our workshop participants were asked to contribute a line to a group poem. This poem was edited by Al Rempel, our workshop presenter, and we are excited to share that work with you here.
Under a soft white sky, always here
It happens inside yourself
Up the hill and beside the big old western cedar
Bare feet on bare ground, lungs drawing breath
Here I reveal my underbelly and my plume with reckless abandon
Face East at sunrise where the swelling sky speaks of love
Not the center – the four winds remind us
Stroll on by the dog park
Segregate, two metres
Enough to swing a long-handled broom
Through a cloud of smoke and story churning
Around the ugly coffee table, you know the one
Peeling around the edges
You will see our hearts hanging on the front door
Home is a lighthouse welcoming the way
You’ll soon be safe, breathe in again, if you just follow the blue line
Across the sea in a yellow prow, round the boardwalk and up the stairs
We're looking for structure, seeking the word
The needle on my rusty compass seized at due North
Gazing at those gathered at the graveyard.
Or park a coffin
Westward, and moonward, and inward I go
Home is where my soul lives
Terra firms all the way from the ocean
Where the Whoodle waits in the window, wagging
“It is the star to every wandering bark”
staysit wait comehere wait stayput wait donothing wait
Five steps out of bed
As the anxiety bursts in my heart
It knows the place to soar to heal
Fly to the highest mountain you see, then land just north of that.
Travel north below the rainbow
Towards the squared-off blocky high-rise
Stop at the valley filled with writers, artists, mountains and sea.
Dive deep down your windpipe and onto your breath
Look for the sun showers
Nowhere to go after a walk but home
Back to the place of my youth - a place of longing
In the driveway go around the circle and there you are
You need a plan where you never lose sight
The horizon as it should be
“Called home” they used to say. What home?
Curve of the Kalum carving the beach
Voice of the north on the wind
Trust that your feet can follow your heart.
You won't go back the way you came
You'll have to go the unfamiliar route
Follow the smell of fir candle
The tide of your breath flows over me
Resonance, whatever it is -- hold it close and it will lead you home
You must climb a mountain in NSW, Australia
Yellow paper stars in the window
This thin coffee-stained paper slip is home
From the second annual Interior Dialogues.
For more sessions of Interior Dialogues, check out our Events page.
As I am writing this article, it is the middle of winter. Dark days. Snow storms. COVID surges. How am I feeling? Not very motivated. Definitely not creative.
Many people have struggled with creativity during the pandemic. As a non-writer myself, I can only imagine the struggle that many writers have gone through during this time.
As a therapist, I am always curious about practical strategies to implement in the face of struggle and pain. I will review some strategies below, but first some neuroscience about what might be going on if you are struggling with creativity right now.
When faced with a threat (particularly something that might threaten your health) your nervous system goes into fight-flight-freeze mode. Your brain is solely focused on surviving this threat.
Unfortunately, you cannot physically fight COVID (unlike fighting back if a bear attacked you), and you cannot run away from COVID, either (as the virus has reached all corners of the globe). So, your nervous system essentially gives up. You play dead. Feel numb or dissociate. This is freeze mode, which is really a last resort. The other two strategies didn’t work, so you freeze.
In freeze mode, other bodily functions like digestion temporarily slow down. Your body is focused on survival in the moment, and digesting your breakfast from two hours ago really isn’t the priority right now. Higher cognitive tasks like executive functioning and creativity can also be compromised during fight-flight-freeze. These, again, are not crucial for your immediate survival, so they take a back seat.
The opposite of fight-flight-freeze is called rest and digest. In this response, your body can relax and return to a more regulated state. This is when you can sleep deeply and feel at peace. The trouble with COVID is that this has been a chronic issue—and, for many of us, we are stuck in freeze mode which results in chronic stress.
First, we need to acknowledge the collective trauma and stress that we are going through as a society. The pressure to produce and be creative can be crushing, and so we need to respond to this as if it is a crisis situation (because it is!). If you are looking for permission to slow down, here it is. You are allowed to pause and take a break.
It is okay to step away or reduce the number of projects you take on (if you are able to). It does not make you a failure or mean that you are no longer a writer or an artist. It means that a change has happened in your life, and you are taking steps to adjust and adapt. Just as we might enjoy snow sports in the winter and sunny hikes in the summer, some people find that their creativity comes and goes throughout the year. This is normal!
Now, shifting into some strategies. What I see in my therapy practice is that one of the most healing practices is being able to identify your emotional needs and to take the steps to meet those needs. So, if your mind or body are screaming “I need a break!” your job is to listen and meet these needs if possible. This can help us get back into rest and digest.
When you are ready to come back (or if you feel a break is not needed) here are a few tips to jump start your creativity:
Research by Henriksen et al. (2020) supports the use of mindfulness as a way to enhance creativity. This also serves a dual purpose—mindfulness practices can help you get back into a rest and digest response by bringing your mind into the present moment and encouraging psychological safety. New to mindfulness? Try watching a video of a body scan or doing a mindfulness of the breath meditation as a starting place.
During pandemic times, our exposure to new sensory stimuli has been greatly reduced due to spending more time at home. Further, if your mood is low, everything can feel grey and boring. The research by Henriksen et al. (2020) suggests that intentional mind wandering can assist the creative process.
One of the best methods I have discovered for mind wandering is to start with a new sensory stimulus. Trying a new food, going to a new park or coffee shop, cuddling up with a new fluffy blanket, listening to a new musician, or savouring a new delicious aroma can be that spark you need to access your sense of wonder and let your mind follow new paths of intentional wandering.
Creativity opens you up to critique, and you can be your own worst enemy. Your inner critic makes you doubt the work you are doing and is quick to find flaws. Humans have an inherent negativity bias (look it up—it is a thing!) and so your inner critic is not going away anytime soon.
However, you can develop a relationship with your inner critic and ask them to take a step back: “I see you and hear your voice loud and clear; would you mind taking a step back for a moment?”
You may need to continue this process again and again, but it can be much easier accessing vulnerable emotions and ideas when you feel safe and free from harsh judgement. Journalling can also help in discovering where the inner critic comes from, what its agenda might be, and what the inner critic needs from you (hint—it is often a projection of earlier hurt that needs love and nourishment from an adult version of yourself).
Henriksen, D., Richardson, C., & Shack, K. (2020). Mindfulness and creativity: Implications for thinking and learning. Thinking Skills and Creativity, 37, 100689. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tsc.2020.100689
Join Victor for a Workshop on Overcoming Perfectionism and Imposter Syndrome on Sunday February 27th.
Register Here: FBCW - Feb 27: Sunday Webinar: Coping with Perfectionism and Imposter Syndrome - Tips from a Therapist (bcwriters.ca)
Victor Wakarchuk, RCC, MSW, RSW, is a therapist in private practice specializing in working with queer men. Learn more at www.centreforgaycounselling.com.
Finding a critique group is standard advice for writers who wish to improve their craft, but the benefits of a writing community go far beyond the words on the page. The right community can give you hope, support your goals, and sympathize with your challenges. For both your writing and your wellness, it’s worth taking the time to find and connect with fellow writers.
Community “makes you feel like you are a part of something greater than yourself,” says Crystal Hunt, who co-founded the Creative Academy for Writers, an online writing community, with Donna Barker and Eileen Cook four years ago. “There’s a lot of research […] around feeling like you are part of something and contributing to something that really does have positive mental health impacts.”
Hunt, who holds a master’s degree in health psychology with a specialization in social support, further explains that community can offer not only practical advice, but also emotional support: “You can come to the community and you can say, ‘Okay, I just got my heart stomped on by my fifth rejection letter on this one piece,’[…] and you’re talking to people who understand what that feels like.”
Betsy Warland, a writer, manuscript consultant, and teacher, also mentions the importance of finding support from other writers, saying that “most people don’t understand the writing life.” She has built many communities throughout her career, including the Writer’s Studio at Simon Fraser University and the Vancouver Manuscript Intensive. Building community takes time, she says, and “we have to learn how to recognize each other.”
Because writing is an intensely solitary vocation riddled with rejection, it’s no wonder many writers feel isolated and inadequate. “As writers, I think sometimes we really struggle with issues of our self-worth and what our labour is worth,” says Natasha Deen, one of the mentors for this year’s BIPOC Writers Connect, a mentorship event organized by the Writers’ Union of Canada and the League of Canadian Poets. She acknowledges that this struggle can take on additional dimensions for marginalized folks. “How we exist in the world as women, how we exist in a world as part of the queer community, if we are Black, if we’re Indigenous—the world does not turn the same for us.”
And the risks of going without community? “You quit,” says Deen. “The reality of writing versus the romance of writing is so huge. […] If you’re not engaging a community, you may not necessarily have a very realistic view of what publishing is and you may not have a very realistic view of what it means to be a writer.”
Hunt agrees that newer writers might feel like they have to learn everything on their own. Without a community, she says, “your risk of getting stuck, or of getting incorrect or incomplete information, at any stage in the process is very high.” That can be not only demoralizing, but expensive, too. Inexperienced authors might get caught in exploitative contracts, not knowing how to value themselves or where to go for guidance.
Knowing the importance of community is one thing, but how do you go about finding the right one for you? Warland advises that it’s a long game—and it starts with self-reflection. “Learning to figure out what makes community within yourself as a writer is really crucial to writing,” she says. For her, this includes things like how she takes care of herself as a writer, her writing environment, the writers she reads, and language and narrative itself.
Deen agrees. “You have to know who you are as a human being in the world before you start building your community, or else what you’re going to end up doing is going out into communities where you don’t quite fit, and then it’s not going to be what you deserve, [and] it’s not going to be what they deserve.”
Your values, goals, dreams, and personal history can all factor into what type of community is right for you. Other aspects to consider are what sort of relationships you want to build, how much time you have, what you can be flexible about, and where you set your boundaries.
The aim, according to Hunt, is “finding somewhere where […] you have to edit as little as possible of who you are in order to participate.” In fact, you should feel welcome even when you’re not at your best. It’s all too easy to get caught up in the social media illusion that everyone else is wildly successful and never has a bad day.
“Don’t hide if things aren’t going well,” says Hunt. “If we all show up when things are not rosy and perfect, it means that any of us feels like we can show up anytime.”
The benefits of community are deep and wide-ranging—but like any relationship, it doesn’t come at the snap of your fingers. “For most writers, you have to put in the time and help make it happen,” says Warland. “It is a balancing act, it’s always changing. […] You always have to be adapting.”
For those seeking community, perhaps one of the most important questions is what you’re willing to bring. “As you’re asking them to bring treasure to you, what is the treasure that you’re going to bring to them?” says Deen.
Engaging with a community today can have effects long into the future. What you give, you will get back. Find your people—and treasure them.
Take a writing class, attend a conference, or go on a retreat. Sometimes the best takeaways from writing events are your fellow attendees. Pay attention to whose work resonates with you and connect with them.
Follow publications you love. Subscribe to their newsletters and follow them on social media. Attend and promote their events. You may soon recognize others who share your artistic sensibilities.
Go local. Search within your community and region for writing groups. Libraries and educational institutions are great places to look.
Go global. Especially given the pandemic, many writing groups have moved online—this can be a great option for introverts who are less comfortable meeting people in person.
Just say hi. Read something you adored? Attended a thought-provoking panel you enjoyed? Reach out to the people involved to thank them. A polite, complimentary note will rarely go amiss, and it could be the beginning of a connection.
Build your own. If you’re not seeing a place for yourself, find a few like-minded writers and build something new.
Cadence Mandybura is a writer and editor based in Victoria. Her fiction has been published in Pulp Literature, FreeFall, NōD, Fudoki, and the Bacopa Literary Review. When she isn’t writing, Cadence enjoys martial arts and Japanese taiko drumming. Learn more at cadencemandybura.com.
When my son was born, I experienced a traumatic childbirth during which I almost died. A lengthy struggle with postpartum depression followed. For nearly a decade, I couldn’t talk about “it” or the first year of my son’s life. Then I came across a birth-story contest by the Doula Support Foundation on the Federation of BC Writers Facebook page.
I hadn’t written in many years but had always hoped to get back to it. It was a dream of mine that I had roundhouse kicked aside out of a lack of time and an abundance of insecurity.
Initially, I had only intended to write about my daughter’s simpler, safer birth. But after I’d written her story, I knew I needed to write my son’s. I hadn’t planned on submitting it, as I didn’t think that the Doula Support Foundation would be interested in sharing what could go horribly wrong in the delivery room.
Starting with research, I ordered my hospital records. My memories were in and out—as my consciousness had been. The documents confirmed everything I remembered, had been told, and more. I’d had no clue that my son’s life had been at risk too. I cried for days. Different tears than in the past. These were tears of acceptance. Out of those records and grief came strength.
I wrote and wrote and wrote. Inspired by a contest with a two-thousand-word limit, I wrote an entry three times as long. Whereas I’d submitted my daughter’s story comfortably, I agonized over my son’s—every single word. I flip-flopped right up until twenty minutes before the deadline, and in one bold and terrifying moment, I hit Send.
Several weeks later, when I learned that I’d gotten an honourable mention for my birth story, wet joy gushed off my face as I ran to tell my husband. I assumed it was for my daughter’s story. As I read the mention out loud to him, I discovered that it was for my son’s instead. I cried again—validated. Maybe I was good enough to pursue my passion.
In a short-lived burst of confidence, I agreed to read my story when they asked. Days before the event, I realized I just couldn’t do it. While practising, I cracked and lost my voice after just three paragraphs. Rather than remove me from the line-up of readers, one of the women at the foundation offered to read it for me.
During the event, I turned my camera off, listened, and appreciated it more than I could say. She doesn’t know how many times I have rewatched her carefully and kindly honour my heartache with such exactness. Each time it is easier to watch.
This process has been healing and motivational. Since then, I have won mentions or prizes in two more contests and regularly write and enter them. I tend to submit lighter material now, for the most part. This experience also inspired a career change that allows me more time to write. I am working on my first novel and have written several other “therapeutic” pieces that are just for me and will never see the light of day.
Write your stories and enter those contests; you never know what the outcome may be.
Angela Douglas loves to write creative non-fiction, especially travel stories. When she isn’t working or chasing her children, she is ripping her hair out at her desk as she tries to edit her first novel. Find Angela at angeladouglas.ca or @anglynndouglas on social media.
You’ve nurtured your book and it’s about to be published. Congratulations! But the hard push isn’t over. Now is the time to roll up your sleeves and create a strategic marketing plan. There are countless ways to promote your book but only so much time, money and effort. After all, you want to carve out time for writing for your next book. The following initiatives form a strategic plan to help you reach out to, engage, and retain readers, not only for your current book but also for those you publish in the future.
Your author website is home base for you and your book. Everything you do should link back to your website so fans can buy your book, whether you direct them there from a newsletter, poster, bookmark, reading event, blog, social media, radio interview, video, or any other interaction, either online or in-person.
One benefit is that you have complete control over your site, unlike social media platforms which can change the algorithms and rules of engagement or shut down without warning. A simple and clean site is all you need. Include a Book Page, Author Bio, Book Store, Speaking Page, Blog, Social Links and Email Newsletter sign-up.
“It took me about six weeks (in my spare time) to build my author website using Wordpress and I have reasonable technical skills,” says Wood Barrett. However there are other free, simpler website builders out there, among them Wix, Weebly and Webnode. Alternatively, you can hire a web designer to create a basic site if you are not comfortable technically—and have the money.
The number one goal of your website is to get visitors/fans to sign up for your email newsletter. It’s how you stay in touch with your readers so they know about your latest book, book news, or speaking events. Unlike social media posts, which rapidly disappear in aging feeds, an email sits in the receiver’s inbox until they delete it.
However, people are more protective of their emails these days, so you need to offer something they want or find useful, whether it is: a monthly book giveaway; special discounts; upcoming reading events; how-to content; writing or publishing industry tips; info on your field of expertise; free content such as downloadable e-stories or e-books; or your latest news, blog post, or podcast.
Rather than take a scattershot approach by using all the platforms at once (i.e., Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, LinkedIn), focus on the platforms where you actually enjoy engaging with others. Social media is the ideal place to interact with other writers and industry professionals in your genre and to connect with fans. Don’t use social solely as a bullhorn about your book, though; engage with others about their posts and share useful, informed or entertaining content of your own.
You can also use your social platforms to invite people to your website (which prominently features your book) to engage with your content (such as blogs, podcasts, and videos) and to subscribe to your email newsletter. A blog can feature content that allows people to see who you are, what you’re thinking, and why. It’s the way people get to know you, your work, and your expertise. A blog can also draw subscribers to your newsletter by offering helpful industry info, craft writing tips, or knowledge about your area of expertise.
Book trailers, similar to movie trailers, give readers a concise idea of your book, opening the door to their curiosity. Also, people love to watch and share videos on social. In the case of Stella Harvey’s novels, her publisher, Signature Editions, produced the book trailers for each of her books.
“I was involved in the direction, content and editing process. My trailers are part of my email signature and I often use them as a way to introduce a reading. They are my calling card, my introduction,” says Harvey.
But not all publishers produce trailers. For example, Wood Barrett created her own Author Tour & Trailer for her children’s novel, My Best Friend is Extinct, with her iPhone. It was filmed by her teenage son and edited on FinalCut Pro. If you don’t have basic editing software, even a short, simple video of you telling the audience about your book and the inspiration for your work will give readers a window into your process and story.
Harvey has vivid memories of every book club she’s visited. “From one man telling me he found one section depressing in my novel, Finding Callidora (yes, war is depressing), to a woman lambasting me for what I did to one of my characters (as if I have any control over my characters) in The Brink of Freedom, to another woman gushing how my descriptions reminded her of her time in Greece in my novel, Nicolai’s Daughters,” says Harvey. “Whether a reader’s impressions are positive or negative, it really doesn’t matter to me. Of course I’d rather all opinions about my books be positive, but what I really enjoy is the discussion, the fact that readers cared enough to invite me to their book club.”
For a time, because we were required to maintain a safe physical distance, gatherings like book clubs ceased. So, what did we do instead?
In mid June, Harvey was fortunate enough to receive a grant from the BC Arts Council’s Microgrant pilot program to produce a video discussing her novel, Finding Callidora. The grant was made possible by a generous donation from the Yosef Wosk Family Foundation. (A side note about grants: do your research when applying and remember to match your ask with the grant requirements. This doesn’t guarantee you’ll secure the grant but you’ll be that much closer.)
Harvey recorded the book club interview using Zoom with the help of Wood Barrett. “It was another inexpensive way to promote my book, and you can get Zoom recording capabilities with a $20 subscription for one month. Here is the video I produced with Rebecca for Finding Callidora.”
These are a few interconnected strategies to get the word out about your book and build a community of readers and fans for the long run. Now, it’s your turn to go out and shine! Build an author website and home base for your books, reach out and connect through social media, and keep fans returning because they want to read, watch, or listen to your content. Figure out what works best for you, change it up if something’s not working, and get your stories out to those who have been waiting to read your words.
Rebecca Wood Barett is the author of the middle-grade novel, My Best Friend is Extinct.
Stella Harvey is the author of three novels, her most recent being Finding Callidora.
This past quarter, I’ve gotten several questions regarding authorship. The questions in this first group can be boiled down to the following: How many authors can one book have? And can royalties be paid to more than one person?
This type of question is something that comes from authors who want to self-publish their book. (Traditional publishers handle royalty payments themselves—the authors are not involved.) Often, the example given is of an anthology type of work—a publication where several authors have contributed. There are many examples of this. Just think of the Chicken Soup for the Soul publications: one book and many contributors or authors. Additionally, it is quite common for authors to contribute to a “box set,” or bundle of books. Many writing groups create multi-author anthologies as well. In fact, the Federation of BC Writers is looking forward to publishing an anthology of its annual literary contest winners this fall. These examples let you know that one book can have many stated authors.
Let’s move on to the idea of being paid. This subject is treated differently by various retailers and distributors. Amazon and IngramSpark allow royalties to be paid to only one person whom they consider the “publisher” of the book. Draft2Digital and PublishDrive have mechanisms for multiple authors to be paid independently. Each author will have to provide tax and banking information so that payments can be transferred directly to them, and tax documents must be produced.
The second subject that we are going to address in this issue is that of reviews. Whether we use the term literary review, reader review, or social proof—a marketing term for the trust we place in mimicked behaviour, such as reviewing—there is a lot of misinformation swirling around about this subject.
If we go back quite a few years, publishers often sought out “blurbs” for books before they were published. This activity ranged from full-on literary reviews from noted experts or well-known authors to short, snappy sentences of praise. I'm sure you’ve seen examples of these displayed on the front covers of books. “A delightful romp through Regency ballrooms” is on the cover of my latest read. I'm sure you can spot something similar on the paperback covers in your collection.
This seeking of reviews or blurbs still exists but has expanded in format. Publishers and authors still seek out what I would call “literary reviews.” An example for fiction would be a review from The New York Times. An example for non-fiction might be a leading subject matter expert reviewing a book for a niche publication. These reviews are still sought out. With the millions of books published each year, the ability to score this type of review is becoming more and more difficult, according to many sources.
Authors and publishers may turn to writing contests with the hope of winning a prestigious award. There are a ton of contests available. As you would suspect they run the gamut of professionalism and validity. Most have an entry fee, and most will offer you a shiny sticker to put on the cover of your book if you win. Many come with some sort of review or critique.
Reader reviews are often seen as a great starting point for beginner authors. It seems that we are all encouraged to share our thoughts about anything we purchase these days—books are no different. Whether the reader’s review is posted to a site like Amazon or Barnes & Noble or to a blog, there is a reason for them all. In a future issue we’ll talk more about the subject of reader reviews and the rules that must be followed. We will also talk about the power these types of reviews can have.
To end this column, think about what you do when you finish a really good book. I suspect you want to share that book with a friend. I know I do! There is no greater feeling than someone telling you they loved the book you recommended to them. Readers will seek out a trusted source when making buying decisions. A reader may also choose to only trust books featured on major publications, or they may read their way through books featured by BC and Yukon Book Prizes or something similar. They may pay attention to Amazon reviews or they may have a favorite blogger they trust. See what varieties of social proof you can collect for your book.
Barb Drozdowich is the FBCW's resident expert on publishing, promotion, and technology for authors. Do you have a question for Barb? Email firstname.lastname@example.org, and your question could be featured in a future Ask Barb column.
By Ruth DyckFehderau
Invariably, for me, memorable stories have one thing in common: believable, well-developed characters. In fact, I’d say a good story is driven NOT by plot at all, but by a character managing obstacles. “Plot,” Stephen King says, in On Writing, “is…the good writer’s last resort and the dullard’s first choice. The story which results from it is apt to feel artificial and labored.” Or, worse, clichéd, brittle, exhausted, and stereotyped.
If readers are to buy into a character, they need a vivid, utterly convincing, sensory reality. If it’s not specific enough, they won’t buy in. If it’s clichéd, then it’s not specific enough. They need characters complex enough not to be exploited by reductive everyone-in-this-category-is-the-same fantasies, rich enough not to be boring, fleshed out enough that any single event doesn’t define her/him/them. “Nice” is not a detail, and “queer” is not a personality trait.
The best technique I’ve found for creating that believable reality is to really know my characters so that I can anticipate what they would do or say in any situation. I do this, first, by researching real people who have a thing or two in common with the characters. People in the same line of work, perhaps, or people who move in similar social circles, or who’ve lived in the same region at the same time. I look at catalogues or newspapers they may have read or television shows/YouTube videos they might have watched. Increasingly, even for researching historical fiction, such resources are online.
The second thing I do, and which I’ll explain here at greater length, is to create an emotional resumé for each character – an imagined backstory that explains the character’s feelings and mindset and worldview, that drives the choices she/he/they make, that can determine how the character negotiates the obstacles I throw in the path.
On what side of the tracks was her childhood home? How did that affect her? Does she have siblings? What was the family dynamic? What is it now?
What was his first summer job? What were his high school grades in chemistry? In music?
Do their dialogue and diction reflect their hometown? Their reading habits? Their education? Do their gestures and body language reveal their mindset? Or is there something of a disconnect or façade? If so, why?
Is she articulate? Or does she fumble her words?
Does he have an iPhone? If so, what colour? How old is it?
Are they near-sighted? Does their voice take a nasal tone? If so, do they know?
Is she handy with a spade or an axe? Where did she pick up the skill?
Has he ever lied on a resumé? About what?
What does he read/watch? And in what format?
What do they prefer to wear? How often do they wear hats, and what kind? How do they feel about socks and sandals? About unpolished shoes? About stilettos?
What kind of car does she want? What kind of car does she drive? How does she feel about standard transmissions? How does she drive? Where on the steering wheel does she place her hands?
Manwich or croissant? Steak or tofu? Deep-fried or broiled? Beer or prosecco? Food allergies? To what? How do they feel about the Carolina Reaper? Or the much-milder Scotch bonnet? About tartare? About flavoured liqueurs?
What/who does he really need to control? Or not need to control? What happens when he loses control of something important to him? Does he have vestigial anxieties from formative events in which he was powerless? What does his anxiety look like? White knuckles? A super-human calm? Instant body heat? An addiction?
How would they defend, say, an act of theft? Or a cheating partner?
How would they respond to forgetting their wallet? To accidentally emailing the whole listserve? To deadlines? Barking dogs? Snow falling down the collar? Wearing black pants that rip on the day they wear yellow underwear? To Trump being re-elected? To recycling services being shut down? To electricity going down for a week? To missing the last bus?
Does she ignore or stomp in or prance through puddles?
How thoroughly does she clean her flat? Does her demeanour change if someone is watching her clean? Or if they’re angry at her?
Would he use the word “panties”? How does he feel about Bitcoin? Rihanna? Chopin? Board games? Vaccines? Winter camping? The Indian Act? A Black Lives Matter protest? A Pride march? Evangelicalism? The Gaza strip being bombed? About whatever event is in the news right now?
If they lived next door to you, what would piss you off?
What are their short- and long-term goals? What are the goals they won’t admit to having?
What do you see as her strengths/weaknesses? What does she see as her strengths/ weaknesses?
Do his behaviours make sense to you? To him? To whom might they seem irrational?
And then there are all the questions about specific cultural, racial, or religious backgrounds…
Believable characters grapple with power, with their place in the world, even when they think they’re grappling with the condo board or with dandelion roots. Beyond identity, what does your character grapple with? Why, exactly, do the condo board or dandelion roots stir up emotion? A well-crafted story has no good or bad characters, no sassy gay sidekicks or heart-of-gold sex workers. In their own stories, all the characters are protagonists. So who do they think they are?
Obviously, even over the course of a long novel, I’d never use all of this backstory. The point is that, with the answer to each question, I understand a little more about the personality behind the character. And the more I understand, the easier it is to write her/him/them in ways that are credible and compelling.
About the Author
Ruth DyckFehderau writes fiction and nonfiction, and teaches Creative Writing and English Lit at University of Alberta. Her shorter pieces have appeared in literary journals and anthologies, her book The Sweet Bloods of Eeyou Istchee: Stories of Diabetes and the James Bay Cree (2017 CBHSSJB, distrib WLUP), written with James Bay Cree storytellers, is currently being translated into five languages, and I (Athena), a novel, is forthcoming in 2023 (NeWest). Currently, Ruth is working on another commission for the James Bay Cree: Finding Our Way Home: Residential School Recovery Stories of the James Bay Cree (Vol 1 forthcoming 2022, CBHSSJB, distrib WLUP). She has won many literary awards
The Federation’s annual conference for writers is one of the highlights of our year. In 2021, things looked a little different than they have in years past. Due to the pandemic, we were unable to gather in person, so we offered an online event instead: the BC Writers’ Summit. This week of Zoom-based programming encouraged writers to cross genre boundaries, write in new mediums, and engage with new audiences. It was a week of insights and inspiration for attendees and staff alike.
I caught up with a few of our newest staff members post-event and asked them to share their favourite moments from the Summit. Here are their responses:
What was the highlight of the Writers' Summit for you? Did you have a favourite presentation, insight, or moment?
Tara: I loved Nisha Patel's performance!
Amber: I was brought to tears by two readings over the course of the summit. One was from Angie Abdou during Megan Cole's Creative Non-Fiction Panel. The other was by Vicki McLeod during the closing gala. I can't say why each overwhelmed me. Ms. Abdou wrote about a changing marriage and how to weather the moments of scarcity in a long relationship. Ms. McLeod wrote about her grandfather and what it meant when he brought music to a small town. Each touched me profoundly and surprised me in doing so. The highlight of the summit was the connection between the words and my heart that every reading evoked. It's hard to measure how much it means to connect with someone's work during such a disconnected time but it meant so much to me to be able to absorb so many stories in a deep way.
Meaghan: Just one? Oh wow, that's a toughie. Top my list was Cooper Lee Bombardier's presentation about the embodied voice in memoir, which included practical ways to write yourself as narrator onto the page by means of vigorous self-examination and questioning. Can't wait to apply some of these techniques into my next project!
Cristy: I loved everything in which I was able to participate but found the soothing Writing Sprint Serenades really helped me to focus in on my own writing and were wonderfully calming.
The Summit sessions spanned a range of topics and genres. What did you discover that will inform or alter your writing practice?
Tara: I really enjoyed Lorri Neilson Glenn's workshop on lyric writing. Her discussion of the different ways lyric writing can work in a narrative were really helpful as I work on a novel in verse.
Amber: I have never considered myself a writer of creative non-fiction though I've had essays published in a variety of places. My novels have always been what I talk about when I talk about writing. My essays felt indescribable or odd - something I did when I needed to work through something. I didn't really have a category for what I did. Sometimes, I called the work true stories. Other times, I loosely described them as "confessionals". Now, thanks to Megan Cole and the amazing panel, I realize that what I write is aligned with a genre of honest, personal, raw pieces that find truth in the everyday.
Meaghan: As someone who writes primarily in creative non-fiction but is keen to dip my toes into fiction, I was excited to learn about writing between genres and merging different types of writing. Gail Anderson-Dargatz's session, Crossing Genres to Add New Life to Your Craft, was especially informative. In addition to practical lessons, my biggest takeaway was that writing is a broad, expansive medium - and I look forward to applying my creativity, curiosity, and research to my future endeavours, whatever they may be!
Cristy: The Darling Axe 'Setting the Stage - World-Building' session helped me hone in on the layers of world building and will further inform my writing practice as I edit books one and two in my trilogy, and as I set out to write book three.
How will your experience at the Writers' Summit inform your work with the Fed as you go forward?
Tara: It's always helpful to know there are other writers out there working through some of the same questions as I am. Connecting with community at the Summit helps me to feel less alone in the process!
Amber: Starting this position with a jaw-dropping showcase of the talent, depth and diversity of our writing community in BC was inspiring and energizing. My role at the Fed is largely fundraising which can be a bit dry at times but knowing the incredible people and programs for which I am raising money is majorly motivating and extremely exciting.
Meaghan: The Summit was a reminder of the value of community, and the importance of coming together to share knowledge, ideas, and experiences. Departing, I felt motivated. Excited to dive back into my writing life with renewed enthusiasm. Hopefully, my work compiling contest bank listings for FBCW members will continue to spark creativity in the coming months, and keep the momentum rolling.
Cristy: I loved meeting so many people over the course of the Writer's Summit; the energy and positive vibe was contagious! I plan to seek out future events from the Fed and to engage with more writers across BC.
Tara Borin is a poet and writer living in the traditional territory of the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in, Dawson City, Yukon. They are the membership associate at the Federation of BC Writers. Tara's debut poetry collection, The Pit, is out now with Nightwood Editions. You can find Tara online at taraborinwrites.com and @tara_borin on Twitter.
Amber Cowie is a novelist living in a small town on the west coast of British Columbia. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Salon, The Globe and Mail, Crime Reads, and Scary Mommy and has been endorsed by numerous bestsellers including Samantha M. Bailey, Shannon Kirk, Kerry Lonsdale, Catherine McKenzie, Robyn Harding, and Blake Crouch. Her first novel, Rapid Falls, was a Whistler Book Awards nominee, hit number one overall on Amazon, and was a top-100 bestselling Kindle book of 2018. Her next book, Last One Alive, will be released by Simon and Schuster Canada in the summer of 2022. Her work can be found at ambercowie.com. Amber is also a devoted (if slightly distracted) mother to two awesome kids and a partner to the amazing head brewer of Andina Brewing in East Van. She enjoys skiing, running and securing funding for awesome organizations like the Federation of BC Writers.
Meaghan Hackinen is a west coast writer, ultra-endurance cyclist, and contest bank compiler for the FBCW. Meaghan's two-wheeled adventures have taken her from Haida Gwaii to Mexico’s high plateaus, across Canada and the United States, and from North Cape to Tarifa along Europe’s highest paved roads. Her debut travel memoir, South Away: The Pacific Coast on Two Wheels (NeWest Press, 2019) was shortlisted for two Canadian book awards. Find Meaghan at meaghanhackinen.com.
Cristy Watson has eight published novels for MG and YA readers. She loves entering writing contests and was pleasantly surprised to receive Editor’s Choice in the CV2, 2-Day Poem Contest in 2013, where contestants have 48 hours to write a poem using ten selected words. She also regularly participates in the Poetry Marathon in June, preferring the half-marathon where she writes twelve poems to twelve prompts in twelve hours. She is currently the Committee Chair for a secret, but very exciting, project that will be announced in the coming days. You can find Cristy here: cristywatsonauthor.wordpress.com and facebook.com/watsoncristy.
Jessica Cole is the Managing Editor of WordWorks Magazine.
The Federation of BC Writers is excited to announce the expansion of our WordWorks Magazine into the digital realms. We are still producing our magazine as normal, but wanted to offer more opportunities for members to learn and more opportunities for members to be published.
Check back over the coming weeks as our first articles land here.
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