2012 Archives

Seven Treasures, part 19: guest post by Natalie Shahinian

Artist and writer NATALIE SHAHINIAN is happiest in her pyjamas, snacking on peanut butter licked from the end of a spoon. When the spread is on sale, Natalie stocks up, solely in the event of an emergency. She has been quoted as saying, “I don’t want to imagine a world without peanut butter. That would be an awful way to live.”

(Read about Seven Treasures and find links to more guest posts here.)


1. Marbles

It may have been her parents’ farm, but it was B’s kingdom. An only child, B was audacious among adults, and immune to any punishment if she was caught. With acres of farmed fields stretching some distance, it was impossible to know all of B’s offences.

She putted large, spongy soccer balls of overgrown cucumbers at cars in the full parking lot. She terrorized the Italians, stealing mature blossoms from the zucchini patch. She pulled open a curtain of tall rushes and shot out on her dirt bike, delighted with the panic she stirred up among customers.

Through an unspoken agreement only parents understand, it was decided I was to befriend B and set a good example. I was stumped, for a while. Then I prepared for my next visit.

That day, when B saw the purple whisky pouch rattling in my hands, she bolted for the farm’s ready-picked shop, returning with an identical bag that rattled like mine. All that visit we traded Oilies and Pearls, lost in a tilled kingdom of our own. Until the big marble in the sky began to swirl orange, pinks, and gold upon our faces. Goodbye, goodbye.

2. Pencil Crayons

It happened the year my sister returned home from studying abroad. I came up to her knees. She came up to my soul.

You have to be careful with these. They’re special. Not like any of the ones you’ve used before. Her hands were holding something inside her unzipped suitcase. I stood up.

She took out the tin tray of pencil crayons, Caran d’Arche. The lid was so ornate and beautiful; I couldn’t believe the real gift was what was inside.

Colours arranged in perfect pointed tips. Just the sight inspired me, and still does.

3. Metropolitan Button

If I faced west on the entrance steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I could see the Front Desk in the Great Hall where I spent most of my internship. If I faced east, I could see Fifth Avenue, the M1 bus, doubles of dog breeds on long leather leashes, and a heap of apartment buildings. I could see the museum I kept rediscovering that is New York City.

During my first week of orientation, I picked up tips rarely circulated beyond the Museum doors. The green salad at the Restaurant is a hit or miss. The elevator outside of Arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas is usually empty. The best fashion to be seen, outside of the Fashion and Costume Institute, is at the Roof Garden Café on a Friday, after five o’clock.

Granted, none of the insight shared qualified me as a native New Yorker. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t let myself identify with city’s inhabitants when a stranger would turn to me and ask for directions, or a tourist would want my opinion about a particular place or restaurant; the closest grocer, the best independent-designer shopping district, the specialty bookstores. The server at the bakery, who started put my order together before I walked through the door.

Deep down however, I knew, I had more in common with the city’s visitors regardless of what I had learned or had been told. It was in the way people not from there looked at everything in the city like it was under a piece of glass. The John Lennon Memorial in Central Park, the pretzel vendor on the street corner, the graffiti in the laneway. For me, the small, especially, would stand out: the sparkling granite of the sidewalk, the misprinted admission button for the Museum. Art was everywhere, not just within the galleries. And, still in love, I couldn’t help but look, and look, and look.

4. Shark Tooth

Lying on its side, the outline of the shark tooth I found while collecting shells at the beach looks like an irregular “D,” her first initial, and I remember.

The sunburn isn’t a big deal, D. Honest. It’s, like, nothing.

D calls my bluff with a palm-full of cold aloe gel on my reddened spine. THWACK! I never had a chance.

I howl, and then nearly choke on my own laughter, and she rolls off the bed in a fit so silly she can’t even glance at me. She’s crumpled on the floor, laughing and holding her tummy. I exaggerate my agony, laughing too now, filling the space around her.

5. Nest

Nothing about the day was remarkable. Not the weather, not the time, not the route. And if it hadn’t been for the fallen nest, lying on the edge of someone’s front lawn, I would have forgotten about my companion since, Mother Nature.

Look how the dry grasses are woven! Isn’t it amazing? A bird did this! With its tiny beak, it made a home. A HOME! With the neckline of my T-shirt, I wiped the tears from my eyes. Behind me, I felt Her smile.

At home, I presented to my mother what she had missed. Multiple sclerosis had put an end to our leisurely walks together. Relying on both of us for support, Mom peered over the nest, absorbing its craftsmanship with wonder. That’s when Mother Nature began to ease her hold, certain I could take the weight of Mom on my own, acknowledging my thankfulness, growing smaller and larger with every whisper. I know . . . I know.

6. Wacky Packages

To spend time with my cousins, I had to take an oath to belong to their exclusive fraternity. Thou shalt watch the cartoons of their choosing. Though shalt learn to pedal fast if thou wantest to ride bike alongside. Thou shalt wrestle and expect to get hurt. Furthermore, thou shalt not cry, nor tattle, nor be a sissy baby if thou shouldest get hurt.

I took the punches, and the plots of destruction, all the way to the convenience store, where the three of us would buy coveted Wacky Packages. It was a fair price to pay for acquiring a pack containing trading cards and stickers spoofing household brands. And with two brothers to trade and laugh with, I rarely had any doubles . . . or doubts about the time spent with them either.

7. Ceramic Mug

At the end of summer, L, your skin would be caramel brown. Your ponytail would be a brighter blonde. (Buttercup!) And you’d be taller. Much taller since the last time I’d seen you, before you left for camp.

What was this place that served peanut butter on hot dogs? Had beds so high you had to climb a ladder to reach them? I pleaded with my parents. Can I go?

Unlike L’s, my camp was in the city, at a local public school. A yellow bus dropped me off in the mornings, and in the afternoons took me back to the ketchup and mustard waiting for me at the kitchen table and the bed I could crawl into on my own. My days, however, were the notes in the margins of a story about to unfold.

I painted. I danced. I wrote stories. I put on a show. I made new friends, broke someone’s heart, and so, for a while, got used to sitting on the bus, alone.

And I knew it was right. All of it. It reached to the brim of my ceramic cup, the one I made in Pottery, and then began to flow over.

It tasted exactly like you looked in August, L.



Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

Wordless Wednesday 16

Every Wednesday, bloggers around the world share a photo they’ve taken that tells a story without words. Here’s mine.

If it brings to mind a memory and/or inspires you to do some writing, I hope you’ll leave a comment below.


View more of my photos here.

And visit my Wordless friends Carin Makuz (Matilda Magtree), Cheryl Andrews, and Kristen den Hartog (Blog of Green Gables).


Recent Posts on Writing

“Memories can slink, wraiths from the mist” by Chris Hazelgrove

Don’t Be Shy! Self-Promotion Tips for Writers by Susan Siddeley

The Stories We Tell by Blanche Howard

Guest posts by Suzanne Adam and Morgan Holmes in the Seven Treasures series

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

“Memories can slink, wraiths from the mist”: guest post by memoirist Chris Hazelgrove

Chris as a child: cover photo for “Just a Face in a Crowd”

Having been asked to share the story of my writing life, I should start off by explaining (though I know this is not what she had in mind) how I got involved in one of Allyson’s memoir writing courses, for that’s where the inspiration — the confidence — came that was to result in my memoir, Just a Face in a Crowd.

Sorry to say, the only answer I have to the question of how I learned of her course is a brief three words long: I don’t remember. But I’m so glad I had that experience!

So too can the inspiration for a piece of writing often be forgotten. Do I remember that childhood journey to the zoo, or just the subsequent part of the visit when I was stung by a bee and rushed to hospital? Do I remember the joy at three years old of seeing my mother again after thinking I had lost her in the Christmas shopping crowds? Or the sight that followed of her terrified, tearful face as she smacked me for “running away’?

Read the rest of this entry »

Tuesday, November 27th, 2012

Seven Treasures, part 18: guest post by Suzanne Adam

SUZANNE ADAM left her native California for Chile in 1972 to marry her Chilean boyfriend. She explores how this experience has shaped her life in her memoir-in-progress Marrying Santiago. A member of Santiago Writers, she has had narrative essays published in The Christian Science Monitor, California Monthly, and Sasee Magazine.

Tree-hugger, avid memoir reader, nature writer, talker to stray dogs and cats, gardener, CNN news junkie, serious recycler, walker, birdwatcher, lover of storms and laughter, Pilates aficionado, and doting granny, she’s embracing aging and working up the courage to let her hair go grey.

Read the rest of this entry »

Monday, November 26th, 2012

Wordless Wednesday 15

Every Wednesday, bloggers around the world share a photo they’ve taken that tells a story without words. Here’s mine.

If it brings to mind a memory and/or inspires you to do some writing, I hope you’ll let me know in a Comment below.


View more of my photos here.

And visit my Wordless friends Carin Makuz (Matilda Magtree), Cheryl Andrews, and Kristen den Hartog (Blog of Green Gables).


Recent Posts on Writing

Don’t Be Shy! Self-Promotion Tips for Writers

The Stories We Tell

13 Scary Things about Writing Your First Book

And Morgan Holmes’s Seven Treasures, the latest instalment in my memoir series


Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

Don’t Be Shy! Self-Promotion Tips for Writers: guest post by Susan Siddeley


Attending writing presentations and workshops is a major part of my writing life, with the focus, until recently, on editing, character building, dialogue, and plot. But with amazing new printing possibilities and fast-changing distribution patterns so available, the days of the nurturing publisher are disappearing. Getting “out there,” grooming an audience to buy your book, is more and more your responsibility as the author.

Author Farzana Doctor

The auditorium was full for Farzana Doctor’s recent presentation at North York Central Library “Getting Yourself Out There: Self-Promotion for Emerging Writers.” Farzana is the library’s fall 2012 writer-in-residence.

I usually scribble madly in presentations, but in this case she provided skeleton plans to fill in; these corresponded to PowerPoint slides summarizing her suggestions. Topics included the line between self-promotion and being obnoxious, and how to develop a mailing list. She also shared the promotional schedule for her novel Six Metres of Pavement.

Her message was simple. It’s up to you.

You have to start building the platform from which to launch your book long before it is completed. This ensures that when publication day arrives, you are prepared, with a profile, public persona, and product with which to woo the world.

You must use everything available, plus imagination, to endorse yourself, she advised. No one will think you big-headed — that’s a concept from last century. For authors, self-centredness is “in,” and the tools for building your platform are in place: e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, Web and blog pages, and book trailers.

Don’t be shy. Build a following.

She stressed you need to be whimsical. Use photos, fliers, cards, video clips, marshal friends into promo squads, build relationships by volunteering at literary events, join writing organizations (examples in Canada include Professional Writers Association of Canada, The Writers’ Union of Canada, and The Writers’ Community of Durham Region) and local writing groups. You need to be supportive and generous to others, to share, and to pass on news. (No one asked, But . . . when do we write?)

For people like me, raised to mind my own business, never blow my own trumpet, and expect failure — and one consolation is that I’ve never been disappointed — self-promotion is a real challenge. Adapting to and using social media is fascinating, yet repellent. Nevertheless the scenario shift must be faced. If you want to write and sell a book, you need to build that platform and mount it with a loud hailer, now.

Yet listening to Farzana’s suggestions I realized I have been on the right track promoting myself and my memoir, Home First. I network. I was involved in founding two writing groups, one in Chile and one in Toronto, and I organize writers’ retreats at Los Parronales, my home in Santiago. These days I post more frequently on my Los Parronales blog, and also on the Santiago Writers blog, The Tuesday Prompt, and I continue to send short stories and poems to competitions and anthologies.

Farzana challenged us, before we left, to approach three people and introduce either ourselves or our current project with a 30-second “elevator speech.” Throwing caution to the wind, I honed my bio, not easy when life and work are intertwined and complex: “I’m a writer who published a memoir last year titled Home First, and I’m working on a sequel. I reached that point thanks to attending writing groups and retreats. I now host an annual residential workshop in Chile.”

Rather than pitching to a fellow participant, I made my way to the front of the room and presented my blurb to Farzana herself. Then, thinking I might as well aim high, I handed her a brochure for my next retreat.

*     *     *

SUSAN SIDDELEY, author, poet, workshop host, mother, wife, friend, Santiago Writer, Parliament Street Writer …


♦     ♦     ♦

Note from Allyson:

Also on this topic, read “Yes, You CAN Tell People: On Writers and Self-Promotion” by Dinty W. Moore, reblogged from Brevity’s Nonfiction Blog:

“A graduate student here at Ohio University had a nice literary magazine publication recently, and when I asked him for details, so I could share his good news with others in the program, he e-mailed back, ‘I’m not really one for self-promotion (makes me feel a little icky).’

“I hear this often — ‘I don’t like self-promotion’ or ‘she’s so self-promoting’ — as if it were a horrible literary transgression to make the results of one’s considerable effort known and available. Why is it shameful, after having worked very hard at something, and had some success in seeing it to publication, to then tell folks? I don’t get it….” Read the entire post here.

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012