‘Writing Tips’ Archives

Suitcase of Memories: How a treasure trove of family photos led to a published novel

 

Guest Post by Susan Johnson Cameron

At a family reunion a few years ago, one of my cousins entrusted me with this suitcase, packed with old photos, postcards, and mementos, some preserved since the last century. This collection of keepsakes sprouted the seed of an idea for a story and nurtured a creative writing process that led eventually to the publication of my historical fiction novel, Home Fires.

Inside this suitcase I found a photo of a platoon of men in First World War Canadian Army uniforms. On the back my grandfather had written “No. 5 Platoon, 159th Batt. Haileybury.”

There is a pack of postcards from 1917 showing the devastation from the bombing in Arras, France. My grandfather was there with the Canadian Army, fighting in both France and Belgium. We were blessed that he returned home whole in body, unlike so many others.

As well, in this assortment of family treasures there is a picture of a handsome man dressed in a Cameron Highlander kilt and tunic. He was my grandmother’s younger brother, George. I know that, tragically, he was killed in battle at Passchendaele.

I discovered a photo of another great-uncle, Alfred. In it he is wearing a smart suit, one hand tucked behind his back. My father told me years ago that his uncle had a prosthetic hand. The family story is that after a serious work accident, Alfred received a monetary settlement for his injury. That money helped my grandparents relocate from England to Canada, where they pioneered in “New Ontario.”

Tucked in with the First World War photos and postcards is a more recent colour picture of a summer-dry ditch, filled with white wildflowers and lush green grass. On the back my uncle recorded, “where we spent hiding from the great fire of 1916 with only a tablecloth to protect us.”

All this I wove into my story. Home Fires was published by Iguana Press in November 2015.

Wednesday, January 25th, 2017

The Mirror That Is Memoir — a guest post by Dace Mara Zacs-Koury

Woman Looking at Reflection

 

My father’s death and burial in 1994 in Latvia, and my subsequent discovery of a dark family secret dating back to the Second World War compelled me to write. I knew little of his or Latvia’s past, and so I set about talking to relatives, revisiting overseas, learning Latvian, and digging into historical research, finally turning up Father’s war records. Little did I know when I began that I was embarking on a twenty-year writing journey.

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Wednesday, January 18th, 2017

On Creating a Goal, and Other Tips for Travel Writers

 

Hiking in the Cotswolds (Photo ©2016 Allyson Latta)

Hiking in the Cotswolds (Photo ©2016 Allyson Latta)

 

In “10 Tips for Writing Travel Articles,” Dan Linstead, travel editor of Wanderlust travel magazine, offers some of the best advice I’ve seen. Many of my creative writing students want to write travel memoirs but have trouble finding the “story” in their trip, or identifying and pursuing a goal that the reader will want to see them achieve. Here’s Linstead on creating a goal:

“Some trips have a physical objective (reaching the top of Kilimanjaro, crossing Costa Rica, seeing a tiger) that gives your article direction and purpose. The reader (hopefully) sticks with you because they want to know if you’ll achieve your goal.

“But many trips don’t have an obvious goal; they are more about discovering a place, unpicking its history or meeting its people. In this case, create a personal goal to give your reader a sense of where you’re taking them. Sentences like ‘I wanted to discover…’ or ‘I was keen to understand…’ give readers an idea of what’s to come, instead of you simply plunging them into the unknown.”

 

 

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Wednesday, January 11th, 2017

Quotables: “At some point in my life I decided that I was going to write like hell”: 15 writing tips from Nick Ripatrazone (The Millions)

 

I once took a novel writing course that my professor said would stretch us to our limits. It did. I hated the draft of my novel: all that seemed to happen is that my characters would go on walks through the woods to a pond, fish, talk, and repeat. One night when my roommate probably wished I would go to sleep, I wrote my professor a long e-mail, and he responded the next morning with the single best writing advice that I ever received: “worrying isn’t work.” It’s not. Writers love to worry. We — it’s okay to admit it — are rather melodramatic. Worrying has never finished a paragraph or fixed a slow opening. You can worry away your writing life, or you can catch yourself the next time you start to worry, go for a walk, and replace those worries with work.”

Read the full article here: “Don’t Worry. Don’t Wait. Write,” The Millions, November 21, 2016

And visit Nick Ripatrazone.

 

Wednesday, December 14th, 2016

8 Tips for Memoir Writers from Author Beth Powning

 1.

The memoir is more than historical. Memory is a vehicle to explore a question you need to find and then to discover the answer to that question. The search must be as fascinating to you as it is to the reader. Write not to record but to DISCOVER.

2.

Believe in the value of what you have to say. Everyone has a different journey. Everyone’s journey is important.

3.

Trust your instincts.

4.

Start anywhere. Memory is not chronological.

5.

Pay attention to your dreams.

6.

Write in a diary or journal. Go back and read your journals. Don’t transcribe them, but digest them. Use them to glean the small physical details you may have forgotten.

7.

Tell the truth. FIND the truth. It is elusive.

8.

Travel blind. Never know where you’re going. Never plan. Don’t take a road map!

BETH POWNING has written three memoirs, Shadow Child, Edge Seasons, and Home: Chronicle of a North Country Life (with photos). Her most recent novel, A Measure of Light, was a Globe and Mail Best Book and the winner of the N.B. Book Award for Fiction. Visit Beth’s website at www.powning.com/beth. 

I had the pleasure of working with Beth as an editor on two of her books, and later we judged a memoir contest together. She has twice been the guest author for my University of Toronto SCS creative writing course Memories into Story. Here are her answers to questions my students asked:

“Simply plunge ahead. Writing is an adventure”: Interview with Beth Powning

Wednesday, May 25th, 2016

Ethan Canin on Story Endings

At the end of a story or novel, you do not want the reader thinking. Endings are about emotion, and logic is emotion’s enemy. It’s the writer’s job to disarm the reader of his logic, to just make the reader feel. You’ll often see this in the final moments of a film: The camera tilts up, and the movie ends with a non-distinct image of the sky, or the sea, or the coast. Something the eye can’t quite focus on, which allows you to focus on everything that’s come before. That’s how “that was how he was” [“A Silver Dish,” Saul Bellow] works, too. It brings nothing else to mind. This sentence would be a non-sentence if it began the story—but, placed at the end, it’s packed with the charge of everything that precedes it. Each of those non-words is nitroglycerin, and the story that precedes it is the fuse.”

– “Can Writing Be Both True and Beautiful?” by Ethan Canin (The Atlantic, March 1, 2016)

Wednesday, March 30th, 2016