Tuesday, 30 December 2014


Please email (grindwriters@gmail.com) before attending the first time. Occasionally we meet away from the Grind Café.

10:30 am to 12:30 pm in the back room. 

2015 Grind Writers
meeting dates
We skip holiday long weekends
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Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Christmas writing prompts

We're going to write about that all-pervasive December event -- Christmas --  at our last meeting of the year.  Here are some Christmas writing prompts we brainstormed last year. And this year we've added the ones bolded at the top:

Xmas writing prompts

  • The dark side of Christmas
  • The joy of coal
  • Solstice
  • How I learned about chimneys
  • The lies of Christmas
  • The mechanics of Santa
  • "I still believe in Santa because it's the feeling"
  • Being a Santa - Santa moments
  • Best Xmas present ever
  • Worst. Christmas. Ever.
  • Worst Xmas present ever.
  • The Christmas I learned not to buy gifts on credit
  • 3 bad gifts I got and why they were bad
  • Food at Christmas
  • Re-gifting
  • Workplace/staff Christmas parties
  • Worst gives you’ve received and worst gifts you’ve given and why
  • Christmas music
  • Christmas on another planet
  • Most memorable Christmas
  • Christmas when I was a kid
  • Bah humbug!
  • An ideal Christmas—if you had your way
  • I don’t celebrate Christmas. I’m ____ and we have __________.
  • Complaints about Xmas
  • Cudos about Christmas
  • Anything about Christmas
  • What our family does at Christmas(/Hannukah/Ramadan/Solstice)
  • When Christmas is strange
  • Christmas(es) you spent in other lands
  • My favourite Christmas
  • Christmas on trial
  • Or any sugarplum prompts that pop into your head.

15 minutes by a timer

Just keep writing, no editing (that's for later)
Write whatever pops into your head, no matter what
Keep pen on paper and just keep going for the 15 mins.
Remember it's just a draft, it's for fun - just to see where it goes.Don't try and write final copy in a draft. Just write already!

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Sean Cranbury workshop: “New Ideas in Socal Media” (for Writers) at SIWC

Workshop at the Surrey International Writers' Conference (SIWC), October 2014.

Sean's background:
“These days I am a General Manager of the legendary Storm Crow Tavern in Vancouver’s Commercial Drive neighbourhood and moonlighting as a social media/communications consultant for literary and arts organizations.“

He hosts the CBC Radio show Books on the Radio. Was an indie bookseller for  20 years. He worked at the once-beloved Duthie Books downtown which, he notes, is now a lingerie store: “Well, that’s what sells.”

Many of the keynotes give at SIWC are available to hear in the archives at:  booksontheradio.org

Other places online to find Seanish info:

Sean put out an awful lot of information in an hour and a half. He could have pirouetted, impressing us with a lot of hip-sounding tech mumbojumbo. He chose not to. He could have rolled his eyes when one audience member asked him to explain what a hashtag was; instead he simply explained it in easy terms. 

He gave us a fast-paced and informative presentation which he could hardly get out because the audience interrupted him with so many questions, about which he was genuinely magnanimous. 

  • “You cannot break the Internet. The way you learn is by starting.”
  •  “Use your own name [writers using social media]. These tools are ‘awareness generators.’ You want people to know who you are.”
  • Separate accounts for personal and work on Twitter, Facebook etc. “It all depends…” He has several for Sean Cranbury, Books on Radio, etc.
  • It’s a big transition we are all part of. We’ve gone from the long format to reading onscreen instead of on paper.
  • Engage!  “The only way to increase your chances is to continually engage in those areas.” (social media)
  • Social media strategy. “Can’t be done in two months. Plant seeds now. Spend those early days just listening” [while you figure it out].

  • Who to follow on Twitter?  “Follow all the people who are using the hashtag #SIWC14. That’s your community. People you have something in common with because you are here. Those are the people you want to emulate. There’s an art to it. You can learn by following good people.
  • Egg stage @ Twitter.  “Get rid of the egg. Upload a photo, anything. Nobody takes Eggs seriously on Twitter.
  • To be Followed or to Follow? “Good users have more followers than they are following. For example [SIWC long-time board member and previous conference chair, author] kc dyer follows about 70 people, but she’s being followed by 4,500.”
  • Twitter > important. “I think Twitter is important—it’s the cleaner stream. But   have a Facebook fan page for your book.
  • “Twitter is a listening post. Follow your competition. It is a filter. Any info you’re getting is tuff that you’ve chosen [to give].”
  • “Follow comedians. It’s a very creative medium and comedians use Twitter very creatively.
  • What is a hashtag? Some in the audience didn’t now what a hashtag or Twitter stream was so we went back to the basics. “A hashtag is the number sign (#) with no space in between it and a word, an acronym about what is going on” – like #SIWC.
  • Hashtags as hangers. It’s a way to communicate with people on Twitter or Facebook. It acts as a kind of hanger and hangs that tweet with all the other tweets with that hashtag. For example, a tweet now:  I am at SIWC – just blew my pitch, no chance of ever getting published – hashtag #SIWC. Then we all commiserate.”
  • Creating hashtags. “A hashtag is only useful if people know about it, and care.”
  • Mention him with @seancranbury.
  • People to follow to learn about social media
              Sarah Wendell
              Chuck Wendig
              (“I was on a social media panel with them – the best ever.”)
  • How do you now if anyone’s paying attention? You don’t.
  • Best times to post (“Put-out Days”)
          -- “Friday afternoon, especially in publishing--everyone’s drinking.”
          -- “Monday morning everyone is like ‘Oh, crap—actually working.’”
          -- “Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday mornings are your optimal times… 
               the highest likelihood people are paying attention to those platforms.”
          -- Tuesday morning 7-8AM of a regular week (no Monday holiday)
              may be the optimum time to post, do your website, etc.
          --  Monday morning—no. Friday afternoon—no.”
  • What is HootSuite? “A Vancouver-based social media management tool.” He uses TweetDeck.
  • “I am a platform agnostic: The internet is full of tribes [who like various social media platforms].
  • Open Source. “Means ‘always being built’ [improved].”
  • Wordpress.com is open source. Create a website for free.  “It’s not professional but a good place to learn. It’s Wordpress on training wheels.”
  • Domain. “The real estate you own on the Internet.”
  • Domain address. For a writer ideally it’s “your name dot com. You want something that defines your career, where you’re going. i.e., Not: title-of-my-first-book dot com. The question is: will that name still be relevant ten years from now? Think about it in terms of the long game.”

  • Read: Astra Taylor’s book: The People's Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age(Read a bit here). Her talk is on BooksOnRadio. 
  • Netfirms he recommends for getting your domain and hosting your website. “Netfirms’s servers are in Canada (important; meaning your account is not accessible under foreign domestic laws as it is if hosted in the U.S.).”
    “DreamHost is okay. GoDaddy may keep your domain if you leave."
    Wordpress.word will host once you have a domain (servers in U.S.).
    “Anything that says ‘gator’ – don’t touch. Never. Ever.”
  • .com or .ca?  Advises getting a .com rather than a .ca. “You’re in the global marketplace” – and many in the U.S. for instance have never heard of a dot-ca  [so they may mistrust it].
  • GoogleAnalytics. It’s the only way you know if people are reading your posts unless they are talking to you about it or re-tweeting – you can check but there’s really no way to know otherwise.
  • Your “About” page. Make it clear, concise and up to date. Update it frequently so it’s not stale news: “Cultivate the garden—take care of it.”
  • “People are not for marketing-to. As soon as you start marketing, I lose interest.”
  • Goodreads. “is good for the author but I wouldn’t put it as an essential. A good example of a book-specific social network [owned by Amazon].”

Up&coming social media sites:
  •  SoundCloudAudio-sharing community. $16/month for unlimited uploads. (The free version is only 4 hours a month.)
  • Ello“It’s only going to be useful if people are there. And sooner or later they’re going to have to monetize it in some way” [meaning they may need to post ads, or use your information to get advertisers, etc.]
  • Doxing.  Zoë Quinn is at the heart of “Gamergate,” a discussion online about the depiction of women in video games and how misogynistic it is. To dox, v.: “A person finds out your home address, your cellphone number, embarrassing photos, whatever – and they post it on Twitter” or blackmail you not to.  >>> For example, when you register your domain you provide your name & address and it displays. But you c.an pay to have it hidden.
  • Parting words:  “You don’t have to do anything on the Internet.

-- Margo Lamont

(c)2014 Margo Lamont

Kevin Chong on Writing Biography - at SIWC 2014

Workshop:  “Mapping Another Life” (Writing Biography)

Kevin Chong, born in Hong Kong, educated (MFA in fiction writing) at the University of British Columbia, lives and works in Vancouver. 

Kevin teaches writing creative fiction and writing creative nonfiction (beginner to advanced levels) at UBC and SFU (and gets an “A” on Rate-My-Professors with a  chili-pepper on the 'hotness' rating).  

He's the author of: 

  • Northern Dancer: The Legendary Horse that Inspired a Nation, 2014
  • My Year of The Race Horse, 2012
  • Neil Young Nation: a quest, an obsession, and a true story, 2005. (Crisscrossing the continent, Chong follows the route that led Neil Young to become a musical legend.)

  • Beauty Plus Pity, 2011
  • Baroque-a-Nova, 2001

A volunteer introducer reads the intro to Kevin’s workshop which says he’s “a showdog handler and jazz musician.” When she concludes, Kevin tells us it’s all lies.
“My first tip on writing biography is not to use Wikipedia,” he quips. Apparently a friend and he had some kind of gag that resulted in this information going into his Wikipedia biography and there it remains, untrue.
Background to Northern Dancer

--how in Northern Dancer his tack was to write about the people who loved the horse:
·        E.P. Taylor (owner);
·        The Argentinian trainer. Quite a character: asked what he wanted after he died, he said he wanted to be “turned into a woman’s saddle so I can be between the two things I loved the most.”
·        Jockey Bill Hartack

--and about how Canada was in 1964 (Kevin was born in 1975). The only people he talked to were  some riders and that was by phone.
“I remember Canada being much more insecure than it is now. We didn’t feel we could beat the best. Then Northern Dancer showed we could beat the best.”
Kevin’s own experience in horse-racing before he wrote ND:  he’d written one book about it before, about how he bought a horse at Hastings Racetrack which had some Northern Dancer blood.   
Kevin talked about the many things you need to consider before you start the actual writing.
About biography subjects:
·       Does he/she have to be famous?
·       Does he/she have to be human? Can write bios of inanimate objects, e.g., Salt; or The Suit,a book by JJ Lee that wove in stories about his father, a tailor. There are sometimes called “cultural histories.”
·       Does the subject have to be one person (companies> corporate histories)?
Ways you can write about a life:
·       Memoir – can be writing about segments/periods in your life – i.e. just divorced and took a trip to Italy; your lifelong interest in soccer; an interest in your life – e.g. The 100 Mi. Diet
·       Autobiography – Writing about your own life, the world that you came from. You try not to skip  any of the events of your life (but they may  be separate books).
·       Biography (“I consider bio to be cradle to dotage”)
·       Co-authored Autobiography – examples: Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg’s; Justin Trudeau’s
Considerations about the book, approaches to the subject, etc.
·       How will your book be different?
·       Initial Research >Writing a proposal. “Before you travel to Paris – has anyone else written a book on your subject? Check on the internet.”
·       Is the person still alive? Do they want to work with you? Or if recently deceased, is there anyone else working on an authorized biography?
·       Tip: approach your subject with a thesis or a statement or a question – so the bio does not become a recitation of dry facts.  “He was born… died…..”
·       His thesis for Northern Dancer - that ND “changed the way Canadians felt about themselves in 1964. Northern Dancer was a hero when the country really needed one.” (i.e. we were between having been a colony of Britain and becoming a kind of economic colony of the U.S.)
·       If you’re writing your own life, you might want to talk to key figures in it. Your spouse and “If you’re brave, your former spouse. “Their actual sense of what happened might be different from yours.”
Subject - Living person:
·       Interviews - let them pick the place, their comfort area; bring a list of questions but be flexible.
·       Famous person – “go sideways a bit.”
·       Don’t be afraid of awkward pauses – they may fill them with something interesting.
·       Good to have a recorder. Yet the technique of, at some point, turning the recorder off: “People become more animated. but you are still taking notes.”
·       For famous or other people – you want to speak to anyone who knows about them – people who knew them as kids. About the middle age years ,talk to their children).
·       Talk to their enemies.
·       Other sources: news clips – magazine profiles (how they felt in 1963 vs. say 2014). Then can ask them about why they felt a certain way back when they did.
·       Old photos – present them to the subject – sparks new memories.
Subject - deceased person:
·         Library and archival research; travel to [pertinent] locales.
·         Interviews – Experts on that person work or on the era or place that person lived; regional content.  It may tell you about their influence, influence of their work, etc.
·         Kevin made a trip to Ottawa for Northern Dancer. Had to get permission to access the archives. Became sticky because the person designated by EP Taylor to give acces had died – so Kevi had to prove to the archives that Taylor’s grandsons had the authority to grant him access.

Why you?
Why are you the one who needs to tell the story?  Could be important.

Other considerations:
·       Question from audience: Have there been themes or motives for what Kevin’s written about? Answer: I wanted to know more about a subject. So I don’t start off as an expert - e.g., the  Neil Young book: “I needed to write my own personal biographical story about being a fan of his.”
·       His first book was on a racehorse: “I wanted to learn more about horse racing and folded in my own anxiety about a young adult who had accomplished what I wanted to do in life. I was hoping other YAs, who had crossed things off on their list, could identify what he was going through.”

·       Suppose someone’s accomplishments were in midlife, you might not have the chronology go from 20 yrs. to 80 yrs. in the same intensity.
·       First in Northern Dancer, he used an unconventional order, then his editor’s suggestion, told it chronologically – thought it was clearer
·       Tip:  “A lot of biographies start off with a scene from the middle of the life – then go to the early days. We want to get a sense of hwy this person is important/interesting/etc. (example – he used the EP Taylor anecdote right off about going into the mid-Atlantic lifeboat in his pajamas).(c)
·       Tense (thinkinga bout which to use – present, past). He did Northern Dancer in the present tense.

·       Voice - finding your authorial voice – Objective or journalistic or opinionated? Considerations: Closeness to your subject. What’s the approach that best serves the story?

--Margo Lamont

(c)2014 Margo Lamont 

Monday, 3 November 2014

Writing Historical Fiction: Guided Hallucination into the Past - with Roberta Rich. Workshop notes.

Roberta Rich is local, lives in Vancouver and divides her time between the Raincoast and a place in Mexico. She's a retired divorce lawyer, is incredibly well organized, articulate and gives good workshop.

These are notes from her workshop on Writing Historical Fiction at the 2014 Surrey International Writers Conference last month. 

Her two books are The Harem

(Doubleday 2013)

and her first published book,

the bestseller, The Midwife

of Venice

What’s wonderful about The Midwife of Venice is, it flies in the face of that MFA-in-Creative-Writing mantra you hear endlessly – “Write about what you know."

Well, being a divorce lawyer and all, Roberta started out by writing two detective novels featuring a lawyer, that “went nowhere.” 

She had never so much tipped a red-painted toenail in a Venice canal before she wrote The Midwife of Venice. That’s very encouraging somehow.  “I think the better advice is," she says, "write what you can imagine -- write about what turns your crank!” 
She told us that for her writing historical fiction is like “standing inside a beautiful painting (I often think a Canaletto) and then saying, Come inside and I’ll tell you about how they slept and lived and loved…

Don’t obsess about being obsessed by an historical era.
When she polled the room, everybody in attendance had an particular place and historical era they were (for lack of a better word) fixated on. "Obsessed is good,” Roberta said. “If we’re not obsessed when we start, it’s going to be very hard to get to the finish line. But let’s call it passion.”

Genitals “bewitched”              
“History sometimes throws you a bone,” she said. She recalled how in her wide-ranging reading around her historical subject and era, she’d read a story about how a king’s genitals had been bewitched by his wife so that -- though he could have had his pick of women and had a harem -- he stayed faithful to is wife through their 20 year marriage.  "This got my wheels turning. Reading about your era sometimes inspires your plot.”  
Lady in black
Roberta is wearing all-black top and pants, a string of off-white pearls too big to be real, and open-toed sandals with bare feet & red toenails at the end of October. Like the rest of us at the end of an unusually magnificent summer in Vancouver, she's not ready yet to give up on that season. Her white hair is shortish, straight, no-nonsense. Her glasses have black arms; her purse is brown leather. Small studs in her ears look like real diamonds. She is slim, mid-60s, wears gold rings on each hand, a glint of largish diamonds from the left, and mentions her husband several times.

Get a little help from your friends (or acquaintances)
“Cultivate people who are better educated than you are. Take them out to lunch, buy them bottle of wine.” 

Anecdote: She wanted to make her midwife the best in Venice, and wanted to show that it was because she’d invented a special tool -- say, a primitive forceps -- but she wasn't quite sure if that was something that would have been done at the time. So she took an historian friend out for lunch and told her about her research. The historian said that people in those days as a matter of course made their own tools and why would a midwife not have made some kind of tool like forceps for delivering babies?  Whew: green light. 

So how do you organize your research, we asked
“I read books from the library, I buy a lot, I use inter-library loans. I write notes and put everything in one big file. Then I use the search feature and type in, say,"galleys.” And I use lots of Post-It™ notes. I buy a lot of books, probably more books than I need because it’s easy to get sidetracked and not know when to stop.”

The Novel-writing Avoidance Program

“I have what my husband calls my Novel-writing Avoidance Program.” From researching soap-making, she actually morphed into making unguent creams in the basement. In fact she uses a jar of her homemade cream as a prize later for whoever comes up with the best bit in a free-write she gives us.

Backgrounds and settings
“Sometimes the setting is almost a character itself—Gone With the Wind or A Tale of Two Cities. “It’s a historical cauldron into which you place your characters.”

Dialogue - go for 'Bygonese'
“Avoid anachronisms. There’s a learning curve – as in Downton Abbey.”  Some of the unfortunate standouts in this respect was someone using the phrases “charm offensive” and  “feeding frenzy” in a book about the Medicis. 

“Your goal is not to reproduce how people spoke two hundred years ago.” As a divorce lawyer, she read through many transcripts: “That is not dialogue.” Strive, she said, “for what David Mitchell calls ‘Bygonese’.” So: 
  • Don’t use contractions. 
  • Use ‘shall’ not ‘will.’  
  • Instead of ‘if’' use 'had I [bought...]’  
  • Beware anachronisms – e.g., 'silhouette' comes from a French politician Étienne de Silhouette in the 1700s, so if your book is set in ancient Egypt........
  • If in doubt, go to etymologyonline.com and check it out.

Other hints
  • Read novels that are set in your time period. If you’re writing about England in Thomas Hardy times, read some of his novels.
  • “You can’t libel the dead. I can say that as a lawyer.” But use ethics in your conjectures about real historical people.
  • Auditory imagery is “vastly neglected, but it's one of the most powerful things we can impart to a reader.”
Further reading and watching:
Globe & Mail review of Midwife of Venice

At workshop’s end Roberta wishes us well. She hopes, she says, that she has inspired us to write our historical fictions à la the painter Delacroix who said:  “I rush to my studio as eagerly as other men rush to their mistresses.”

Small but interesting fact-ettes about RR:
Time in the morning by which she
is usually at her computer:

8 AM
Favourite drink:
Margarita, “ideally made with limes”
Minimum # of words she writes a day:
500 to 1,000
What she thinks you “have to keep playing on”:
“People’s tremendous curiosity”
No. 1 tip for writers:
“The ability to sit on your behind for a long time: patience, endurance Don’t wait for inspiration: just turn on the hard drive and tap away.”
Title of Roberta's detective novel that
Toronto agent Beverley Slopen shopped
around but got nowhere with:

Tequila Moon
For more insights, read her answers to
The Proust Questionnaire:

  • Read "20 writerly questions" of RR's here
"11. Who is the first person who gets to you read your manuscript?  I belong to a writers group which meets every three weeks. We have been writing pals for 15 years. They are my first and the best critics."

Grind Writers group members: If you’d like a PDF of her excellent 5-page handout email:  grindwriters@gmal.com

-- Margo Lamont

(c)2014 Margo Lamont