Ten Books That Made an Impact

Facebook has all sorts of challenges going on. This one I accepted from my cousin, Melissa, who challenged me to list ten books that made an impact on me. Though they are not necessarily my favorites, somehow they have all stayed with me – in humor or horror or just pure emotion. Here they are, in no particular order:

Twas the Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore

I know it’s a poem, but I’m talking about my book, the one that has materialized every year at Christmastime since I was a kid (actually it’s probably more than fifty years old). It has a shiny red surface, gently worn, and all those familiar verses and old-time swirly pictures that look like they were painted on. That book exudes warmth and anticipation.

Harry Potter  and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

What I remember the most is sitting on the couch with my two children, reading them the entire series out loud, with a British accent. We loved all seven of the books, but this is the one that started them all. J.K. Rowling made up a whole new world for us, with magic and muggles and qudditch. There was Diagon Alley and Hogwart’s, platform 9 1/2 and Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans (including dirt, grass, vomit and earwax). It was a magical time.

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

A masterpiece, really. A rare book, so descriptive and so beautifully written about a way of life – India in all its turmoil – that at the time was so foreign to me. Both haunting and touching, some of the scenes are still so vivid to me.

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

The writing just blew me away.

City of Joy by Dominique Lapierre

I read this book the first time I went to India. I remember the author describing the smells, the street scenes, and the noises, and I didn’t have to imagine it – I was living it.

Bridget Jone’s Diary by Helen Fielding

This book made me laugh. It’s funny, it’s quirky, it’s loveable. I think I identify with Bridget, as well Fielding’s writing style.

Pet Sematary by Stephen King

This was the first of many Stephen King books that I read as a teenager. So creepy…so real. Maybe too real, cause after reading a slew of his books I had to stop. I couldn’t be alone in the house or look down the drain in the bathroom without my imagination getting the better of me! And don’t even get me started about topiaries – I just want to cut them all down.

The Girl With the Dragon Tatoo by Stieg Larsson

Love this character, Lisbeth Salander. She’s vulnerable, she’s strong, she’s a little crazy. But who wouldn’t be after all she’s gone through? Couldn’t put this series down – loved it.

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irvine

Another quirky character and some laugh out loud moments. Let’s just say the nativity scene at Christmas has never been the same for me.

Sunshine by Norma Klein

Before Terms of Endearment and The Fault in Our Stars there was this book. A very touching story about a young Mom dying of cancer.

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Thank You Mr. Iyengar

14. Dec.1918 – 20.Aug.2014

Iyengar yoga is meant for all and is a way of life. That’s what I learned from Mr. Iyengar’s teachings. I was lucky to meet and practice under a very dedicated Iyengar yoga teacher in Bangalore, India. And when I came back to Vancouver I was lucky to find another.

“Words fail to convey the total value of yoga. It has to be experienced.” B.K.S. Iyengar

I didn’t know the first thing about yoga when I went to India and I was reluctant to try it. But a couple of friends convinced me, and after the first class, I never looked back. My teacher guided me through asanas, yoga poses, giving detailed instructions. Standing asanas…sitting, twisting…shoulder stands, head stands, hand stands. Things I’d never done before. Every two hour class was a challenge but I loved it. I left every class dripping with sweat – partly because of the heat, but mostly because my teacher was tough. I always felt like I had worked every part of my body.

I appreciated the years of training that Iyengar teachers must go through to become certified. I appreciated the detailed instruction and the use of props – wooden blocks, bolsters, straps and ropes –  to assure proper alignment.

“He is a genius,” my first teacher said. Both of my teachers had a chance to travel to Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute (RIMYI) in Pune, India, to practice with Guruji himself. And one of the students that I practiced with was in Pune this month. She had the privilege of being with Mr. Iyengar in life and in death (read her Farewell, Mr. Iyengar blog). 

Mr. Iyengar passed away yesterday, but I am grateful that his wisdom and teachings will live on through his students.

A video of Guruji to inspire:

 
 
 

One of the Best Things I did in India

Habitat for Humanity, India Group

Writing about India brings back so many memories. Last week I was writing about the first time that I volunteered with Habitat for Humanity, India. Fitting, since my daughter was in Ecuador last week, volunteering with Me to We, a Canadian charitable organization.

For me, building houses with Habitat was one of the highlights of my time in India. I remember being so naive, thinking that we were actually going to build a house – all in one day. It was a real eye opener to learn that Habitat was helping not just one family, but an entire village, and that it would take weeks or months to build a home, depending on the availability of volunteers and funds.

The house that I worked on was just in the beginning stages and we spent the day digging and carrying away dirt. We worked alongside the husband and his brother. Sweat equity they called it.

Habitat for Humanity, India Build

What I liked about Habitat for Humanity was that they gave a “hand up” not a “hand out.” Families paid back a no-profit loan and they  helped build the house with their own hands.

I remember how hot it was that day and how hard-packed the red soil was, with big stones embedded in it. All we had were these rudimentary tools – picks for digging, and shallow round bowls for carrying the dirt away. Every once in a while, one of us westerners would wish out loud for a proper shovel, a wheel barrel or some sort of machinery to hasten the pace. It was painful, knowing how fast the work would have been done back home, with first world machinery.

“You could easily have paid a local person two hundred rupees ($5) to do the work that you are doing today,” the Senior Manager for Habitat India told us. “But your time here is valuable to this community. It shows them that you value them and care enough to come and help. Not only that, but each of you will share your experience with others and create awareness.”

When I finished volunteering that first day, it was hard to leave, to wave goodbye to the children who had gathered to watch us work. To say goodbye to the husband and the brother who worked with us all day, and the grandparents who watched from the shade of a papaya tree. I put my hands together and bowed my head in respect, to thank them for letting me come and help out. “Namaste,” I said. When I looked up, I saw such gratitude in their eyes, and all I could think was no, it’s me who is the lucky one.

Amazon Me to We 2

My daughter just returned from her trip to Ecuador, where Me to We strives to “empower a generation to shift the world from ‘me’ to ‘we’—through how we act, how we give, the choices we make on what to buy and what to wear, the media we consume and the experiences with which we choose to engage.”

She was telling me all about her trip to the Amazon: the people that she met; running out of shower water; the work that she did on a school – mixing cement, painting, sawing and carrying wood. She told me how they calculated that a family of three would have just 43 cents to buy food for a meal. That would buy a bit of rice, a potato, an onion and a tomato. “That was a real eye opener,” she told me.

What I noticed more than anything was the joy in her voice and the smile on her face. She genuinely said, “I’m really grateful for what I have.”

Short Story Magazines for Readers and Writers

Short Story Magazines

Whether you want a good read, a quick read, or are looking for somewhere to submit your own short stories or poetry here are a few magazines that I can recommend:

Event Poetry and Prose: Poetry, fiction, creative-nonfiction. Stories are well written, enjoyable, and some – rather quirky.

The Feathertale Review: If humor is your thing, this one is for you. Some stories are funnier than others, some I didn’t get at all, but overall a good laugh.

The Fiddlehead: A good mix of poetry and fiction – the writing is superb.

Prism International: A real gem of fiction, non-fiction and poetry. A good mix of edgy, thought-provoking and entertaining. Enjoyed every bit of  it.

Hey, I know the list is short, but then again, so are the stories. Help me out – what short story magazine (print or online) do you think I should I read and add to the list?

There’s Something About Alice Munro

I’ve recently become a fan of Alice Munro’s. I suppose I feel a connection. She’s Canadian, I’m Canadian. She’s a writer, I’m a writer. She owned Munro’s Books in Victoria, B.C. and I bought books there when I was growing up. She won the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature, I…well…I didn’t.

To be honest, I’ve only just discovered Alice. In fact I just read my first Alice Munro book: Lives of Girls and Women.

Oh, to write like Alice! Sentences are complex, yet, oh so easy to read. Lives of Girls and Women is fiction, about a young girl, Del Jordan, growing up in small-town Ontario. Munro writes about subjects that most people would overlook, would think too ordinary to be interesting. She turns the ordinary into the extraordinary, such as when Del comes across a dead cow in a field:

“The eye was wide open, dark, a smooth sightless bulge, with a sheen like silk and a reddish gleam in it, a reflection of light. An orange stuffed in a black silk stocking. Flies nestled in one corner, bunched together beautifully in an iridescent brooch.”

And Munro writes with such truth:

“I had a great desire to poke the eye with my stick, to see if it would collapse, if it would quiver and break like a jelly, showing itself to be the same…I traced the stick all the way round the eye, I drew it back––but I was not able, I could not poke it in.”

And Munro’s mind flows in unusual but intriguing ways. In the same chapter that Del looks upon the dead cow, she also looks upon her dead Uncle, lying in wake:

“The eyelids lay too lightly on his eyes, the grooves and creases on his face had grown too shallow. He himself was wiped out; this face was like a delicate mask of skin, varnished, and laid over the real face–or over nothing at all, ready to crack when you poked a finger into it. I did have this impulse, but at a level far, far removed from possibility, just as you might have an impulse to touch a live wire.”

Throughout the book I wondered – is this really fiction? The details, the dialogue, the inner thoughts – it all seems too real. One line really stands out, and though it is Del talking, I am sure that this must be a quote from Munro herself:

“They were talking to somebody who believed that the only duty of a writer is to produce a masterpiece.”

I came across this interview with Alice Munro, where she talks about becoming a writer, the excitement and disappointment of writing stories, and what she hopes readers feel when they read her stories. Please, find yourself half an hour, grab a cup of tea and a comfy chair and enjoy the endearing Ms. Munro. It’s well worth it: Alice Munroe in her own words

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

Stephen King: On WritingI read two books on writing in the last month or so: The First Fifty Pages by Jeff Gerke and On Writing by Stephen King. Two very different books with very different messages. I talked about The First Fifty Pages in one of my posts last month – it reads more like a how to manual or a recipe book which kind of suits me, because for over forty years I have done little without a step-by-step manual. Everything is concrete, this is how it’s done, don’t stray from the recipe for fear of, I don’t know – maybe World War 3 is going to break out or something. Don’t get me wrong, I love this book and I think it has real value.

“Be honest in your voice…” S.K.

On Writing is just the opposite. Stephen King writes about himself from childhood to the present. Half the book is memoir, maybe more than half, and I have to admit I was wondering what all the hype was about. But then came the connection.  Bring out the artist. Just write what you want. Be honest in your voice, don’t write for others or the buck. Write the truth, write well, be smart and it will happen.

“You learn best by reading a lot and writing a lot…” S.K.

When I started writing I realized I needed to limit things that consumed my writing time – TV, mindless surfing, and reading. Stephen King gave me the okay to read again, insisted on it actually, saying, “You don’t need writing classes or seminars any more than you need this or any other book on writing. You learn best by reading a lot and writing a lot, and the most valuable lessons of all are the ones you teach yourself.” I like that.

“By the time I was fourteen…the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. ..I replaced the nail with a spike and went on writing.” S.K.

What a relief. Stephen King (and probably every other author) has been rejected. This is normal. And the creative process takes time. This is normal. Stephen King started writing when he was in his early teens, but his first book, Carrie, wasn’t published until a couple of years after he finished University.

What else is normal? There will always be those who just don’t understand:

Teacher: “What I don’t understand, Stevie,” she said, “is why you’d write junk like this in the first place.”

“Having someone who believes in you makes a lot of difference.” S.K.

“My wife made a crucial difference…If she had suggested that writing stories …was wasted time, I think a lot of the heart would have gone out of me….whenever I see a first novel dedicated to a wife (or a husband), I smile and think, There’s someone who knows. Writing is a lonely job. Having someone who believes in you makes a lot of difference. They don’t have to make speeches. Just believing is usually enough.”

And whereas many people and books will tell you that plot and outlining and theme are the most important things, Stephen King says he’s never plotted: “I believe plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren’t compatible.” I wanted to jump for joy when I read that. The story comes first “…and progresses to theme; it almost never begins with theme and progresses to story.”

Ironically, Stephen King, who writes horror books, makes me feel normal. He’s a writer, I’m a writer. He’s been doing it for a very long time. I haven’t. He’s been through it all: rejection, waiting, acceptance. I haven’t.

What he’s given me is some more tools for the tool box and now it is time to get back to writing.

The Solution to Dry Eyes

Eye

I started complaining of sore eyes nearly five years ago and have only just found relief.

That’s right, it took me years to find a solution. Initially, I thought the discomfort was computer related, so I did all the usual things for Computer Vision Syndrome: looked away from the computer every twenty minutes, adjusted the settings to make the screen dimmer, and cut the glare from the windows.

When that didn’t work I went to my Optometrist who prescribed reading glasses. Over the years, I tried different prescriptions and even progressive lenses, yet nothing helped. Last January, I went to an Optometrist who did a very simple test for dry eyes. I scored 3/10. She suggested Restasis, a prescription eye drop, along with fish oil tablets, moist eye soaks nightly and Refresh Endura (over the counter drops throughout the day). I did it all for six months. Apparently it can take 3-6 months for the Restasis to work. No change.

Finally, in October, I went to an ophthalmologist who confirmed that I have dry eyes. She suggested Punctal Plugs, tiny tube-like devices inserted into the tear ducts to block drainage and help retain moisture on the surface of the eye. Here in Canada, they cost $75 each. She suggested trying one to see if it would make a difference. It took all of five minutes to insert the plug, with an anesthetic drop beforehand, and I didn’t feel a thing.

After a few weeks I felt like there was a difference. My eyes still got sore but not as quickly and I wasn’t using as many eye drops. I decided to get a plug put in the other eye. Now, months later, I can tell you that it has made a significant difference. I used to go through boxes of eye drops every month. I spent thousands of dollars on glasses as well as prescription and nonprescription drops. Now, I only wear reading glasses (yeah, that baffles me too), and I rarely use eye drops at all. I’m still careful to give my eyes a rest when I’m on the computer, but my eyes are relatively free of any discomfort.

Do you have sore eyes? Dry eyes? Check with your Optometrist or Ophthalmologist to find out what the best solution is for you. Questions or comments? Please, leave them below.

One Week in A Writer’s Life

A Week of  Writing, Head Stands, Ice Skating, and Aha Moments. Don’t worry – I’ve left out the boring parts.

December 3

  • Post blog December Update  in which I write:  I think I’ve finally decided what the first chapter will be and that’s actually a HUGE ACCOMPLISHMENT.

December 4

  • Receive six critiques on Chapter 1. Lots of really nice comments like this one:

“…First of all I would like to say it is exciting to see someone who has lived in India for two years rather than a vacation but still has the outsider’s perspective writing about India. I also thought your writing was excellent….”

Some that made me laugh like this one:

“…LOL- now that is not an Indian accent. Sounds more Mexican…”

And a couple like this:

“…This seems like an anecdote. There needs to be more tension…”

I nod my head and make note to self: Add story to anecdote. Laughs…sort of.

December 5

  • Now reading: The First Fifty Pages: Engage Agents, Editors and Readers, and Set Your Novel Up For Success by Jeff Gerke

December 6

  • The First Fifty Pages makes a lot of sense. There must be a story question. What does the main character want and does she get it? Racking brain, I know how India changed me but did I really go there looking for something? It’s not as easy as Eat, Pray, Love – miserable, divorced woman searching for love and she finds it. Or Holy Cow, which was all about a woman who goes to India and explores spirituality.
  • I need to explore what was going on in my life before we went to India: I had Meniere’s disease for six years, I had to quit work (Operating Room Nurse) because of it. I was bored – housework, grocery shopping, driving the kids around to activities. I started taking writing courses and published a few articles.
  • I won’t bore you with the rest but I’m delving into myself. Came across this funny and posted it on Facebook with the caption:

“Watch out parents I’m writing about myself today (laughs hysterically)”:

1382072_556043397803668_1625018032_n

Oh, don’t worry, it’s not that kind of book. I’m just figuring it all out.

December 7

  • Read some more of The First Fifty Pages.
  • Go to a friend’s house for dinner. Walk inside and friend says, “Bad day.” I hear the sound of a young child projectile vomiting. The Exorcist comes to mind. Friend’s husband says, “Don’t worry, I’m sure it’s just Norwalk.” Notes to self: 1) Don’t touch anything, and, 2) Possible short story?

December 8

  • Half way through The First Fifty Pages. Getting a grasp on it. Many options.

December 9

  • Finish 3/4 of the book (The First Fifty Pages)
  • Break time: Go ice-skating outside!

Ice Skating

  • Listen to Macklemore Same Love.
  • Finish The First Fifty Pages.

December 10

  • Procrastinate – now I’m a real writer!
  • Watch WestJet Holiday Miracle Video. Isn’t it wonderful? I’m crying. Tears fall onto touchpad – touchpad stops working. What the…? Panic.
  • Do headstand  and contemplate deleting Facebook “Author” Page. Of course, I don’t want to lose my Facebook Followers. Ideally I would prefer people to sign up on my website for email updates.

practice.1

  • Now that I have finished The First Fifty Pages I’m off to Starbucks create the best first sentence, the best first page: The Best First Fifty Pages and Beyond.

Any words of wisdom? What’s important to you in The First Fifty Pages of a book? Would you sign up to receive email updates instead of Facebook? Let me know what you think in the comments section. Thanks!

December Update

Writing

I am writing. My book is still untitled, but coming ever-closer to THE END. Since I began writing a couple of years ago, I’ve pounded out more than 100,000 words. Now, as I revise and rewrite a second and third draft, I know that a good chunk of that hard work will not end up in the book. But I had to write it all down. I had to go through the process.

I have agonized over the beginning of the book and I think I’ve finally decided what the first chapter will be and that’s actually a HUGE ACCOMPLISHMENT. Now I can work on putting the chapters in order, though I know I still have to work some things out with the story itself – the theme and the purpose – and weave it all together. And that is probably my biggest goal right now.

Social Media

Social Media is a love hate relationship. It  really sucks the life out of me. Strangely, I like it – maybe too much. Everyone says “you must have a platform” and yes, I think it’s probably true. But it’s time-consuming – blogging, tweeting, posting updates. It definitely takes time away from writing.

Learning

I am always learning about both writing and social media. I’ve always been an avid reader, but I’ve never really thought about how books are constructed. Where in the story does the book start? Is there backstory? What is the message or theme and how does the author make us care? So now I’m spending some time reading other books in my genre and dissecting them.  Grammar  and punctuation – writing well – is a big part of it, too, and I’m always checking the proper use of tense, apostrophes, italics, and well, just about everything.

The web plays a big part in learning. Jane Friedman’s is one of the few websites I read regularly for all things writing and publishing. And online writing groups are awesome. Ask a question day or night and it will be answered. Post work, have it critiqued, learn lots. Conferences and workshops are valuable too. The web is awesome but getting out and meeting real people is good for the soul.

I’ll keep you up to date on my writing, but let me know what’s new with you too. Also if you have any website recommendations – I’d love to hear about them. Happy Writing!

The Bliss Point

Candy

In the food industry The Bliss Point is the perfect balance of sugar, fat and salt in processed foods – the ultimate taste that hooks consumers and keeps them wanting more.

A good writer creates a different kind of Bliss Point. It’s the perfect balance of imagery, dialogue, characterization, pacing, and plot  – the ultimate combination that hooks readers and keeps them turning the pages.

Books

Scientists go to great lengths producing palatable foods that people will hunger for. Writers go to great lengths scrambling and unscrambling black specks on white paper. Revising. Rewriting.

Too much or too little brings about The Goldilocks Syndrome. Whether it is sugar or fat, description or dialogue. Too much or too little and the consumer will be unsatisfied or bored. A perfect balance is needed to bring fulfillment – it’s just right.

Of course, The Bliss Point created by the food industry is only a matter of taste. The effects? Short-lived with no benefits. It’s all a sham. On the other hand, The Bliss Point created by a writer educates and entertains, captivates and delights. The effects? Long-lasting with positive outcomes. It nourishes… for real.