Story Notes

Story Notes – The world of her own making

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My story ‘The world of her own making’ was published recently in A cappella Zoo (Issue 14) and I was so excited.

To read the story just head A cappella Zoo and order up Issue 14.

Because I love to know about the origins of a story from the writer’s perspective, I thought I would share some notes about this story with you.

Spoiler Alert: There are spoilers in the story notes below. So if you want to read the story with fresh eyes check it out first at A cappella Zoo before reading the notes.

About ‘The world of her own making’

I love origin myths; the expansiveness of the claims and the simplifying of all the complexity of the universe into something completely human centric. Our gods are so often personifications of us, with all of our most basic (and sometimes terrible) traits; jealousy, lust, rage, hunger. Any origin myth we’ve conjured up is such a great indication of our humanity—our desire to connect with something bigger than us, our wish for the simplicity of a god-like figure.

I wanted to write a story of a girl who ate the world and naturally, as I was writing it, it turned into an origin story. A new world from the old, not something from nothing but something born from a normal girl who simply got hungry.

I can’t imagine a universe where something comes from nothing. I think ultimately that makes me a believer in an infinite multi-verse which has its own issues but I like the idea of a new universe coming from something pre-existing because a lone god in an empty void creating all of existence is even more confusing and definitely less science-friendly.

I liked being able to really get into the texture of things in this story, assigning common tastes to objects that aren’t meant to be eaten and I enjoyed the ultimate grandeur of the tale. I guess thoughts of the universe are never far from my mind because they creep into my writing at any given opportunity.

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Inspiration Series

Inspiration Series – Star Spider

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It’s taken me a long time to write this post because although I find inspiration insanely interesting, I think the truth is I’m a little scared of it. It’s so skittish I sometimes feel that if I speak too loud I’ll scare it away. It’s an almost superstitious relationship I have with my inspiration even though I’m not usually a superstitious person. Inspiration makes me want to knock on wood, carry a lucky charm, cross my fingers. I feel like my inspiration is a thing that’s not really a part of me, even though that’s a ludicrous notion.

The idea of inspiration is completely fascinating to me. I often wonder why it takes the shapes it does. How can one person be lyrically inspired while another is more visual? Where does inspiration come from? Is it just our minds solving problems in an artistic way or is there something more at work—some divine muse perhaps? Probably not.

My inspiration is definitely skittish. I’m a one-trick-at-a-time pony. I work hard to find stories and once I have them I wrestle with them until they take shape, become a real thing. Then I write them and BAM, they’re done and it’s almost as if they were never mine in the first place. It’s a fleeting relationship.

I say I work hard to find my stories and it’s the truth, but I probably shouldn’t. Some studies suggest that inspiration is more of an unbidden experience, that it just happens when you’re open and observing, and I find that to be completely true. Most of my stories sneak up behind me when I’m not looking, but even still I can’t relax enough to wait for them. I get impatient and start searching and that just stresses me out and probably slows down the whole process. It’s just who I am though—impatient for inspiration.

As for finding stories, they live everywhere. I find most of them outside on long, meandering thinky kind of walks. They hide in corners and they tend to only take form when I look at them directly. My stories exist in a quantum state, subject to the observer effect.

Stories are like sacred objects—meaningless until we fill in the blanks, assign them a mythology. Nothing in the world ever started out as anything of specific significance, but when we humans get our hands on things we tend to try to make them profound. Humans are great for making the mundane sacred. And that’s all a story is; a moment, a concept or an object made profound by a writer.

I constantly struggle with my inspiration and every time I finish a story or a novel I tell myself I won’t push the next idea. I’ll keep myself open and just let it come to me. But that never works for long, I get stressed about my lack of inspiration and go looking. Sometimes I’m fruitful and sometimes I just depress myself. I guess I have an artistic temperament—ever the tortured soul searching for my next sacred story.

Inspiration is an amazing thing but it can also be insanely frustrating.

So I’ll just have to cross my fingers and wish on a star that my next story finds me before I have to go out looking for it.

Inspiration Series

Inspiration Series – Jennifer Pendergast

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If you follow a well-known religion, I imagine it’s easy to answer the question “What do you believe?” At least it’s easy to give a brief answer, even if it is far from complete. For me, there hasn’t been a short answer since I started really thinking about what I believed, and really being honest about it.

And the same is true when I try to answer questions about my inspiration for writing. In her calls for submissions to this series, Star referred to the “almost spiritual” nature of inspiration, and that phrase really struck a chord for me.

The simple answer to where I get my inspiration from is “my head”.  My ideas can come as dreams, daydreams or random thoughts; they often arrive as phrases or concepts, sometimes characters and very occasionally as plots or stories. But where do those things come from? Your guess is as good as mine. I refer to The Muse as a shorthand for something I don’t really understand, in much the same way I might occasionally refer to God, although I don’t picture any particular entity when I use that word.

For me, the interesting thing is not the arrival of the original idea, but the process that turns it into a story. With the possible exception of dreams, my initial ideas are no more than snippets, in need of a great deal of development before they will become even the shortest stories.

When the writing flows best, it feels like a sort of transcribing, perhaps a stream of consciousness, although my writing would never be described as that by a reader. I write stories like I write non-fiction, by just letting the words flow, seeing where they take me, and then tidying them up into something more coherent after the fact.

Some writers talk about “Movies in my mind”. I have no mind’s eye – I could not, for example, give you a reliable physical description of someone I know well, let alone someone or something I’ve imagined. But when a story flows well, this transcribing does come close to something like a movie in my mind, or perhaps a radio play: sounds, words and emotions, but no pictures.

When the writing isn’t flowing, I try to write anyway, and then it’s more about joining the dots, working out where I want the story to go and how it’s going to get there. This is how I write when I’ve drawn up an outline first (something I think has advantages and disadvantages, and which is worthy of a post of its own). Writing to an outline feels much less natural, but it’s still an organic process, because the outline never has the richness and detail of the writing itself, and eventually the characters, places and storylines still take on a life of their own.

One place I both do and don’t get inspiration is real life, and in particular the real people I know. Anyone who knows a writer has probably wondered if they’ll end up in a story, or even asked to, and I can’t answer for other writers, but for me they answer is mostly no, but with a little bit of yes.

As a rule, I find real people far too restrictive. I want to write fiction, not fact, and I want to write the stories The Muse gives me, not the ones I’m already living. And that’s before you get only people’s feelings. If I wrote a character even loosely based on someone I knew, I’d be too worried about upsetting them, or getting things wrong, to really enjoy the writing process. Obviously there will always be name overlaps or relationships that mirror those in my life, but I choose names because they fit a character, not to link them to a real person. I normally say if a character has your name, you can guarantee they won’t have any other facets I particularly associate with you.

On the other hand, I can’t deny that I occasionally use an anecdote or characteristic from someone I know, to flesh out an established character who I’m clear it would work for. Real life, whether an overheard conversation on a train, or an old memory of my own, can inspire elements of a story, even the story itself. Very occasionally I go so far as to play the ‘what if?’ game in my stories, and to wonder what would have happened if a single moment in my life or someone’s close to me, had gone another way. I imagine that’s a game all humans play, but as writers, we get to play it out on paper.

Jennifer Pendergast writes principally for the love of the story, but is gradually building her portfolio and seeking publication of her short stories whilst polishing several draft novels with a view to publication in the longer term. She was delighted when two of her stories were featured in the Canadian edition of Reader’s Digest. Her weekly flash fiction and thoughts on writing can be found at her blog www.elmowrites.wordpress.com.

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Inspiration Series – Lorraine Shenken Robbin

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Since starting my new life in 2010, each week I wrote as much as my ability allowed in one hour. That was all the library allotted.  At first I wrote a few words. I wrote an entire thought. A story took me four sessions. I learned and forgot and relearned and forgot again how to cut and paste, after 5 years of recovering my functions; my walking talking eating thinking through liver brain fog. Once recovered, with a new liver, I resourced healing through art.  I etched my scribbles. I discovered art once more. Not the same art but altered shaky scratchings on 8 by 11 paper with watercolors that I used in a group of women who traversed the rickety bridge to reality.

Doctors saved my life, yet the illness made my mind sick. I healed my mind through psycho-therapy. I discovered I need to create to heal, to feel human. Imagination and being human are important in order to emerge as happy artist.
Being a writer seems a vaporizing image. I reason that I must propel forward to expedite change. Keep moving. Keep learning. I want to breathe. “I want to write to taste life twice,” as Anais Nin said. I love living.

8 years back I read my stories on radio, published in notable publications where I was paid for my efforts. I taught at a Native Healing Centre. Exhilarated to share the joy of expressive writing I had learned from my mentor, Arnie, I felt certain these learners would benefit as I had.

A learner shook her head saying “No, all my creativity has been taken. I can’t write.” She spoke her story while I wrote it down.

It wasn’t until I fought for survival that I understood the words the learner said meant she needed to first feel safe. That her creative energy had been drained.  I, too, needed to allow myself the time to grieve. The time to reflect would be my opus.

I meander, I convolute, I digress, and most dreaded word of all I am “tangential.” An accusatory psycho-social worker wrote a report on me when I sought employment. I peeked at the report when she left the office. It read, “She speaks in stunted and unfinished thoughts. Lorraine is tangential.” I was hurt and angry. Anger prodded me to seek clarity.

Sluggish, fallow, waiting for my perfect alone time, I allow distractors, detractors to affect me, or pierce me with critique. I interrupt my flying mind. I stop my doltish disobedient fingers keyboarding in soft halting script tap tap tapping miniscule letters like no-seeums drowning in a blue drunken concoction a page on a screen on a blog a twenty year old set up for me on “Tumblr ‘cos that’s easiest, Mum.” When I doubted my ability to create, my girl had faith in me. Faith has its own power. I recognize that I need time to myself. I schedule my writing time.

I wrote a story for a community newspaper’s writing contest in 2012. Marietta, my friend and editor donated 5 hours of her time. She submitted the story via email as I didn’t have a computer. I won second prize. 50 bucks for a ‘Menorah Memory’. I was as ecstatic as if I’d won the Nobel Prize. It lit me up. I had finally written something concise. I was writing again. Small amounts of encouragement and caring friends entice me to create. Human contact, eye to eye interaction and stimulating conversation are vital components to help me think. I need to express myself and writing is the best method for me. I can take as long as I need to access words that escape me when talking. I am a klutz with speech. When I’ve written about a subject I know how I feel about it.  Writing about my ordeal is trauma inducing. Once I overcome I will write my truth. Overcome. I work under the illusion of myself as architecture. I joined a writers group. I listened. I read. I heard writers read.

I’m learning by helping children learn to read.

Theory is fine, yet the rules need to be broken. I say,” English is tricky.” We practice, we laugh, play, we converse, we use intuition, knowledge and experience to encourage 7 year olds to read and write.

Children teach me to be curious.

Focus eludes me. I give myself a gift. Walkabout Wednesdays. No pen, no notebook, no sketchbook. Out I walk. I am open to experience; people, trees, greenhouses, concerts, the touch of stuff. (I asked if I could touch someone’s hairy yellow sweater. It looked itchy but it was soft.) I look at art. I confide in total strangers who inform me and give me fresh details to ponder. Those are mini relationships.

I begin new projects hoping unfinished work may provoke me to end my stories. Am I scared to end? You bet I ‘m scared. I was on my way to a writing class when I became sick. Now 7 years later I finish what I started in that class.

My new story about life’s renewal ferments unfinished. I can’t help feeling oddly superstitious. I might have to feel the agony endured when the life force drained out of me till hallucinations haunted me. To return to a place I know was painful seems destructive.

To die without finishing would mean no one would read my story.  Startled into a stupor of wasted time. What an oaf. If I write the first part I already thought the continuum in my head. I abhor the tedium of conveying every word, typing till my fingers stiffen. I convict myself to my chair. The urge to write pounds me. I feel joy at being enthralled by story.

To renew myself is to discover the middle, to keep searching, to continue to the end. When I write it I’ll know how I feel.

Lorraine Shenken Robbin has read 5 of her stories on Life Rattle CKLN radio, published in Life Rattle Press 1999, read aloud at Totally Unknown Writers Festival, and at The Imperial Pub, wrote an essay for Today’s Parent, recorded  one of her stories on First Person Singular on C.B.C Radio, written a story for the Globe and Mail, and since finding her voice again, after being the recipient of a blessed liver transplant, is working on 2 upcoming novels. You can read Lorraine’s thoughts and ramblings on her blog at http://www.tumblr.com/blog/bbirdword 

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Inspiration Series – Karin Orsini

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Inspiration is a beautiful thing. What inspires me? Honestly, I cannot think of something that does not inspire me. When I witness something beautiful such as an act of kindness, the simple peace in nature or even just a smile from a stranger, I am filled with that blissful feeling of love and hope. When I witness destruction, anger or injustice, I am with filled with an urge to take action to create change.  When I pay attention to the world around me I am inspired.

I have not always been inspired and I feel that many people have a hard time being inspired. I do believe that in order to have the capability to be inspired one needs to be mindful, to have a clear head. It is hard to have a clear mind in a world filled with anger, destruction and injustice. Through personal experiences and observations of the world around me I feel that it is safe to say many people seek to escape the world through meaningless distractions and through addictions that they have allowed to develop in order to numb the pain of what they have experienced in the past or what they fear they may experience in the future. In other words, I believe many people unknowingly block themselves off from the possibility being inspired and inspiring others.

I believe that true inspiration, the kind where action usually follows, cannot come to one who is in a brain fog, to one who is distracted or numb. My mind was once caught it the thickest of fogs, for many years. It is not to say that I got nothing done in that time, that I made no accomplishments, or that I was never inspired, but when I look back all I see is fog. In that time I fought hard for temporary periods of relief from my fears and it was in those moments that I was able to live life. I am inspired by my past and my own journey and the hard times that I endured which have given me the strength to face the ongoing challenges in my life today. I am now able to be grateful for my blessings despite the trials that continue to be thrown my way.  I am able to look back with satisfaction on the past few months of my life. With my head out of the fog I have been able to live in the moment and to appreciate the good and the bad in this world, after all how good is “good” if one has never tasted “bad”. Since having a clear mind and opening my eyes I have been inspired and that inspiration has led me to inspire others. It has given me a purpose and it gives me a feeling of great peace, as though I am doing what I am meant to do.

I now live to inspire. I want to give love in every way that I can, to generate more love which I believe is the key to true happiness. Love is the key to the defeat of fear. Fear leads to everything ugly and I believe that love can free one from hurtful thoughts and emotions and bring a sense of peace, a clear head, and a chance to be inspired and become inspiration for others. Once inspired I believe it is our duty to inspire others. Inspiration is a blissful feeling, a feeling full of love and hope. I continue to be inspired by others, I live to inspire. Be the change.

Karin is an animal rights activist born and raised in Toronto, Canada. She currently lives in Guelph, a short ride west from Toronto, with her husband Ryan and her furry daughters Clara and Miley. Karin spends her weekdays as an occasional teacher in Toronto where she enjoys working with and inspiring young students. Karin is on the Vegfest Guelph planning committee and is in the midst of raising money for and planning Guelph’s first ever vegan festival. Karin enjoys spending time in nature, blogging about the vegan lifestyle, keeping fit and staying healthy.

Blog: http://www.simplyvegan10.blogspot.ca
FB: http://www.facebook.com/#!/simplyvegan10
Twitter: @simplyvegan10

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Inspiration Series – Jim Murray

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I have been a writer since the age of 17. I was first inspired to write when I left my original home in Fort Erie to go and live with my dad and his wife Diana in Ottawa. I wrote my first poem in a letter to my then girlfriend Sandy Sparks who lived in Tonawanda, which Is a suburb of Buffalo. We eventually realized that living almost 500 miles apart really sucked, and so we drifted away from each other. But during that period I became a dedicated poet and man of letters of sorts.

All through college and my early working days, living downtown in Toronto with my Ottawa pal, John Wild, I wrote. I wrote poetry. I wrote essays, I wrote short stories. Many of them were influenced by the writers and songwriters I worshiped with like John Updike, Phillip Roth and Saul Bellow, Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, Leonard Cohen and Tim Hardin to name but a few.

I continued to write after I married and eventually got into writing advertising as a profession. During the 7th year of my marriage, we were living in Rosedale in Gordon Lightfoot’s coach house, and I had a chance to present some of the lyrics I was writing to Gord’s guitar player and a great songwriter, Terry Clemens. I thought I was pretty hot shit at the time, but Terry and his wife Roz sat me down and told me the truth. They said that my lyrics very good but were highly derivative and that I was emulating all of my influences. This was a big shock to my system, mainly because it was true. I went into a bit of a tailspin and it had huge ramifications in all parts of my life.

But the one thing I remembered, in all the emotional chaos which ensued, was Terry and Roz telling me that I had all the talent necessary to do anything I wanted, and I even had a lot of the discipline required to pull it off….but what I needed to do was find my own voice.

I have to admit that I had never really looked at the work I was doing in that way. A lot of us don’t. It never occurs to us to do that, as we are generally too busy creating to think about the philosophy of what we are doing. We automatically assume our point of view is our own and well, unique.

This revelation, as it sunk into my head, caused me to go through what most people would call a breakdown. I felt my spirit shattering into a million pieces. I was weak and helpless, both physically and mentally for several months. It took its toll on my wife, my work and a lot of other stuff too.

But the spirit is a lot like mercury and eventually the shattered droplets of my spirit met up with each other and reformed. One day I woke up and for the first time in what seemed like forever, I felt inspired. Not by anything I had read or heard or seen, but by something deep in my brain that was trying like hell to get out. My voice. Or at least I hoped it was.

This moment of inspiration led directly to the writing of this lyric, which even 35 years later still feels genuine to me and very much indicative of a pure moment of inspiration stated in what I feel to be my own voice.

SO MUCH TO DO

So much to do…so little time
So many mountains I’ve yet to climb
So many ups…so many downs
So many people …so little common ground

So many words pass through my pen
So much starting all over again
In a world where nothing ever seems real
It’s hard to touch what you truly feel

So many children
See how they grow
So much to tell them
Before they know
How to believe in a
World gone wrong
How to sing out
When they feel their own song
How to hold onto hope
When all the love seems dead and gone

So many people I’ve yet to know
So many heartaches yet to lay me low
So much confusion to suffer through
So many broken dreams before one comes true

So much to do in a single life
Too little harmony and too much strife
All we can do is fight the good fight
And hold onto each other tonight

So many lovers
How they come and go
You think you’re close to them
But do you ever know
Just what secrets
They have to hide
Just how much love
They have been denied
Just what they might
Really be feeling inside

So much to do…so little time
So many mountains I’ve yet to climb
So much to do…so much to say
I’ve got the fever and it won’t go away

This lyric was the linchpin for a number of things. Among them, one rather overwritten novel, a dozen screenplays, an editorial column called The Couch Potato Chronicles, which I wrote for 10 years and a lyric book that houses about 350 finished pieces. I don’t really care too much what happens to these pieces because I wrote them on the 40 year adrenaline rush that finally finding my own voice has provided for me. I write solely for the joy of it and I am lucky that way. If something comes of all this, great. If not….well there’s always my commercial writing, which I am very good at.

The piece below is the last piece I wrote, just a few weeks ago. And this is what I wrote about it.

Today I had an inspiration while I was riding back from Loblaws. (proof that these things can happen anywhere). It was just a line that popped into my head. “There’s a fire burning hot in the night”. I have been thinking a lot lately about the resilience of the human spirit, in the face of sociopathic corporations, soulless governments, compassionless bureaucracies and bullshit institutions that all work to break us down and make us fearful and subservient. And about how life has become about rising above all that crap to be your own dog, so to speak.

So I started thinking on that in more depth and this is the result. Still a bit rough around the edges, but the thought is expressed…a combination of inspiration leading to perspiration, powered by dedication.

THERE’S A FIRE

There’s a fire burning hot in the night
There’s a fire burning wild and bright
Everything that wants to live takes flight
From the fire burning hot in the night

There’s a fear burning deep in your soul
Always makes you feel out of control
Keeps you half a man, never whole
There’s a fear burning deep in your soul

There’s fire burning hot as the sun
There is nowhere anybody can run
Time to face the demons as they come
From the fire burning hot as the sun

CHORUS
Cause there’s a fire that burns the world clean
And that fire will destroy the machine
That devours everybody’s dreams
There’s a fire that burns the world clean

There’s hope you carry in your heart
And it causes all your fear to depart
It makes every new day a brand new start
It’s your own flame that sets you apart

There’s a fire that never burns out
Six billion voices, hear them shout
We’re comin’ for you so you’d better watch out
Because our fire will never burn out…

As you can see, there’s not a whole lot of difference between the first original lyric I wrote and the last one. There are a lot of intellectual highways I drove down in between then and now, but hopefully the tales of those journeys have been expressed in my own voice.

Jim Murray is a writer, art director, communication strategist and producer. He is also a screenwriter, lyricist and editorial columnist. He has spent pretty much all of his adult life in the marketing and communications business and writing all kinds of other stuff. He is basically an all round creative person. He is the father of Star Spider who is also a writer and Dan Murray who is a professional baker and bakery manager. He is extremely proud of both his kids. He has been married to his wife Heather since the time of Jesus. He loves to read spy thrillers. He loves good TV, pro sports and cycling. He is a very tightly wired individual, who always lets his opinions be known. His company is called Onwords & Upwords and the company name is his personal philosophy.

Contact Info & Links

Direct Line: 416 463-3475
Email: jim@onandup.ca or onandup3@gmail.com
Web Site: http://www.onandup.ca
Editorial/Promotional Blog: http://onwordsandupwords.wordpress.com
SME Presentation: http://tinyurl.com/lnrp3fg
LinkedIn Profile: http://tinyurl.com/pxlsvbe
Download my EBook, Small Business Communications For The Real World:
http://tinyurl.com/nqlgtu3

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Inspiration Series – Paul Valliere

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Interesting timing. I just saw this poem I scribbled on a scrap of paper and lost on my desk a while back and it decided to find me again.
 
 
Writing is like trying to
make love to a beautiful
woman – it scares you
but you have to go there,
 
Wanting to tell the truth
you end up expressing
only what you feel, that
thick layer that needs
ripping to shreds so
your soul can finally
climb from the abyss,
only it can pull you up
into the light.
                         P V

Paul Valliere was born in Belleville, Ontario in 1948 and grew up in Picton, Ontario under an assumed name. He knew he was preparing for something important and “came out” as a metaphysical poet circa 1996 with the self-published “Musings of a Metaphysical Man”.