Category Archives: Writing

In Defense of Semi-Colons and Other Ornaments

Activity Being Avoided: Life. I’m campaigning for aestivation.
Music In My Head: Cowboy Romance – Natalie Merchant
Tea Being Drunk: cold mint tea with a little lemon
Books Being Read: Margery Kempe – Robert Gluck, Ragged Company – Richard Wagamese

I found this: On Semicolons and the Rules of Writing

My initial reaction to Kurt Vonnegut’s quote is “What an arrogant little…”. Those of you who have read this blog know that I’m in favour of pretty things like semi-colons and em dashes, and I only despise the clutter of serial commas because they encourage reading without thinking. You’ll also know that I believe a competent writer should be able to work within the full pyjama-tuxedo range.

Yes, one should be able to write a simple Vonnegut sentence, sans semi-colon. One should also be able to flutter Virginia Woolf’s heart with cleaved clauses.

A Vonnegut sentence (from Slaughterhouse Five–and please ignore the modifier problem): “Billy sat up in bed. He had no idea what year it was or what planet he was on. Whatever the planet’s name was, it was cold.”

A Woolf sentence (from A Room of One’s Own): “The title women and fiction might mean, and you may have meant it to mean, women and what they are like, or it might mean women and the fiction that they write; or it might mean women and the fiction that is written about them, or it might mean that somehow all three are inextricably mixed together and you want me to consider them in that light.”

Now, it’s not easy to write au Vonnegut. As with anything else, simple writing requires attention and practise. It’s even more difficult, however, to write a complicated sentence, to learn to use punctuation–no, to wield it as a chef’s knife–to create the lily and gild it.

Why bother? Why not keep it simple?

Humans don’t always like simple. We like art; we like pretty things; we laud the complex and ornate. While we might take a calming breath in the face of Japanese minimalism, the Sistine chapel receives gasps of admiration.

Each person should have the choice of eliciting breaths or gasps.

If we’re going to force “education” down every callow gullet, there should be a broad purpose to it. There is no purpose to analysing Shakespeare; there is great purpose to being a competent writer. If we spent less time analysing literature and more time honing writing styles, communication would become the most important thing in our society. With communication comes learning and understanding. With communication comes coherence.

We can’t all be the same, but we can learn to communicate with each other. We can also make our existence pretty–because there’s nothing wrong with something being embellished.

 

The Forgotten Words of Childhood

This is from the author of Multilingualism (https://sheilavdhc.com/2014/01/10/chicken-soul-soup-multilingualism/) and Saying It Like It Is (https://sheilavdhc.com/2013/11/08/chicken-soul-soup-saying-it/).

They grow up so fast….

Yudi's Blog

I was wandering through the library today for English lesson today, and I saw this book called “The Child That Books Built” by Francis Spufford. I flipped through it, and something in it made me have goosebumps to stand on my back.

It was sort of those moments that made me think about my childhood. My mom loved books, and we used to have a room dedicated to books. I loved reading about the grim brother’s stories, and tons of other fairy tales. I have gone through one of the hardest times in my life by reading books after books. Savoring the taste of the first book and diving into the second one without any waste of time.

The book starts off with, ” I can always tell when you’re reading somewhere in the house,” my mother used to say. “There’s a special silence, a reading silence.” I never heard…

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Word on the Street

September 24, 2017 at Harbourfront, 11:00 to 6:00.

To Be Human Again will be available from Salmacis’ Press on the Fringe Beat.

 

My Cultural Standards for Fiction

Two weeks ago, the Canadian literary scene got quite the shaking-up. (If you somehow missed this, start here and just keep clicking on links.) My students are wondering about it, talking about it, trying to solve this problem so it doesn’t inhibit creativity and multiculturalism but still considers people’s feelings when it comes to theft.

I have also been reading about this. As a fiction writer, I don’t want to inadvertently stomp on someone’s cultural heart. It’s not in anyone’s interest that I remain ignorant. I also believe it’s my personal responsibility–not an editor’s–to make sure that I don’t cross the line.

I think I’ve come up with an idea. It came to me while reading Robert Jago‘s On Cultural Appropriate, Canadian’s Are Hypocrites. He uses Harry and the Hendersons as an example of how cultural stories get taken out of context and badly used. I’ve never seen Harry and the Hendersons. Even when my kids we small and we were watching some rather terrible movies, we didn’t sink that low. Why not? Because it’s clearly crap. I don’t want to waste hours of my life deliberately partaking of total crap. There’s enough of that I can’t avoid.

So, how do I avoid total crap? There are certain filters or lenses one might use to determine crap levels. Part of it’s personal perspective; another part is something I picked up during my brief foray into academia. When writing non-fiction, there are certain standards for fact-checking and attribution to which one must adhere. One will not be taken seriously if one writes an academic paper that has no citations or uses “I once heard” as a resource. Primary sources are required; lack of citation is plagiarism.

I think I’ll apply the same criteria to my fiction.

  • If I haven’t used primary sources wherever possible, I can’t publish that story. (I, myself, count as a primary source, but I have to be ready to back that up with some sort of evidence.)
  • If I haven’t been able to come up with a minimum of three primary sources, I can’t publish that story.
  • If I’ve used something without permission, I can’t publish that story.
  • Anything that I’ve “made up” is to be clearly made up, not thieved. (I’m thinking about monsters and space aliens here.)
  • If I use someone else’s idea/tradition/culture and make money off it, a good chunk of that money (50%?) should go to a charity that supports said someone. My primary sources will be able to guide me to appropriate charities.

Fiction writers are still working with the making-up-stories-by-the-fire approach. Whatever one heard was fair game for pre-radio-era entertainment. Sometimes it was possible to trace the origin of the story; other times, it would be beyond the story-teller’s means/ability to do such a thing. Back then, there was some reason to just “borrowing” a story.

That’s not the state of things now. I have several libraries at my disposal, Google on all my electronic devices, and access to every country/culture on Earth through social media. I have no excuse for not getting a) the accurate story and b) permission from the appropriate people.

Not, of course, that this will save me from crap writing. What it might do is save my (few) readers from crap writing, and then the only thing they have to worry about is their personal opinion of my writing–including semi-colons.

Thieves are so annoying….

_To Be Human Again_ Sale

There’s a Kobo sale coming up. To Be Human Again will be available for 99¢CAD from March 20 to March 31, 2017. (The sale is also available in US dollars and British pounds.)

Don’t have a Kobo? You can get the app here.

A John Steinbeck Quote

From author John Steinbeck to editor Pascal Covici, Monday, March 26, 1951.

I wonder why, on such a day as this, when the story is particularly clear in my head, I have a kind of virginal reluctance to get to it. I seem to want to think about it and moon about it for a very long time before I actually get down to it. Today, I think I know one of the main reasons. Today’s work is so important that I am afraid of it.

Workshops in Mississauga

Activity Being Avoided: feeding the cats. Feel free to send them sympathy, but they’d prefer food. The torture will continue for another half hour.
Music (Not) In My Head: listening to this
Tea Being Drunk: just hot water. I’ve been sick, and I’m sloshing with liquids.
Books Being ReadMartin John — Anakana Schofield; An Unfortunate Woman — Richard Brautigan

Ask, and ye shall receive.

At the last Mississauga Writers Group meeting, some of the members were noting the group’s emphasis on the business aspects of writing–the post-writing stuff–and they expressed an interest in the practical aspects of writing. In response, Michelle Hillyard and I have designed a series of workshops for the beginning writer. These will focus on the pre-publication period.

You can keep track of these on my Upcoming Events page.

Depending on how these go, we’ll consider doing more or doing repeats.

(Yes, I know the Queer Literature workshop is in July: that’s when Peel holds its Pride Week. June is for Toronto’s Pride Week, and we are trying to be… not Toronto.)  Never mind. This was deemed “very specific” and they wanted me to water it down with other topics.