Monday, August 16, 2010

A Family Portrait: The Sequel

While on vacation in July, my mother decided she wanted to take a family picture. This is a good idea because everyone is present and we are surrounded by beautiful scenery. This is a bad idea because:

a) We are all in relaxed/frumpy beach mode.
b) We are all staring into the bright sunlight.
c) Keeping seven children attentive and happy looking for multiple pictures is no one's idea of fun.
d) Keeping eleven adults happy and celestial-looking is an equal challenge.

Nevertheless, we persevered with Mom's plan. Here are a few of our attempts:

Brigham couldn't see in the sun, Ben was trying not to cry, and Isaac decided his toy boat was more worth seeing than his face.

We are all distracted by Edward's bid for freedom.

And now for my personal favourite. This is how we really feel about family:

I think this is the perfect candidate to go up in my dad's office when he wants to show off his darling children. I know I will be showing it off to my clients.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Big News: Nothing Happened

On the inside of my bedroom door I have a newspaper clipping from the National Post. I found this story one morning when I opened my paper and looked at the front page news. The headline reads:

"Orphans Not as Malnourished as Novel Characters: Dickens' Oliver Twist Was Well Fed!"

The story then goes on to describe how a recent study shows that the gruel eaten by Oliver Twist and Nicolas Nickleby was in fact very satisfying. The writer, bless their heart, tells the story with the style I would use being the sole discoverer of a government consiracy. Imagine the scandal of someone exaggerating in fiction!

I kept the article not only because it makes me laugh, but because I find it to be a great motivational tool. While I no longer wish to be a journalist, I am happy to be reminded everyday as I walk out my door that slow news days (or their equivalents) happen to everyone.

As a journalist, and now just as a regular human being, I have definite opinions about the news and it's reporting. One of my biggest beefs is when people tell me they don't listen to the news because it's depressing, or they can't listen to the radio because they just talk about traffic jams. What do people think the news is going to talk about?

"This morning, a man drove down Deerfoot Trail on his way to work and made it there on time."

"Last night, a woman walked home and made it there safely."

That's not NEWS. News is when something unexpected happens that is out of the ordinary.

I raised this opinion with plenty of my journalism classmates and teachers, and they all agreed. However, this does not seem to the opinion of the Calgary media. This morning on my drive to school, I heard the following "news" on two separate radio stations.

Why is it news that someone was not injured by flying debris? Okay yes, it's an unsafe construction site, but they're leading with the story of a non-injury. People get scratches on their cars all the time. The lane of traffic that should have been closed strikes me as an interesting fact, but really Calgary? Scratched cars are not news.

I thought you were better than that.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Grace of a Swan

It is a truth universally acknowledged that large family gatherings almost always lead to cheesy family jokes and then transform into cheesy family slogans. These slogans are repeated over and over again until they are no longer funny and no one remembers where they came from, but they are said anyway as said family members have adopted them as part of their everyday speech.

Examples of this phenomen can be found in the Redd family's use of terms such as "boobishay" (to borrow your sister's sweater and take it as your own) and "in the chips;" which is used whenever someone starts buying rather than renting or eating butter instead of margarine. Recently, we also see how this works with the younger Redd's habit of exclaiming, "Quite literally" after everything that happens and then bursting into peals of laughter. This blog is the story of yet another cheesy family saying coming into being.

A few weeks ago, my family went on holidays together in Osoyoos. When your immediate family consists of two parents, five kids, three in-laws, seven grandchildren and two more on the way, this is a major accomplishment. Not only did we all manage to be in the same place at the same time, we all crammed into one house.

Thankfully, for everyone's sanity, there was no actual night where we were all sleeping in said house. There were only four bedrooms, and the owners didn't want tents pitched in their backyard. So the afternoon that Janine and I arrived for a four-day weekend, my sister Emily and her husband Shaun conveniently decided to head home.

In actuality, the Redd clan was congregated in our entirety for only two hours, but those two alone were enough to accomplish what nearly every family gathering needs.

We were sitting around on the lawn after just watching the ibbi hack a pinata to pieces, and Katey was making balloon animals and weapons for all the kids. Someone said something that reminded me of a certain commercial I happen to find hilarious, and without thinking, I said out loud:

"I'm on a horse."

To everyone in my family who has seen this Old Spice Commercial (which would be most of them), my spontaneous line was a perfect invitation to begin quoting every line they have ever heard from the Old Spice advertisers. The favourite soon became a quote from the ad I had not yet seen, but which I was dying to watch after seeing my seven months pregneant sister try to imitate the ad in her lawn chair. Here's our money quote:

"Do you want your man to smell like her can bake you a gourmet cake in your dream kitchen which he built with his own hands? Of course you do. SWAN DIVE!"

A short while later, a few of us decided to go in the lake. The house we rented had a dock from the beach for tying up boats or leaping into the water. When you have the Old Spice Man stuck in your head, a large-ish body of water and a way to jump into it in a dramatic fashion, what do you think you will do? That's right. Soon, swan dives were the only cool way to enter the water. Canon balls seemed very passe.

The joke continued for the duration of the holiday. Quoting that one commercial became just what we did while we were in the water. This continued in excess until my sister Jaima told us that Old Spice is in fact, a disgusting old man product. We shut up about swan dives for a grand total of five hours.

That evening, I was standing on the dock with my brother-in-law Jason. I wanted to jump in the water but not by myself. Jason came with me, and we couldn't resist. We simply had to imitate our favourite white bird again.

Or second favourite. I am a fan of the albatross.

Saturday night; our last night in Osoyoos - there were only five members of our family left; Mom, Dad, Janine, Peter and me. Dad wanted to borrow my camera and take pictures of us kids jumping off the dock on rapid fire. In case you haven't caught on to the idea yet that we really like to beat a dead horse, here is evidence of our awesome moves:

We are now all sick of white birds, imaginary gourmet cakes, and old man body wash. However, I am waiting for the day when Blake, Ben and Isaac (now ages 4 and 5) leap off the dock screaming "SWAN DIVE!"

When they're heads pop up from the surface, Isaac will turn to Ben and ask why they say that. Ben will shrug and say it's just what they've always done and said at family reunions.

Because that's just how cheesy family slogans work.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Reading About Writing

The past few months I have had a lot of reading time as I take the train to school everyday. I am slightly claustrophobic, so I need a book not only for my own pleasure, but to draw my attention away from from the mild panic that sets in every time the train goes underground.

Lately, this time has been devoted to writing research. While reading countless books about how to write every morning and every evening may seem a bit excessive, I have discovered it keeps me focused on my craft. When one is going to school for four hours, work for six, and commuting two and a half, I need the extra kick in the pants I get from reading other author's ideas on novel writing to make me ever want to look at my manuscript at the end of the day.

Any other attempting novelists out there; give this a try if you're having trouble sitting down to actually do the work. Nothing says shut up and do the work already like reading about how many other people have already done it.

That said, I am picky with which books I actually read. Walking down the writing reference aisle in Chapters one can see an endless supply of books that claim they can make your book stand out from the rest, that they have sure ways to get published, that they and they alone will cure your writer's block. After sampling a large grain of salt, I look through and read the synopsis' on a few. If I find it interesting, I read a few pages. If I think it looks promising, I put it on a list and go to the library because I am a student and writing books can be expensive.

Here is a bit about the ones I love the most, and which I have found most helpful:

Writing Magic: Creating Stories That Fly by Gail Carson Levine
All right; don't turn up your nose at this one just because the back cover says for ages 8 and up. I nearly did, but because it is by an author who writes in the same genre as I do, I gave it a try. Yes, there are some sections where she is definitely talking to kids, but I got some great tips from here. Sometimes as a writer I can get caught up in the obscure. Writing Magic brings me back to the basics.

I especially found the character interview in this book helpful. So many I find are not relevant to characters that do not live a realistic 21st century world. Levine's can cover any character. I use it every time I get stuck on characterization; it gives definition and style to all of them.

Thanks, But This Isn't For Us: A (Sort Of) Compassionate Guide to Why You're Writing is Getting Rejected by Jessica Page Morrell
I have already written an entire post about this book, so I won't get too into it again except to say, if you ever want to see your novel on a bookstore shelf; read it. Save it for when you are finished your first draft, but it's a must read.
Here's my other post on the book; in case you were wondering.

Now Write! Fiction Writing Exercises From Today's Best Writer's and Teachers by Sherry Ellis
I was most hesitant to pick up this one. It sounded to me like it would have too many ideas all smushed together; each author thinking theirs was the greatest, and I wouldn't be able to make up my mind as to who I should listen to. For some reason I cannot completely understand, I picked it up, and am glad I did. I did not find it as fantastic as Morrell's, but it's a good reference. I would keep it on hand for writer's block if you ever need to look up an exercise on a certain aspect.

The book does not follow a methodical order for writing or editing a book, it's merely a guide to writing exercises in getting started, character development, dialogue, plot, setting, revision, etc. I would still keep on hand when I needed a new exercise idea though.

A Writer's Guide to Queries, Pitches and Proposals by Moira Allen
Again, a book filled with contributions from various writers, this is the best "how to get published" book I have found. For those who are as clueless as me to how the pitching process works, read it. The book is filled with lots of tips, analysis and examples of successful pitches to reference. There's also a lot tips from authors on how to deal with rejection so you don't cry too much when that twentieth one comes in the mail.

The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron
Again, don't judge too fast! When my sister Katey first told me about this book I was prepared to turn up my nose at this hippie sounding book, but she is very stubborn and insisted, so I read it. This book is different from the rest on this blog because it is not a reference book and it isn't even written specifically for writers. This book is for any kind of artist; it's purpose is to get you past the half-baked zone of creating art as a hobby or thinking about writing that book you've had percolating in your head for years and actually doing what you want. The book is outlined in a twelve-week program and it really works. I went from someone who looked at their manuscript every other month and didn't even always write then to completing my first draft in two months and starting a sequel.

I am of the opinion that everyone should read this book, but especially aspiring writers. Seriously, don't be turned off by the kumbaya-sounding name.

If anyone else has suggestions of good writing books, I'd love to hear them.