I attended a creative workshop a couple of Saturday’s ago held by my writer’s group, The Writers Foundation of Strathcona County. The topics were POV and plot lines. We had several warm up exercises and an explanation of the various POV types and the variety of plot structure methods. Then with a timed exercise of twenty minutes, we had to write a short story using those techniques but with a title and a genre picked from a bowl. My title was Clue of the Painted Hand in a children’s book style. Although the last couple of paragraphs were added later, I think I did pretty well to have characters, plot, and a beginning, middle and finally an end!
Clue of the Painted Hand
Daisy pulled at her mother’s hand as they entered the library. It was her favorite place. Books let her escape to other worlds and made her feel less lonely. An only child, Daisy looked like a mini replica of her mother – blonde, brown eyes and slim -the only difference was the flower shaped birthmark on her right cheek. The reason she was called Daisy.
As usual there were lots of people in the library browsing book shelves and she saw a small huddle of younger children were listening to story time. Daisy felt too old for the short picture book stories and felt proud her reading age was ten years old, more than her real age of seven. She surpassed most of her school class mates in reading.
She looked over to see her mother talking to a friend so made her way to the book shelves in her favorite section – mystery adventure. Daisy loved jigsaw puzzle when she was younger, solving the patterns to create a whole picture. Now it was the same with stories. She would figure out the answer to the clues in the narrative before the end, most of the time.
Sitting cross-legged on the floor, Daisy ran her fingers across the book spines reading the titles. If one interested her, she took it out and read the explanation on the back. One by one she piled up books beside her. She could take out ten books and always finished them before the next Saturday. One book pulled another off the shelf and Daisy dropped them on the floor. As she lay down to grab one from under the shelf her fingers encountered another book shoved under the wooden base. After several tries she prised a dusty old book from under the shelf. It was an old book, its cover tattered and dusty. Daisy used her sleeve to wipe the dust off the cover. The title was immediately interesting – Clue of the Painted Hand. Oh this looks good, she thought. Turning the book over and opening it, she realized there was no library stamp of barcode. How long has it been there? Looking side to side, Daisy felt a real thrill – a book I can keep! A shiver of excitement and guilt went through her young body. No-one would know, she could put it in her coat pocket without anyone seeing. Her curiosity could wait no longer; opening the first page a map covered the first two pages. As she traced her finger over the markings and named streets, she recognized one – Hampton Avenue, where she lived. How could a book hidden under a shelf have a map of her town?
“Daisy, are you ready to go?”
Her mother’s voice startled Daisy and she quickly put the book in her pocket before picking up her selected library books. With the books scanned, they returned to the car. Daisy kept her excitement to herself but raced upstairs as soon as they arrived home. Now I can read the clues and find whatever treasure there is. It only took an hour to read the book. It told the story of an old Jack in the Box made by a master toymaker, who lived in the town many years before. His shop sign was a painted hand. This particular Jack in the Box had a musical mechanism and a doll instead of a jack, which popped up. Daisy read the clue, traced the map’s tracks and realized the location of the box was in the play ground behind her house.
She walked through the back garden, through the gate and counted steps just like the map said – one, two, three – until she reached twenty-five steps. Standing beside an overgrown old fountain, she pulled ivy and weeds away. The instructions said there was a secret detail to push in sequence. Daisy brushed away dirt and old leaves to find the stone carved like a bunch of daisies. She pressed the first petal it did not move, then another. Gradually, she discovered the petals that did move and marked them with a thumbprint. Now how do I press them in the right order? She sat down cross-legged and looked at the stone decoration. It was a posy of daisies, the stems long and disappearing into the weeds. Maybe I should pull these weeds out as well. Her thought propelled her into action. The flower stems were encased in a stone vase decoration with faint lettering on it. After rubbing the grime off with her sleeve, the words were clearer. A riddle! How exciting.
I’m at the peak
Then to the right
Follow me to the base
And reach to the left
A final center will release
Daisy read the riddle three times then pressed the loose petals, top, right, left, bottom and center. A grating sound alerted her to something moving. The vase shape pushed forward to reveal a void. Sitting in it was a dusty square box. With nervous excitement, Daisy pulled it out of its hiding place and wiped it clean. She knew her mother would be upset with all the dirt on her clothes but the treasure was worth it. Gently, she wound the handle on the side of the box until the lid burst open to reveal a beautiful blonde doll, head to one side holding a book and smiling. Music started to play and the doll’s head moved side to side just like if she was reading. This is so beautiful, she looks a little like me. Blowing gently she rid the doll and its book of a layer of dust. That’s when she saw the title of the book – Daisy the Adventurer. It is me! How can that be? Another mystery for me to solve but maybe I will need mother’s help. With great care, Daisy pushed the stone vase back into place, pulled the ivy and weeds back over the fountain and walked home cradling her treasure.
I hope you liked it.
Which plot method do you think I used? Story map, Story Flow Chart or Story Mountain?
It may seem like an easy to answer question but for most writer’s it is a multi faceted one. I have answered with:
Word or picture prompts
Overheard snippets of conversation
An idea popped into my head randomly
A personal interest
A topic of conversation
A couple of examples:
My children’s picture book, Rumble’s First Scare was a Halloween prompt, which I turned upside down. It is the monster’s point of view of Halloween and his first scare adventure with his Mum.
The Rython Kingdom began as a series of prompts that gelled together to form a story by pure chance.
It is not so clear cut as these to be honest but it helps a non-writer understand the creativity side of our brains a little easier.
I presented a workshop on how to formulate an idea into a novel at the WFSC writer’s conference in the spring. From that initial spark to compiling a story line/arc, creating a plot arc, introducing characters, and finding the correct conclusion for the genre. It was a fun experience.
Several people enjoyed the button prompt, so today’s question is:
What story comes to mind with this image? Use 69 words or less.
Here is my interpretation:
The streets lay deserted and dirty. The last flickering of an advert splashed against the buildings husk. Nature will encroach to claim back what is rightfully hers, once again. The structures will house animals and insects and plants will flourish as the cement and steel crumble and rust.
The Group of Seven Reimagined: Contemporary Stories Inspired by Historic Canadian Paintings is at once artistic and literary. This anthology is a gorgeous testament to the Group of Seven, through the unique lens of twenty-one acclaimed flash fiction writers. – Each flash fiction story, (a brief, condensed, though fully realized narrative, written in under five hundred words), is paired with a lush full-colour reproduction of the painting that inspired it, showcasing both Canada’s historical artistic oeuvre with its contemporary literary artistic talent.
Where did the idea for this book come from?
The impetus for this book began as a writing prompt. I am always looking for interesting, layered prompts: a phrase, paradox, scenario, image, to inspire and formulate a story around. I happened to be walking my dog along Vancouver’s Jericho Beach early one frigid but bright wintery morning and was struck by the awesome beauty of the snow-peaked North Shore mountains looming across that stretch of ocean. I imagined that Lawren Harris would have wanted to paint that stunning vista, and in that glance, had the inspiration for my story. – It was only later, when conducting background research for my piece that I learned that the one-hundred-year anniversary of the Group of Seven was coming up in 2020. – A light bulb went off! The anniversary presented a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the enduring genius of these painters, in story. I contacted fellow flash fiction writers with the idea of putting an anthology together inspired by the landscape paintings of the Group of Seven and the enthusiasm for this project was immediately infectious. I wanted to put together a book that would both increase the profile and expand the reach of these iconic Canadian painters, while at the same time introduce art lovers to the marvels and delight of flash fiction.
Why flash fiction?
Flash fiction is the hottest rising literary trend in Canada. It is my current obsession. I have been on a maelstrom writing flash for the past three years. Each miniature story (flash fiction) is a delicious morsel, the flavours exploding with each bite. For me, flash fiction (always written in under 1000 words, and usually in under 500) is storytelling at its best. It draws the reader into another world engaging her in an immersive, evocative, and emotionally resonant experience, albeit for a brief moment in time; ‘for a flash’. Each miniature story is meant to delight, surprise and challenge the reader. There is often much hidden in between the lines and white spaces inviting the reader to return again to discover more in the layers of the story. And while each flash fiction takes only a few moments to devour, each story takes much longer to ‘perfect’, requiring a practiced skill in crafting, sculpting, editing, and polishing. I love the challenge writing flash poses, and the sense of satisfaction in completing a layered piece with a beginning, middle, and end, in a relatively short period of time. Relatively short compared to that of the traditional short story of 1500-3000 words, novella, or novel (which can take years to realize). The Flash Fiction community of writers and readers across Canada is exploding. Canadian literary magazines, journals, and anthologies now publish several flash fiction pieces in each issue, and flash fiction workshops and classes, both online and in house, can be found everywhere. I find this so exciting!
Why the Group of Seven?
When I first saw a Group of Seven painting, a Lawren Harris, I was gobsmacked. A stunning mountain carved like folds of butter, light cascading down upon its peak, pure and ethereal. I was immediately transported, somewhere deep, sublime, and otherworldly. My love affair with the Group of Seven began in that moment. As a university student living in Toronto in the 80’s, I had the opportunity to visit the McMichael Gallery in Kleinburg many times. The McMichael Collection even then, was remarkable and awe-inspiring. Over the years as I have discovered more of the Group’s landscape paintings in galleries, museums, books, and on-line. They have captured my imagination and heart for all these many years, transporting me into the story of the canvas and beyond. – I was inspired and driven to realize this book in celebration of their enduring genius.
How did you decide to pair the Group of Seven with Flash Fiction?
For me the match is made in heaven! The paintings are immediately perceived as storied, and the flash pieces are beautifully written, as if a painting. Both image and story invite the reader/viewer into another realm; a place of deep resonance and wonderment. Each read of the narrative, when paired with the layers, shadows, and textures of the landscape painting, becomes an immersive experience.
Each Contributor chose a landscape painting that inspired them, from a selection of Group of Seven paintings. Works by Tom Thomson and Emily Carr, both contemporaries of the Group, are also included in the book.
Who are the Writers/Contributors in The Group of Seven Reimagined and how were they selected?
Most of the Contributors are award-winning short story authors, several times over. They come from all regions of Canada, from coast to coast to coast, and three from the US, the UK, and AU, each with a distinct Canadian connection. I felt it was important to invite writers from across Canada who I thought would present a varied, distinct, and unique voice, and, be expert at crafting a miniature work of fiction. While Canada has so many brilliant short story writers, writing flash fiction presents unique challenges, i.e. excellent editing chops and concision, not every short story writer is comfortable with or interested in exploring.
I am a voracious short fiction reader. I read as many short story collections, journal, magazine, and anthology short fiction pieces as I could find, looking for a range of style, genre, and voice. Above all, I was looking for writing at a level of excellence. And of course, I found brilliant storytellers, and was excited by so many extraordinary works of fiction. It was also important that each person I invited to participate be more than enthusiastic about celebrating the Group of Seven and be inspired by their paintings.
I am thrilled with each of the writers selected. Mike Blouin, Carol Bruneau, Paulo da Costa, Alfred DePew, Tamas Dobozy, Valerie Fox, Travis Good, Mark Jarman, JJ Lee, Brett Loney, Lorette C. Luzajic, Yael Eytan Maree, Michael Mirolla, Isabella Mori, Nina Munteanu, Waubgeshig Rice, Robert Runté, Nina Shoroplova, Mireille Silcoff, Mary Thompson. Each one a consummate professional and joy to work with. Each writer has selected a gorgeous Group of Seven painting to inspire their story and each has contributed a marvellous flash fiction piece. The results and pairing are stunning. In addition to being the editor, I also have a flash fiction piece in the book.
Where did you get your training? How long have you been writing flash fiction? Have you always written, have you always wanted to write?
I think my path to becoming a writer is rather unique. I was sixty-two before I wrote my first story, ever. And I will be sixty-four before this book is published. I have never written fiction before. Never even tried. My writing up until very recently has been academic and analytically focused. I had done some journal writing intermittently as process-writing, but that’s it. Back in high school I wrote my final English exam interpreting a poem about the Tree of Life, referencing photosynthesis/ chlorophyll / life cycle / and the ecosystem. I was clearly off the mark. Words and imagery, conveying personal experience through metaphor or simile was not my forte, comfort level, or inclination.
Since beginning to write fiction three years ago, I have been published in twenty-five international literary journals, magazines, and anthologies, and have more in the queue.
My training is in Psychology. I am a seasoned Family Therapist. Decades of ‘being fully present’ in the therapy session has made the transition into writing surprisingly seamless for me. As Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Olen Butler describes, ‘writing takes place in the Dreamscape’. Being fully present in this ‘Place of Solitude’ is where writing is best explored and fashioned. I enjoy this space. It is where I am most myself. And it is where I create from.
I discovered flash fiction reading journals and magazines online. There is a dynamic global flash fiction community. I read flash fiction journals regularly and enjoy discovering new writers (new to me) – the talent out there is magic. I quickly found online workshops teaching flash fiction and have participated in many three-day, ten-day, and monthly workshops, and continue to enrol in one every month or two. The workshops are lots of fun, generative, and attended by highly creative, respectful, and generous writers. I’m totally hooked.
What do you enjoy most about editing?
Cultivating a relationship with the writer is a must for the editing process to be successful.
Pulling back to the barest of form and arriving at clarity is what motivates me in editing. I love the process. Finding increasing precision in word choice is my kind of fun. I delight in the concision, word craft, play, and intentional word choice used to create imagery that resonates and evokes an emotional response in the reader. My tool is a thesaurus. I clean up a piece to reveal its essence, letting it take center stage and shine. Presenting a re-configured or revised passage to a writer who chooses to accept it, is the ultimate satisfaction for an editor.
I have a lot of ideas, although only two have reached the planning stage. 1. A flash fiction anthology similarly structured to The Group of Seven Reimagined, ekphrastic writing, – flash fiction inspired by visual art. This time showcasing the surrealist and magic realism artists Leonora Carrington, Remedios Varo and Kati Horna. and 2. A collection of flash fiction, all my own pieces.
I am exploring how to approach this next project differently. It has been enormously expensive to put this book together. The cost of permissions and licenses from Art Galleries, Museums and Estates to use hi-res reproductions of the paintings in the book has been almost prohibitive. This expense comes out of the author’s / editor’s pocket; the publisher does not absorb this cost. Having a sponsor/corporate interest would help move this next project forward. It is something I’m looking into.
The Group of Seven will launch in Vancouver in October, and in Toronto in May – details on Vancouver and Toronto launch coming soon – if you would like to receive an invitation to attend either Launch party, send an email to email@example.com with ‘Vancouver Launch Invitation’ or ‘Toronto Launch Invitation’ in the subject line. We are going to celebrate!
Karen Schauber is a Flash Fiction writer obsessed with the form. She has been on a maelstrom writing since she was first introduced to this brief condensed short story form three years ago. Her work has since appeared in 25 international literary magazines and anthologies, including Brilliant Flash Fiction, Bending Genres, CarpeArte, Ekphrastic Review, and Fiction Southeast. The Group of Seven Reimagined: Contemporary Stories Inspired by Historic Canadian Paintings, celebrating the Canadian modernist landscape painters, is her first editorial/curatorial flash venture. Schauber runs ‘Vancouver Flash Fiction’, a flash fiction Resource Hub and Critique Circle, and in her spare time, is a seasoned Family Therapist. A native of Montreal, she has called Vancouver home for the past three decades.
Today’s question is by way of an exercise to inspire the writing Muse. I hosted my writing group’s meeting on Tuesday and used a bag of multiple buttons as a 10 minute writing prompt. There were hundreds of buttons in various colours, styles and shapes. Each participant choose one to three buttons and then had to use them in one of the following ways.
Describe the button in as much detail as possible.
Tell a story of the garment the button came off and the person it belonged to.
Give the button(s) personalities to match their appearance and tell a story about them.
The result was a variety of stories, each with individual ideas stemmed from the chosen button(s).
So today’s question is: you can use the photo herewith and pick a button or two or pick out buttons of your own and tell their story. I would love to read your stories – so comment below.
I will share one of my stories as the other one is not complete.
My Perfect Doll
Adeline picked up the purple button, a tear running down her cheek.
“Poor Sandy, your beautiful coat is ruined.”
Picking up her favorite blonde haired doll, Adeline ran downstairs calling for her mother.
“Mummmmeeee….” the last syllable became a long whine, as she ran through the living room into the kitchen. The room was filled with the aroma of chocolate cookies.
“Oh my goodness, whatever is the matter?”
“Sandy’s coat is ruined – look. Now she isn’t perfect.”
She held up the doll dressed previously to perfection and opened her clasped hand to reveal the large purple button.
“Well, I wouldn’t say she is ruined, darling. It’s just a matter of sewing it back on.”
Adeline’s tears stopped and she looked up at her mother full of hope.
“Really, you can mend it?”
“Yes, of course I can. Sit here and have a nice warm cookie, I I get my sewing box. Sandy’s coat will be as good as new in no time.”
Comforted by her mother’s words, Adeline took a cookie and watched fascinated as the button was sewn back onto the doll’s coat.
“There all perfect again, I love you Sandy. And thank you Mummy.”
Her mother shook her head as Adeline disappeared back upstairs. I really need to teach her not everything has to be just so or prefect. She turned to the kitchen counter and began cleaning the counter top, every inch was meticulously scrubbed.