At the last writing group’s sharing meeting, we were given these words to create a poem or short story in 10 minutes. bird, scrape, clock, envy, whistle, sunset
I am sharing my story with you.
Gerald scraped the ice from the car windshield, his breathe making clouds in the still cold air. The sunset made the glass a mirror of the orange and burgundy. With the screen clear, he whistled in relief and quickly got into the heated vehicle., relishing the warmth. The digital clock in the dashboard flickered it’s red LED lights at 9:02 pm. He looked back at the large impressive house, where his car was parked, unable to deter the feeling of envy. If only, I could be as clever as my cousin, Jake and get a job that paid that well. I would buy a mansion over looking the bay and hold great parties every weekend.
He put the car into gear and pulled away, unaware of the bird nestling in the engine bay, relishing the warmth. It wasn’t until Gerald drew up outside his apartment block on the other side of town, that he noticed the odd noise. As he got out he could hear fluttering and chirps from under the hood. Carefully, he opened the hood and fell backwards as a flurry of wings brushed past his face. He stood for several moments in shock but then relief that the bird had not been burnt alive. You’re lucky, he called as he watched the bird perch on a low branch lit by the street light.
These writing exercises help generate imagination and having a set time ensures we write without thinking in too much detail.
I have an event coming up on 22nd January, which is an interview with a local arts TV channel – Arts Talk. I have had the pleasure of being interviewed by the host before – twice in fact – for my books but this particular interview is to promote and inform the local community of my local writers group, The Writers Foundation of Strathcona County. It is something I have done before as Secretary of the society but in a different setting. (photo)
As an author, I had to become ‘comfortable’ with public speaking for events, such as interviews and author readings. It was nerve racking when I first started but I have found the more I do the easier it gets. Like anything ‘practice makes perfect’ but it still doesn’t curb the nerves completely.
I plan to video a copy of readings this year so stay tuned. If you have a request for a particular segment of one of my books, please let me know.
Do you have any questions for me on my writing life? I would love to hear from you.
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.
Just Shut Up and Drive actually started off as a short story several years ago. I was part of a writing group that had weekly writing prompts that could be anything from challenging us to expand on a sentence or writing a story around one word to posting a picture. One week, the host of the group posted a black and white photograph of an old house. It must have been built back in the early 1900’s and had obviously been long ago abandoned. The story came to me right away and Gramps’ character, specifically, came to me the same night in a dream. I know that sounds weird but a lot of my ideas come from dreams I’ve had. A restless brain can prove to be a bonus from time-to-time. But that’s how Just Shut Up and Drive started out.
How did you come up with the title?
The title so depicts the character of Gramps. He comes across as a brash, cranky, narrow-minded old man. But the more layers he lets peel away on his journey with Wil, and the more vulnerable he allows himself to be, we get to the heart of who he truly is.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Honestly, there wasn’t at first. I just dreamed about this story, got up the next morning and wrote endlessly for the next couple of weeks. Including pre-editing, I think it took me about 3 months in total from idea to finished manuscript. I guess if there was any message I’d like readers to take away with them from this book it’s to embrace all that life has to offer you, no matter what direction your own journey takes you on. Pay attention to what’s around you, absorb the stories others share with you, take away what you need to from each experience and don’t be afraid to make those pit stops along the way. Those stops can often reveal a thing or two either about yourself or someone close to you that you wouldn’t have discovered any other way.
How much of the book is realistic?
Just Shut Up and Drive is a pretty realistic read. All of the places Wil and his grandfather stop to visit are real places. The highway they go down and the descriptions of what they see would be the same as what anyone else taking the same drive would see. Gramps’ house in Winnipeg is basically my grandparents’ house. Of course, some situations I put them in aren’t exactly every day occurrences for most people, but my focus was making this as real as possible so readers could relate to the story and feel a part of the journey right alongside Wil and Gramps.
Are your characters based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
When I ‘see’ characters, I have borrowed some personality traits from people I know and sometimes I’ve put some of me in there. For the most part, though, the characters aren’t usually based on someone I know but a lot of the scenarios I put them in are based off of events from my own life and experiences.
Where can readers find you on social media and do you have a blog?
Do you have plans or ideas for your next book? Is it a sequel or a stand alone?
I’ve just finished the next book in The Watcher series (the first book is Dark Water). I’ve also written another children’s book as well as a parent-to-parent book on Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). And I’ve also just completed a new adult novel currently in the editing stages before finding it a home. I always have ideas brewing. Right now, I’m planning my next memoir and have a plan set for a new adult fiction novel, but we’ll see. The Watcher series is the only sequel set I’ve started. The others are all stand alone.
Of the characters you have created or envisioned, which is your favorite & why?
Oh wow. That’s a toughie. My main characters are all the ‘underdog’ in some way. That invisible presence that not many others give enough time to, but who can make a huge difference in their own way. Each of them has had to face some sort of life hurdle and deal with it in the most positive way they can, bumps and all. And they are each searching, maybe not consciously, to fill some sort of void in their life. There is a character I created in my newest manuscript (that one will come out soon, hopefully) who is very much like me. But out of all of the characters I’ve created in my published works, I’d have to say my favorite is Wil Carter in Just Shut Up and Drive. He is funny, grounded and has an amazing relationship with his grandfather who raised him. And even though he faced the ultimate tragedy of losing his parents at a very young age, he shows others how to keep moving forward…with a little help from his very cranky, but very wise, grandfather. When I wrote the last sentence in Just Up and Drive, I actually teared up realizing I wouldn’t have the daily interaction with him anymore. But he’s still there. He’s one of those powerful spirits that never truly leaves you. I hope readers feel the same way when they ‘meet’ him.
Do you favor one type of genre or do you dabble in more than one?
I’ve been told I’m an eclectic writer in that I have dabbled in different genres. So far, I’ve published children’s books, memoir, adult fiction and young adult and new adult fiction. My heart is writing for youth so my books are clean, contemporary, true-to-life fiction. That’s not to say that down the road I won’t try something else, but that’s my focus for now.
Do you plan your stories, or are you a seat of the pants style writer?
I love this question. I think the only books I’ve written that have taken the time to plan out have been my memoirs. Maybe that’s because this genre is a lot more personal and revealing so you need to present the material in the best, most accepting way possible. Otherwise, I’m one of those weird authors who gets an idea for a story and can actually see it beginning to end in my mind. In a sense, it’s almost like transcribing what is already complete in my head. I’ll always write down character names and how they relate to each other as well as research specific things so that the information is accurate, but for the most part I just sit and write when the story is there.
What is your best marketing tip?
I’ve tried various tools out there but I’ve always found that the best marketing tip that’s worked with me is connecting with other authors in the same genre and being a presence in specific social groups relating to what I’m writing about. For example, most of my work is geared toward children and youth so I try to connect with these groups, and those who work with them. I also have no fear in discussing issues or topics on my blog that many others know about but may not talk about as much as they should. That shows that I’m not just writing about these areas, I take the time to understand them. I’ve found this means a lot to readers as they can see that I’m not just ‘blowing smoke’ and simply trying to make money off of a specific issue or group. I write about it because it’s important and it matters. This leads to word-of-mouth promotion, which is just as important or more so than traditional forms of marketing.
Do you find social media a great tool or a hindrance?
I actually see both sides of this. There are so many forms of social media out there it can be overwhelming to know which ones to go on and which can offer the greatest benefits for writers and authors. On the one hand, it can be a great tool in that it offers a way to get the latest, up-to-date information on our work to our readers. It also offers a way for readers to interact with authors in a way they normally wouldn’t be able to. I can’t speak for all authors but, for me, it warms my heart to read feedback from readers. It tells me my work is appreciated. On the other hand, spending too much time on social media, even for promo, takes time away from actual writing. The key is only allotting a specific amount of time to posting, responding to comments/questions and staying current with readers otherwise most of your writing day will be spent on it.
What do you enjoy most about writing?
First, I enjoy keeping my muse quiet for a while. She bombards me with ideas and never leaves me alone. I also think that I have a male muse as well so they fight for attention. Seriously, though. Writing is a tough job and many out there don’t truly understand just how hard it can be. It isn’t about throwing words together and having it all make sense. It’s about creating a story that’s believable, enjoyable and has the influence to absorb readers so deeply, they stay awake to read just one more chapter. That is one of the highest compliments a reader can give an author.
What age did you start writing stories/poems?
This is a great question I love to answer. When I was in elementary school, I believe it was Grade Four, we had an editor come to our class to discuss the publishing process. As an avid reader, I was thrilled. Then we got to write our own little book from start to finish. We wrote the story, drew our illustrations, created our ‘cover’ (which was basically laminated card stock…but still…) and bound it. After we were finished, we got to put our book into the school library for other kids to borrow. We were supposed to take it home at the end of the year, but I’d forgotten mine in the mad rush of starting summer holidays. I actually forgot about it.
About 15 years later, my younger sister came home from school. She had had library that day and was so excited about the book she took out. Guess what book it was? The one I created all those years ago, when I was the same age my sister was when she found it.
I look that as a sign that was the profession I’d be in.
(My little book was called, “Super Bug”, which was all about a bug in a superhero costume whose only fear was size 12 shoes. J Every time our class had library, I’d always check to see if mine got taken out. And it did!)
Has your genre changed or stayed the same?
Somewhat. I do love to mix my sarcastic Scottish humor in there whenever I can. I still write for children and youth, though. That’s where my heart is.
What genre are you currently reading?
Well, I’m one of those readers who has at least three books on the go at once. You know, then I have something to read in each room. I’m reading a memoir right now, which I plan to review on my blog when I’m finished. I also bought a few books during the Boxing Day sales at Chapters. The one I chose to read first out of that stack is called, ‘Girl in the Dark’ by Marion Paux. I love suspense thrillers.
Do you read for pleasure or research or both?
I do read for research for my books, just to make sure I understand a subject enough. There is nothing worse than authors who choose to write about something and have no clue what they’re talking about. But I mostly read for pleasure. After all, if an author wants to develop and grow their craft, it’s good to absorb what you can from some fellow authors.
Who is your best supporter/mentor/encourager?
Wow. Well, I have a very small handful of people I consider mentors. They are authors, instructors, editors and publishers who have given me advice, tips and support over the years. Without them, I would have given up a long time ago. My greatest supporter was my Uncle Craig. He was my main promotor and tooted horns for me whenever he had the chance. I lost him last year, which was really difficult, but I know that wherever he is now he’s still turning heads in the direction of my stuff.
Where is your favorite writing space?
My writing space is my ‘office’ I created in our basement. I have everything I need surrounding me right at my fingertips. It looks like a bomb went off around here some days but I call it my ‘organized mess’. I know where everything is. As odd as it sounds, I actually write better when I can hear all my kids running around. My son has his video game area set up just outside of my ‘office’. He busies himself over there, turning around every so often to say, “I love you, mom!” and I absorb myself in my task at hand. It can get a little difficult when my youngest comes down and sits behind me in my chair asking 500 million questions, but it’s all good. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Do you belong to a writing group? If so which one?
I belong to a few online groups, as well as a few local ones. Mostly, I am a part of the NaNoWriMo group, The Writers Guild of Alberta, the Canadian Authors Association groups on FB. It’s important to reach out to fellow authors as I have found that unless you are an author/writer, it’s difficult to truly understand the entire process.
If you could meet one favorite author, who would it be and why?
Oh boy, that is a tough one because I enjoy so many great authors. I love John Grisham, Margaret Atwood, Stephen King, John Saul, Chris Grabenstein. But I also enjoy authors such as Jodi Picoult who take real-life situations and turn them into a beautiful novel. Out of all of them, I think I’d like to chat with John Saul. One of the first books I read by him was ‘Come the Blind Fury’. Right after that, I knew I wanted to write for young adults.
If you could live anywhere in the world – where would it be?
Australia. I mean, I’d love to visit places like Scotland, Ireland, Hawaii and other places but I’ve always been drawn to Australia for some reason.
Do you see writing as a career?
I pretty much decided that it already is. There aren’t many authors who can completely rely on their royalties from their books, but I think that’s my goal. There’s nothing I’d rather be doing.
Do you nibble as you write? If so what’s your favorite snack food?
Oh boy. I try not to eat at my desk because then I’d never leave my work area. Having said that, I do have a small stash of two kinds of candy I actually like: Sour Skittles and Vanilla clusters. I call them my ‘think candy’. There you go. That’s something very few people know about me. lol
What reward do you give yourself for making a deadline?
High fives from my kids and a nap. Seriously. There are a lot of days my poor kids spend looking at the back of my head when I’m on a tight deadline (or four). Once I’m all caught up, we make a family favorite meal, enjoy each other then I fall asleep. You can ask them. I have my own blanket and space on the couch. lol
CHYNNA LAIRD – is a mother of four, a freelance writer, blogger, editor and award-winning author. Her passion is helping children and families living with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), mental and/or emotional struggles and other special needs. She’s authored two children’s books, two memoirs, a parent-to-parent resource book, a Young Adult novella, a Young Adult paranormal/suspense novel series, two New Adult contemporary novels and an adult suspense/thriller.