Author & Teacher

Touchstones and Vision, Obsession and Getting it Right


I’ve heard it said by very well-known and published authors (being published does not mean you are well-known, and I imagine the reverse is also true) that place cannot be a character in a story.
Maybe not, maybe so, but I know that place (an airport community on a lake in Northern Manitoba) is so important to my story that I am now stuck on the fact that I need certain events to occur in a specific setting…the problem is, I can’t make the action work. So I have really awkward sequences and scenes where my characters act in an unlikely fashion just so they can end up WHERE I need them to be. It’s like literary contortionism. Light on the literary.

So when I’m stuck, I go to my “story box” and pull out some touchtones and it seems to focus me.  The first year I worked with Peter O. at the Fernie Writers’ Conference, he was all hepped up on Twyla Tharp, the American choreographer. When she gets an idea (for example, Movin’ Up, her Billy Joel show) she takes everything that speaks to her, obsesses her, and throws it in a box.  Ticket stubs, pictures, info on the Vietnam War, Billy Joel’s music… Then she drags it out and sifts through it, looking for inspiration.

So of course, I came home and started a box. I have thrown a lot of “stuff” in there over the past year and a half. I have a bottle of purple sand,

Purple Sand
My old driveway-house was to the left

some old pictures from when I lived in The Pas in the 80’s, some recent pictures of the street where the houses used to be. I have a copy of a government report on the murder of Helen Betty Osborne, a First Nations girl murdered up there in 1970. Printouts of airplane info, ATV info and Churchill train schedules. The book Night Spirits about the relocation of the Dene people to Churchill. Instructions for making Tamarack decoys.

Pictures of the lake in different moods.

img_40101 img_39941

Pioneer Bay (both)

Quotes I like. A list of songs each character likes, both from their past and their present. Also from their future!  Notes from people who have critiqued-FWC groups, Peter, Angie, Marcelo. A picture of the whiteboarding my writing group did when I was still trying to organize into short stories…Letters from SH.

My story has changed, become more distilled and directed, but at the same time, it’s more nebulous and unfocussed. This box of stuff feeds the obsession I have with this story about place. Maybe that’s why the narrative has come in fits and starts. Now I just need to channel it into a coherent vision and get it right. I can go days with my head down, working away, then look up and find that it’s not working.

Which is where I am today. It’s what I’m avoiding. Back to the box…

Special thanks to Darcie this week for pulling me back from the edge… 😉

Song of the Week – Fair by Remy Zero … just for the line “Tonight, the sun shall see its light”
Book of the Week – (agh who has time to read) Let’s just pick the Marilyn Bowering issue of Prairie Fire.

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