Resources for Writers

As I was looking through the WPL’s Adult Programs & Events Guide for fall 2017, I noticed an interesting lecture series being offered at the Main Library.  On October 11, Jane Ann McLachlan spoke about Publishing and Marketing Your Novel and, on October 25,  will speak on how to be Motivated to Write.

There’s something cyclical and lovely about a public library offering programming to develop writers whose books could one day stock the library shelves. If you’re a budding writer, or an old hand polishing up a ten-year project, I’d encourage you to check out the talk. Registration is required.

WPL has more writing resources beyond the McLachlan lectures. Here are five valuable resources for budding authors:

1. Writer’s Digest Magazines

This magazine has all sorts of writing tips and advice, including the business parts of writing (such as finding an agent, writing a query letter etc.). Writer’s Digest has eight issues a year plus back issues are available for borrowing.

2. Gale Courses

Gale Courses are online classes that are available for anyone with a library card. There is a whole category dedicated to Creative Writing. Take courses like “Write Fiction Like a Pro” and “Writeriffic: Creativity Training for Writers.”

3. Books

The library has tons of books that talk about pursuing the craft of writing. Look for classics like On Writing by Stephen King or peruse the 808.3 section in Adult Nonfiction.

4. Market Directories

Figure out where to sell your writing by taking a look at Novel and Short Story Writer’s Market. This directory is updated yearly and helps you find the right publisher for your work.

5. Bookable Study Rooms

Sometimes you need a fresh, dedicated space to help you focus on your writing. The John M. Harper Branch has study rooms that you can book with your library card. The Main Library also has lots of common work spaces available.

The great thing about these library resources is that they’re all FREE! It’s such a terrific opportunity to be creative without having to spend a penny (or a nickel). Why not be inspired by these resources and pen your own story?

— Jenna H.

The Dark Town Series Continues

Lightning Men is the latest offering from Thomas Mullen and picks up two years after Darktown, the first book in the series, left off.

Once again, Mullen brings his readers into the gritty streets of post-WWII Atlanta with its social and political issues, racial intolerance, corruption and outright brutality that continues to be the status quo for so many. Mullen doesn’t shy away from these emotionally charged topics in this character-driven crime novel.

Readers continue to witness the Black officers struggle within the confines set for them by their supervisors as they police the Black neighbourhoods which are grossly overpopulated and in need of even basic necessities. This is in stark contrast to the White neighbourhoods — and many Whites are fine with the way things are, thank you very much. The dichotomy between Black and White continues within this second Darktown book and I like that Mullen doesn’t give easy answers or hold back on the gritty, hard-to-read scenes.

Mullen also continues to educate readers about aspects that many may not know about, myself included. For me, that issue involved the Columbians (aka Lightning Men) who formed soon after the end of WWII. With their lightning patches on their uniforms they, like the Nazis that inspired them, reveled in promoting hate against Blacks and any diversity and were a smack in the face to those American soldiers who had just returned from battling similar hatred overseas.

The cast, including Rake, Boggs, Smith and MacInnis, continue to show great depth and readers get some backstory on each but I still feel there’s a lot of untapped issues that Mullen will bring forth in future books. The only issue I had with this book is that I found there to be a lot of characters to keep track of.

48538-v1-600xMullen shows that, unfortunately, the process for social change is a very slow one as we sadly continue to witness in recent events. Racism, both blatant and covert, remains a timely issue and racial tensions ran high then as they do now.

Like the first book in the series, Lightning Men is eye-opening, gritty and gripping with well-rounded, well-flawed characters who struggle within the stifling confines of racial injustice, ignorance, indifference and intolerance. Mullen weaves compelling characters with historical issues within his story with great skill. I highly recommend this book but strongly suggest starting with Darktown.

— Laurie P.

Note: in 1948, eight African-American men (picture above) joined the Atlanta police force. They inspired Thomas Mullen’s latest novel, Lightning Men.

While you’re waiting…

It’s really no surprise that Louise Penny’s latest book, Glass Houses, was at the top of our holds list for September. It’s the 13th in her series featuring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec and with each book fans love Louise, and her writing, even more. Every one of her book signings sell out in just a few hours and this summer she hosted Hillary and Bill Clinton in the small Quebec town where she lives and writes – her fans can be found everywhere. Her bestselling novels involve Gamache and his team puzzling through a complicated investigation and, more often than not, using his impeccable instincts to find their way through the darker side of human nature.  Members of the entertaining supporting cast from the village of Three Pines have a chance to shine in each novel but it’s Gamache at the centre of it all every time.

Should you be looking for another pensive, Canadian inspector to fill your TBR pile while you wait for your copy of Glass houses you might want to spend some time with Domenic Jejeune, the recently appointed Chief Inspector in a small British town. Quite unlike Inspector Gamache who has the respect and admiration of many, you will find that Jejeune spends a great deal of his time coping with officers who are openly suspicious of him and his methods. From the moment he arrived in the UK he has had to work on his cooperation and diplomacy skills when he would prefer to be solving crime or just taking a long walk outdoors. You see, this series is about a brilliant police inspector who also enjoys birding as a hobby. Don’t let the sweetness of the title, like A Shimmer of Hummingbirds, make you think this is a cozy mystery – these books will keep you fascinated to the last page and author Steve Burrows delivers fantastic detail to satisfy anyone who is interested in the police procedural side of a mystery.

Louise Penny has said that she modelled Chief Inspector Gamache on her own husband Michael Whitehead. When she decided to write mystery novels she thought that she would need a main character with characteristics she could love for many years. There is no doubt that she succeeded with her inspector just as Donna Leon has done with the cultured and capable Commissario Guido Brunetti. Crimes don’t just happen in a remote part of Quebec, they can also occur in sunny Venice, and for Donna Leon’s successful series they have happened twenty-six times. In Earthly Remains, her most recent novel, Bruno has made a brash decision during an investigation which leads to a forced leave of absence. Even as he is taking a break from his work he finds himself involved in a criminal investigation and this is good news for mystery fans but makes the time off far less relaxing for poor Bruno.

With police officers and inspectors you expect crime to be a regular part of their lives but with a citizen it can change the path of their lives, as it did with one of Gail Bowen’s characters, Joanne Kilbourn. In Bowen’s first novel Joanne is a university professor helping with a political campaign when the politician becomes the victim.  As the series progresses her skills as a sleuth develop and by the time Bowen’s latest book arrived on the shelves she had become a favourite here at WPL. In The Winners’ Circle Joanne and her husband are involved in an investigation surrounding a triple homicide and, as usual, she is grappling with bigger questions than just finding out who committed this crime. Joanne is loved for being trustworthy, honourable and thoughtful – characteristics that she shares with the investigators created by Donna Leon, Steve Burrows and Louise Penny. Their characters are solving crimes as they also try to decipher what they mean on a deeper level – making for fabulous reading each and every time a new one is published. Here at WPL we eagerly await the next book in a beloved series like these and can help you to find something else to read while you wait because we are doing exactly the same thing.

-Penny M.

Hum if you don’t know the words

Hum If You Don’t Know The Words is a wonderful book that gave me all the feels. It made me cry, laugh, feel angry, shocked and even hopeful. But what surprised me was that this is Bianca Marais’ debut novel. Marais uses imagery and beautiful, even poetic, language to describe South Africa’s multicultural and linguistic diversity as well as the complicated and blatantly bigoted dynamics between South Africans in the 1970’s.

I have always been an avid reader of books dealing with racism and civil rights and after reading (and loving) Trevor Noah’s book Born a Crime a couple of months ago I have become more interested in books related to apartheid. With this book, Marais sheds light on the flagrant racism and abuse of power of apartheid and also addresses other issues including homophobia, loss, grief, abandonment, bravery and the deep need we have for family connections.

Marais humanizes apartheid by showing how the Soweto Uprising on June 16, 1976 affected her two main characters. The story is narrated by two very different points of view – Beauty, a highly educated Black Xhosa single mother and teacher from the Transkei region and Robin, a 10-year-old white girl from the Johannesburg suburbs. These two are brought together after the Uprising and show two contrasting views of the effects of apartheid and the prevalent, often flippant attitude of racism as the status quo.

Both Robin and Beauty are given equal page time and are well-rounded characters but I had a much stronger connection to Beauty.  She had such strength, tenacity, grace and conviction even after enduring unimaginable losses and hardship. Robin is precocious and deals with the loss of her family in her unique way but often she was used to bring humour to the story. While these lighter moments offset the more serious scenes, at times, it got to be a bit much.

I will caution readers that there were a few scenes, especially towards the end involving Robin, that will require readers to suspend belief. This is fiction, I get that, but I think that the story went a little too far past what I’d feel was plausible. That is the only part of the book that faltered for me. Otherwise, this is an outstanding read that will keep readers transfixed.

Hum If You Don’t Know The Words will hit readers in the heart, head and hopefully conscience about how we need to treat and respect others. A little compassion, respect and empathy can go a long, long way. This is a poignant and important story that shows the damaging and long-lasting effects of inequality and bigotry with heart, some humour and wonderfully vivid language.

-Laurie P.

Can’t Get Enough of Outlander

Have you ever read a series of books that combine history, political intrigue, battles and war, adventure, time travel, and the supernatural with a love story so captivating it has generated millions of fans around the entire world? Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander books do just that.

Outlander, the first book in the series, was originally published in 1990. The story begins in 1945 when Claire Beauchamp and her husband, Frank Randall, are on a second honeymoon in Scotland. They are hoping to re-connect after serving separately in WWII.

Alone on a ramble in the countryside, Claire is drawn to an ancient circle of standing stones. She accidentally walks through a magical portal and finds herself in the war-torn Scotland of 1743. Due to her appearance and English accent, she is considered a spy by Redcoat Captain “Black Jack” Randall (no the last name is NOT a coincidence!). Only Jamie Fraser, a tall, red-headed, strong-willed Scottish Highlander, can save Claire from danger.

Claire soon becomes torn between the two very different men (husband, Frank, and Highlander, Jamie) in her two separate worlds.

The remaining books in the series, which should definitely be read in order, are:

  • Dragonfly in Amber
  • Voyager
  • Drums of Autumn
  • The Fiery Cross
  • A Breath of Snow and Ashes
  • An Echo in the Bone
  • Written in My Own Heart’s Blood

66a08d71d8a20de6e487672119ec0226Diana Gabaldon is currently working on the ninth book, Go Tell the Bees I Am Gone. Gabaldon does an incredible amount of research and puts great historic detail into her books, so there is usually a span of a few years between each publication.

When I first learned that Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander books were going to be made into a television series, I was very skeptical that the screen version would live up to the images of Jamie and Claire that have been entrenched in my mind for so many years. However, I was very pleasantly surprised!

Season 1 and 2 successfully capture the important people, places, and events of the first two books, and it has been thrilling to see all these things come to life in vivid colour and detail. The screen version seems to be just as popular as the book series. Rotten Tomatoes has given Season 1 a score of 91%, with an audience rating of 94%. It also set a Rating Record for Multi-Platform Viewing. Season 1 (which is divided into Volume 1 and Volume 2) and Season 2 are available to borrow on DVD from WPL as well as all of the books, of course. Season 3 of Outlander premiered on the W Network on September 10th.

One final note: the Outlander series (both book and screen versions) contain scenes of extreme violence which is indicative of the time period. There are also some very steamy parts so keep a fanning device handy!

— Sandy W.

Why I Love Short Books

When I was a kid, I yearned after long books. 500 pages was chump change. The longer the book, the better. There was a certain pride in picking the thickest, heaviest book from the school library bookshelves. I loved to pick the book that didn’t quite fit in my already overflowing backpack. There was nothing like having to walk home from school with a giant chapter book in my arms. I wanted everybody to know that I was a reader. The bigger the book, the smarter the kid. That’s what I used to think.

af907240-20a9-0132-7156-0add9426c766I’ve grown up (a little bit) since then, and I’ve come to realize that more pages does not equal more pleasure. Short narratives have something great to offer. My to-be-read pile is full of short novels and short stories. Those slender spines on the bookshelves have taken on a new appeal for me.

At first, I was drawn to the short books because they promised to be quick reads (and they fit nicely in my purse for on-the-go reading), but I soon realized that they have a merit of their own. Shorter novels tend to be tighter stories. Often there’s more dialogue and less exposition. More story-showing, and less story-telling. The sparse style of shorter books allows the reader to come to their own conclusions about theme and meaning within the story. Shorter novels have greater potential to engage the reader beyond the page.

What solidified my loyalty to short books was the last long book that I read. In the spring, I read The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. Coming in at 771 pages and 32 hours on audiobook, it definitely classified as a “long book”. Don’t get me wrong, it was a wonderful book, but it was long. The story covers a lot of ground in the characters’ lives, but the ending dragged out a bit for me. There were paragraphs and paragraphs of exposition in the final section of the book. I found myself wishing that the book was a hundred pages less and that Tartt would let her story stand on its own.

Although long books can have so much to offer and short books can be superciliously stylistic, I will always love the short book.

Here are some short books and books of short stories that you can borrow from the Waterloo Public Library:

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros (110 pages)

Surfacing by Margaret Atwood (192 pages)

Maud Martha by Gwendolyn Brooks (180 pages)

All Saints by K.D. Miller (short stories)

Skin and Other Stories by Roald Dahl (short stories)

— Jenna H.

 

The legacy of Frank Lloyd Wright

Hey Canada, you’re not the only one celebrating the big 150 this year.

There’s Laura Ingalls Wilder (author of Little House on the Prairie) and French chemist Marie Curie.

And then there’s someone else whose work I admire tremendously: American architect Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959).  I think he can justifiably be called a genius (he certainly thought so!). Heck, he even inspired a popular song. Can you name it?

WPL has quite a lot of Frank Lloyd Wright material. I started off with two DVDs, The Homes of Frank Lloyd Wright and Frank Lloyd Wright.  Now I’m on to books and looking at great big beautiful pictures of his amazing buildings. I recommend The Life and Works of Frank Lloyd Wright by Maria Costantino, Frank Lloyd Wright: a Visual Encyclopedia by Iain Thomson and Frank Lloyd Wright: the Houses .

I especially like Wright’s so-called Prairie houses (built with long horizontal planes to harmonize with the American Midwest landscape). Although these houses are more than 100 years old, even today they manage to look cool and sleek and modern.

I’ve been fortunate enough to see a couple of Frank Lloyd Wright buildings. I visited the Martin house in Buffalo a number of years ago. More recently, I saw his first home/architect’s studio in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park. That was a big wow moment for me. I hope one day I can visit two of his most celebrated buildings: the Guggenheim Museum in New York City and Fallingwater, a home built over a waterfall in rural Pennsylvania (both pictured above).

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Answer to question above: “ So long, Frank Lloyd Wright” by Simon & Garfunkel from their hugely successful Bridge Over Troubled Water LP. Gold star if you got the (W)right answer.

-Penny D.

A quiet bravery

So Much Love is exactly what I have for this novel. I read it quickly in a few days, walking around the house with it; holding it in one head while I brushed my teeth and propping it up in the kitchen while I made dinner. I couldn’t put it down. It is about a horrible crime, but it is not a thriller, not in any way you would expect. It reminds you of Emma Donoghue’s Room for a chapter in the beginning and then it completely changes it’s course, for which I was glad. There is no mystery. This novel is about what happens after, to the victims and the people who love them. There is nothing sensational about the crime. This book is about simple lives and the small, everyday things that keep us connected to each other. Not the holidays or major events, but the tiny acts that make up our homes and our families.

The writing is gorgeous. Every chapter has a voice of another player in the story, which reminded me also of Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitterage (read it also if you haven’t). We read about how the crimes affect so many people and how strong their love remains for the victims. It is about resilience and it is quiet and brave. It is the first novel written by Canadian Rebecca Rosenblum and I cannot wait to read her next one!

-Sarah C.

 

 

A life of loss

I always feel a little sad when I see a severely neglected and abandoned house. I wonder about the people who might have lived there, the joys and sorrows they might have experienced within its walls, and how they might feel to see their former home in such a state.

In Gail Godwin’s Grief Cottage, the main character becomes obsessed with the dilapidated cottage near his great-aunt’s house, especially after he sees the ghost of a missing boy. The cottage was dubbed “Grief Cottage” by the locals after a mother, father, and 14 year old boy disappeared from it when Hurricane Hazel hit. Their bodies were never found.

Marcus, the 11-year-old main character, has had to deal with a fair amount of grief of his own. In fact, the title could easily be a metaphor of his own life. He had already suffered losses before his mother is killed in a car accident. Marcus is sent to live with his only remaining relative, his great-aunt Charlotte, who is a talented but reclusive artist that lives on a small island in South Carolina.

Marcus reminds me of Disney’s Pollyanna, only without her eternal optimism. Godwin has written this character to be extremely sensitive to others and wiser than his years: the result produces a profound effect on those around him. In many ways, Marcus is as neglected and abandoned as Grief Cottage, and I found myself bracing for the hurricane that eventually releases inside him. Grief Cottage is a good read but not a happy read: even the positive twists near the end are tinged with loss.

Overall, I give Grief Cottage a 4 out of 5 stars.

-Sandy W.

 

Creative Nonfiction is a term that often gets thrown around in literary discussions, but do any of us really know what it means? I sure didn’t. I often described it as nonfiction that was…creative, or if I was feeling really clever, as nonfiction that was experimental. Needless to say, those definitions would not satisfy any vocab teacher.

Luckily, the internet had the definition I was looking for. On the website for a literary journal called Creative Nonfiction, Lee Gutkind describes creative nonfiction like this:

The words “creative” and “nonfiction” describe the form. The word “creative” refers to the use of literary craft, the techniques fiction writers, playwrights, and poets employ to present nonfiction—factually accurate prose about real people and events—in a compelling, vivid, dramatic manner. The goal is to make nonfiction stories read like fiction so that your readers are as enthralled by fact as they are by fantasy.

As I learned more about creative nonfiction, I realized how great this genre is. It’s the perfect bridge for dedicated readers of fiction who find nonfiction boring. I’ve met lots of people who want to expand their reading habits, but find it difficult to slough through some of the heavier (both literally and figuratively) nonfiction titles. If you’re looking to venture to the nonfiction side of the library this summer, then some of the creative nonfiction listed below might be for you.

Whether you’re a lover of nonfiction, or someone who just wants to dip their toe in, I hope this list can serve as an introduction to a genre that has a lot to offer. Happy reading!

Five Creative Nonfiction Books that You Should Check Out at WPL:

Theft by Finding by David Sedaris

“David Sedaris tells all in a book that is, literally, a lifetime in the making. For forty years, David Sedaris has kept a diary in which he records everything that captures his attention-overheard comments, salacious gossip, soap opera plot twists, secrets confided by total strangers. These observations are the source code for his finest work, and through them he has honed his cunning, surprising sentences. Now, Sedaris shares his private writings with the world.”

Hannus by Rachel Lebowitz

“Hannus is a creative biography of Ida Hannus, a Finnish-Canadian suffragist and socialist living in Vancouver and in the BC Finnish commune Sointula through the turn of the century to the Cold War. Approached from different angles, employing a collage of techniques, Hannus is a constantly shifting – and consistently engaging – narrative that raises questions about the reliability of history and biography.”

Getting out of town by book and bike by Kent Thompson

“Getting Out of Town by Book and Bike is a collection of popular essays which take an often comic look at how reading and bicycling both transport people to places unknown. Thompson introduces the reader to travel writing by the nineteenth-century bicycle adventurer Lyman Hotchkiss Bagg and Canadian rock star Neil Peart, explains why he visits small-town libraries in search of copies of Anna Karenina, and ponders the social significance of the Tim Hortons coffee shops which dot the Canadian landscape. Writing in the spirit of James E. Starrs’ The Literary Cyclist, Thompson also contemplates the role of the bicycle in works by writers from George Bernard Shaw and H.G. Wells to Elizabeth Bishop and Ernest Buckler. On the whole, it’s an offbeat and entertaining book of curiosity. George Elliott Clarke calls this book “a cool meditation on the Zen of cycling, a zesty memoir about growing up in the rural Maritimes, and an ‘off-duty’ scholar’s energetic studies of a host of writers.”

South and West: From a Notebook by Joan Didion

“This book has two extended excerpts from her never-before-seen notebooks–writings that offer an illuminating glimpse into the mind and process of a legendary writer. Joan Didion has always kept notebooks: of overheard dialogue, observations, interviews, drafts of essays and articles–and here is one such draft that traces a road trip she took with her husband, John Gregory Dunne, in June 1970, through Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. She interviews prominent local figures, describes motels, diners, a deserted reptile farm, a visit with Walker Percy, a ladies’ brunch at the Mississippi Broadcasters’ Convention. She writes about the stifling heat, the almost viscous pace of life, the sulfurous light, and the preoccupation with race, class, and heritage she finds in the small towns they pass through. And from a different notebook: the “California Notes” that began as an assignment from Rolling Stone on the Patty Hearst trial of 1976. Though Didion never wrote the piece, watching the trial and being in San Francisco triggered thoughts about the city, its social hierarchy, the Hearsts, and her own upbringing in Sacramento. Here, too, is the beginning of her thinking about the West, its landscape, the western women who were heroic for her, and her own lineage, all of which would appear later in her acclaimed 2003 book, Where I Was From.”

Small Beneath the Sky: A Prairie Memoir by Lorna Crozier

“A volume of poignant recollections by one of Canada’s most celebrated poets, Small Beneath the Sky is a tender, unsparing portrait of a family and a place. Lorna Crozier vividly depicts her hometown of Swift Current, with its one main street, two high schools, and three beer parlors–where her father spent most of his evenings. She writes unflinchingly about the grief and shame caused by poverty and alcoholism. At the heart of the book is Crozier’s fierce love for her mother, Peggy. The narratives of daily life–sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking–are interspersed with prose poems. Lorna Crozier approaches the past with a tactile sense of discovery, tracing her beginnings with a poet’s precision and an open heart.”

-Jenna H.

*All book synopses were taken from the Encore catalogue.