Sunday, November 24, 2013

Travelling the west coast

My involvement with Organized Real Estate requires me to travel some. Over the past month I attended meetings in Vancouver and in San Francisco. My wife went with me to SF and we took an extra week to visit Seattle and then up to Victoria to visit with our middle child who is doing graduate work at UVic.

The conference in Vancouver was at a hotel near Coal Harbour and so I got to take several early morning and evening walks on the water front - especially down to Stanley Park. This is a very nice, very expensive part of the city. The photo below is from my hotel window.
See what I mean? Not a hard burden to stay in this area.

If you have never been to San Francisco, and get the chance to do so, I highly suggest you go. What an interesting city. There are about 860,000 people squished into 49 square miles, so that's about 90,000 more people than NB has and we have them spread over 50,000 square miles. It is a very busy place.

One of the cabbies told us there were 3200 restaurants in SF so you don't need to go hungry - as long as you have some room on your charge card. I found the west coast more expensive to eat out than it is on our side of the country.

One night we ate at an Italian restaurant called The North Beach Restaurant. It was awesome. There were 6 in our party and we were seated in the basement with 2 or 3 other larger groups. The basement is done up to look like a funky wine cellar, low ceilings, exposed brick walls, wood beams and so on. My writers eye was working overtime trying to imprint this place in my mind. The place was packed so I didn't feel right about taking pictures.

The table next to us had a boisterous group of about a dozen who were well into their cups and having a whale of a time. Normally I frown on acting crazy in a restaurant - especially in one where the waiters wear tuxedos, but it just seemed to fit into the atmosphere at this place. We were told the restaurant had been open since 1978 and was considered one of the best in the city. I was sold - my Tuscan Chicken was very good.

All of us commented on how safe the city felt. Maybe we were too naive to notice, but we walked around, sometimes in groups, but sometimes in singles and at no time did we feel nervous about being on the street. This is a very artsy town with all kinds of street performers, small shops with art of various types and prices, and lots of really cool places to check out.

We stayed close to Chinatown which is a must see for anyone. It is large, covering several city blocks in each direction. One thing that struck me as odd was that almost every restaurant had people on the sidewalk with menus, handing them out and trying to convince you to come into to their particular restaurant. Some were quite aggressive.

Two things that I feel are "must dos" in SF is the 2 bridges harbour tour and the visit to Alcatraz. Neither is very expensive and both are worth every penny. The 2 bridges harbour tour takes about 90 minutes and takes you under the Golden Gate Bridge, around Alcatraz and the under the Bay Bridge before returning to the dock. This is a narrated tour and gives you an excellent perspective of the downtown you can't get walking the streets. I'm a sucker for anything involving a boat anyway.

We flew to Seattle and stayed there only overnight, about 14 hours, but we walked to Pikes Place Market - saw the original Starbucks - and walked by the Space Needle (below). That is quite a building and the Science Center next door is worth seeing too.

The next morning we jumped onto the ferry to Victoria. It speeds its way up through the islands, through Puget Sound  and across the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Victoria. It took about 2 1/2 hours. Lots to see all around and we really enjoyed it.

Victoria is a wonderful city with a totally different feel than Vancouver. It is much smaller but it is still different. It is still very British and as a friend of mine once said, you can smell the 'old money'. We stayed downtown which is full of smart little pubs and restaurants and very walkable. Victoria is, of course, the capital of BC and each night the light up the legislature (below). This was first done to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria around 1898.

After a couple of days, we rented a car and, accompanied by our son, went to Nanaimo. Just north - west of Nanaimo is a Provincial Park which contains a spot called Cathedral Grove. I have spoken of the Celtic term "thin place" before and this was definitely a thin place. For those of you who have not heard of the term it was a spot, in Celtic lore, where the line dividing this world from the spiritual world is very thin and could be easily crossed.

Cathedral Grove is a stand of old growth Douglas fir and Cedar. When I say old I mean hundreds of years old. These are trees of huge portions. One of the biggest was over 3 meters across, 72 meters tall, and estimated to be nearly 1000 years old. I took lots of pictures here as this was a magical place. Moss hung from the trees and you expected to see a faerie, or a hobbit peek around a tree at you, or maybe one to speak to you like Treebeard in Lord of the Rings. It was just incredible.

However, in spite of all the amazing things they have on the west coast, we have many things here too and you need to go away for awhile to appreciate this when you get home. I still love the ruggedness of the Atlantic coast, it feels like you need to be more hardy of a person to live here. There are thin places in Gros Morne National Park to rival Cathedral Grove, and maybe we don't have 3200 restaurants in any city but there are great places to eat. It's nice to travel and its equally nice to get back home.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Back From Hackmatack

I'm back from the Hackmatack Children's Choice Awards.  I didn't win but I certainly felt like one.  A huge shout out to the Hackmatack Board of Directors and all of the volunteers who made the participating authors feel special.  Writing can be a very solitary profession and the opportunity to speak with the "Hackmatack Kids", and socialize with my peers gave me a real mental boost.

Thursday evening (May 9th) we all met at The Economy Shoe Shop, a pub in Halifax near to where we were staying, to have a wee nip, share a little food and a whole lot of conversation.  I found this to be great since I have had few opportunities to meet other children's authors .  Between Thursday evening and Friday morning I had a chance to speak with Catherine Austen who won the category I was in - English fiction - for her book "How to Survive Grade 6".  This was her 5th book but her first Hackmatack nomination. I also had a great chat with scientist Don Downer, from Newfoundland, who is the author of "Selby the Lobster and Mike Dias, from Victoria, who wrote "Scandal in Port Angus".  On Friday morning, Cary Fagan shared a signing station with me. Cary is from Toronto and wrote "Banjo of Destiny".  These are people I would probably never get a chance to meet except at an event like this.

Friday morning was very special.  Somehow the volunteers managed to corral about 300 grade 3 to 6's into a big meeting room at Pier21 and the awards ceremony started.  Each author was lead in by a "standard bearer" who carried a small staff with a picture of the cover of their author's book on it.  My standard bearer was a grade 5 student named Katerina.  She did a very good job and later on she introduced me to the audience using a speech she had written herself.  A really awesome job.

After the awards were given out, all the authors were taken to tables set up to sign autographs.  I gave away a large number of my "Emily Finds a Dragon" bookmarks and met a lot of kids.  It was great and for an hour or so we all felt like celebrities.

I have to mention two other people who helped to make the experience special for me.  One was my "tour guide" for Wednesday and Thursday - Joanne Head who is Deputy Director of the Western Countries Regional Library.  She had arranged for me to speak at the library in Yarmouth and the library in Lockeport, guided me to the Waverley Inn in Halifax and generally kept me out of trouble during the event.   She also told me that these books were short listed from all of Canada, not just Atlantic Canada so that made me feel pretty good.

The second person is Marianne Ward, one of the Hackmatack Board of Directors and an independent editor.  She is interested in looking at "Jimmy and Cinder" and perhaps working with me on it.  I had a great chat with her and look forward to the possibilities that may arise.

All in all it was a wonderful experience and one I look forward to doing again.  Maybe "Jimmy and Cinder" will be good enough to get me there for another try.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Hackmatack Children's Choice Award

Tomorrow I'm heading off to Yarmouth, NS to start my "Hackmatack Adventure". On Thursday I'm scheduled to speak to some of the Hackmatack kids in Yarmouth, then I go to Shelburne to chat with another group.  I finish up Thursday evening in Halifax for a get together with the other nominated writers for a bit of social time.  The award ceremony is Friday morning.

The Hackmatack Children's Choice Award is a literary program designed to promote reading and literacy in Atlantic Canadian children in grades 4 to 6.  Each year 10 english and 10 french books are chosen to be read by children registered in their school to participate in the program.  The children read all 10 and then vote for their favorite.

This is what makes the award special for authors since it's our readers that are voting.  That's the best feed back you could get.  My second book, "Emily Finds a Dragon" was nominated for the 2012-2013 school year.  This was a big boost for me as it is the first book I've written for this age group.

I'll continue to post and share my adventure this week as it is all very new for me.

Friday, March 22, 2013

People watching

I'm sitting in Pearson Airport, in Toronto(a.k.a. center of the known universe), waiting for a flight to Ottawa.  I love this airport because it is very busy and gives ample opportunity to one of my favorite pastimes.  People watching.

People watching is a great pass time for any writer as it gives you lots of fodder to develop characters.  Pearson is filled with characters.  Toronto is the most ethnically diverse city in the world and they are all represented here at Pearson.

When I see someone that really catches my eye I take careful note of how they walk, stand, dress, speak (where possible) and file this away in my ever present journal for future use.  Looking for a grizzled old guy to be the ferryman in your next novel?  He'll probably walk by in the first ten minutes you're here.  Maybe a space raider for a SF novel.  He, or she, is here as well.

I read an article a few days ago about making maximum use of your day by never "killing time" since you are given a fixed allotment of it and you shouldn't waste a minute.  So, for a writer, people watching becomes a great way to fill up those 10 and 15 minute intervals in your day with a productive exercise.

I have to go.  Here comes the ferryman I was waiting for.

Monday, March 18, 2013

I love the way younger kids think!

I had a couple of very cute/funny things happen last Friday at Lower Coverdale Elementary school.  Illustrator/author Jennifer Aikman-Smith and I were doing a Writers in the School Program (WISP)  for the day. For those who may not have done one of these we meet with the various age groups, talk about writing and illustrating, how we work together as a team to make a book, answer questions and so on.

In the afternoon we did an enrichment session with a grade 2 class and we met with the students involved in the Hackmatack program.  This is usually a more intensive, hands on writing/drawing class with lots of good Q&A.  The Hackmatack students are selected because of their interest in writing and illustrating.

We often get asked our ages or how long we have been writing or drawing and I'm sure we sound like crypt keepers to these young people.  After lunch, one young lady in grade two asked me how old I was and when I told her she looked puzzled, and said,"That can't be right, you're shorter than Jennifer."  Now that describes a lot of people since Jenn is quite tall but I didn't catch how that related to age.  Then I realized that when you're 6, pretty well anyone older than you is taller.  Therefore, Jenn is taller than me and must be older.  Seems perfectly logical once you figure it out.

The other thing that I laughed at happened in the morning.  Jenn was doing her magic at the flip chart, drawing amazing pictures for the kids when I mentioned a rapper squirrel she had just added to the drawing should have a "boom-box" on its shoulder.  One little girl in grade three said, "Boom box!  Than's from the eighties!  I waited for her to add, "When dinosaurs ruled the earth.", but she didn't.  Got a great laugh from the teachers since they were of the same vintage as I am - more or less.

However, both of these made me think about looking at something from someone else's perspective, something we do as writers all the time.  Often, it's little details like the two I mentioned above that makes a story told from someone else's point of view more real.  Lesson learned.  Again.  Thanks kids.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Trying to Get Back in the Groove

So I guess it's time to get started on this blog again.  Posting once every two or three years just doesn't cut it.  Time has been a bit scare this past year as last March I started a 2 year term as President of the NB Real Estate Association and now I have to travel a lot more.  Any spare writing time I can scrape up either goes into a book or my real estate blog.  This poor little orphan has been sadly neglected.  That has got to change.

In the past year my writing career has had a boost by having my second book, "Emily Finds a Dragon", put on the short list for the Hackmatack Children's Award.  It was one of 10 English middle grade books selected to be read this year by selected students in grades 3-6.  They then vote for a favorite.  The award will be handed out in May of this year.  I was very excited to have my second book nominated and winning would be very amazing.

I have finished "Jimmy and Cinder" as far as I can take it.  Any more work will be the result of directions from either an agent or an editor.  I'm now working on the first draft of the next one.  This will be a bit older audience again and should finish out in the 50,000 word range, maybe as much as 60,000.  I see this one being for grade 5 to 6 range.  I try to get 3000 words a week done but it doesn't always happen.

I have been doing more Writer in the School visits with Jennifer, my illustrator/editor/publisher.  She does a lot of them.  Being an illustrator and an author makes her very good at keeping the smaller kids amused.  I'm learning more about it and hopefully can do some on my own eventually.  I keep getting ideas from Jennifer, and I occasionally think of something myself!

One message we try to impress upon the elementary school students is that the ability to write clear, concise sentences is a necessary skill even if you have no intention of being a writer for a living.  As we embrace more electronic communication, we are actually writing more and not less.  Clarity is necessity since it's hard to convey emotion in an email or text.  I even see it on the real estate side of my life as more and more REALTORS use email and text to set up appointments.  We rarely speak on the phone anymore.  Sort of sad, but that is the way society is going.

I guess that's why writing will never go out of style.  Just the format will change.