Heather Conn Blogs

spoutin’ about by the sea

Gibsons, BC teen celebrated at Reel Youth Film Festival

The following article appeared on April 9 on the online newsmagazine Sustainable Coast:

A lesbian version of Barbie squeezes a gal-pal doll to her chest. A quirky caravan of animated gypsies, wandering in silhouette amid birds and animals, rattles across the screen to a Polish folk song. Hank, an accident-prone nerd, suffers comic misadventures while rebuffing co-worker Patricia, the secret object of his longings.

These delightful images were among 24 memorable short films screened April 3 in Gibsons as part of the touring Reel Youth Film Festival. Open to filmmakers age 19 or younger from around the world, the eclectic exhibition showcases talent in stop-motion animation and live-action drama and documentary.

Collectively, the films brought inspiration, provocation, social justice messages, and humour to the half-filled Gibsons Heritage Theatre. The simple animated Welcome Home, from Slovania, visually summarized in just one minute the impact of corporate greed and organized religion on human rights: money piled high while a boss sat, overseeing toiling workers.

In Drugs at the Disco, a 60-second flick from Italy, a cool dude behind a counter popped a pill. But when he tried to add one to each empty cup lined on a counter, the first cup refused, repeatedly moving to dodge his efforts in compelling stop-motion. The young man ended up surrounded by a dozen cups, as if in a threatening stand-off.

With no dialogue, the film’s ingenious don’t-try-drugs warning carried far more effective punch than the bland “Just say no” slogan used in the so-called U.S. war on drugs in the 1980s and early 1990s. As the film’s summary says in the festival program: “When the mind is animated, you don’t need drugs.”

Hosted by Gibsons artist and designer Kez Sherwood, the evening event saluted her son, local filmmaker Dexter Sherwood. (For each Reel Youth festival screening, up to one-quarter of the films are made by local filmmakers.) His 10-minute Phlegm Noir featured a fun take on the shady, black-and-white world of film noir. It starred Dexter as a cough-stricken, sick man, home alone, who wrestled with his alter ego, an ominous fedora-capped smoker, also played by Dexter. (During question period, a young audience member asked: “Did your mom let you smoke cigarettes for the film?” Dexter replied: “No. I faked it.”)

Billie Carroll, of Rhizome up! Media, publisher of Sustainable Coast magazine, presented Dexter with a gift certificate for London Drugs as tribute to his filmmaking achievement. (To view Dexter’s film, click here.)

During intermission, information tables were staffed by Sandy Buck, director of education and community outreach for the Deer Crossing the Art Farm in Gibsons, BC, and me, representing Powell River Digital Film School. (I teach screenwriting at the school and do publicity and outreach for it.)

Powell River Digital Film School features an intensive five-month, hands-on film program that’s free to grade 12 students in B.C. Led by founder Tony Papa, an award-winning filmmaker and producer, the school offers a film camp, guest appearances by industry professionals, and opportunities for solo and group film projects.

The school, which takes a maximum of 15 students, is in its seventh year. Graduates gain preferential treatment when applying to the Capilano University film program, and earn three credits towards Emily Carr University. Students in the program have had their films screened in the Reel Youth Film Festival in the past. For more information, see www.prdfs.ca.

Youth on the Lower Sunshine Coast who want to learn more about film or video have a variety of options: the student-run television station, operated for school credit at Elphinstone Secondary School in Gibsons; a once-a-week program, held over four months by local filmmakers, at Roberts Creek Elementary School; and a film and video program for grades 11 and 12 at Chatelech High in Sechelt.

The Reel Youth Film Festival is an initiative of the non-profit organization Reel Youth, which has offices in B.C., Ontario, and Alberta. Using artist mentors, it offers programs ranging from video production and photography to music videos and stop-motion animation.

For the festival, a youth jury selects the films based on their entertainment value, technical quality, and message. Launched each year at the Vancouver International Film Festival, the festival tours its films in partnership with high schools, community groups, youth media organizations, and other established film festivals.

Reel Youth has produced more than 1,000 films with 4,000 participants in western Canada, the Yukon and Northwest Territories, Morocco, Vietnam, India and Nepal.

Click here to read the original article as it appears on the Sustainable Coast website

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April 17, 2014 at 2:15 pm Comments (0)

Open your heart and transform: the Camino and Burning Man share similar values

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The Burning Man festival offers a phone booth in which
you can “talk to God,” via a true, interactive human voice.
On the Camino, such conversations are far less public.

While walking the Camino, few people probably draw parallels to the Burning Man Festival, an artsy, week-long bacchanal that draws about 50,000 people a year to Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. But having attended Burning Man twice, including as a partial honeymoon destination in 2006, I began to see similarities between the two events that resonated with me.

Externally, both events use an iconic figure—a stylized stick figure man, and a Catholic saint, respectively—as a defining symbol and repeat motif. Both the Camino and Burning Man attract people from all over the world, of all ages, yet seem to draw proportionally more middle-aged folk. Regardless of what motivations individuals might have for participating, the over-reaching unity of an intentional community, along with related values like self-reliance and communal effort, are shared.

As I’ve stated earlier on the blog, many people walk the Camino for spiritual or religious regions, drawing on its heritage as a pilgrimage route through churches and cathedrals and its association with St. James. The resulting insights, however seemingly small at the time, that can emerge from tapping into this archetypal journey can be profound.

 

Burning Man offers an eccentric mix of huge wooden open-air temples, often designed by architects and professional artists. Meant to be enjoyed as venues for rituals and raves, these massive structures are ceremonially burned into nothingness as a tribal tribute to letting go and releasing attachment to the material world.

 A core part of Burning Man, as stated in its ten principles, is “radical inclusion.” As the festival’s website states: “We believe that transformative change, whether in the individual or in society, can occur only through the medium of deeply personal participation. . . .We make the world real through actions that open the heart.”

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One of Burning Man’s open-air temples, with a reflection of a mandala pattern reminiscent of a rosette pattern
on one of the Camino’s many cathedrals.

 

In both places, deciding when, how, and with whom to participate created initial conflict for me. On the Camino, for the first few weeks, I enjoyed the same group of pilgrims that I saw each day. As individuals, we shared our innermost views, then came together in the evenings for rituals and meals. This was a welcome part of my early experience that reinforced the sense of community that I was seeking.

 

Yet, I also recognized that staying with the same familiar people was becoming predictable. I wanted, and needed, time to spend alone on the path, to commune more deeply with my surroundings without the distraction of conversation and others’ presence. I also wanted to meet new people. Finding that balance between solo and communal time became part of my “dance” of the Camino pilgrimage. It required reminding myself that the choice of who to spend my time with was up to me.

 

At Burning Man, as part of the raw spirit of the event, I consciously chose to participate in any group activity, be it dancing, pairs yoga, or a workshop, rather than just observe. Yet this frustrated the photographer side of me, since many events, involving people in astounding costumes and startling art, went unrecorded by my camera. My eyes witnessed and composed remarkable images, yet they remained uncaptured. Instead, I put myself within the frame.  I had to let go of my frustration over missed shots.

Burning Man grid pattern

The grid pattern of the temporary town of Burning Man
in 2005, as seen from a visitor’s small plane.

 On the first day of Burning Man, pedalling on my basic bicycle through thousands of theme camps arranged in a circular, labyrinth-like grid, I got lost, unable to find a desired workshop location. In the extreme heat and dust, I had a headache and felt crabby and unfulfilled. I missed the event. This wasn’t my hoped-for blissful inner exploration. After discussing this with my husband and another “Burner,” I realized: I have to let go of my expectations. Don’t make plans. Just open myself to the experience, go out, and meet what comes my way.

 

That’s what I had to learn to do on the Camino too. During the first four days, when it was pouring rain almost non-stop, muddy and numbingly cold, I seriously considered quitting the pilgrimage. I thought: I wouldn’t be hiking in this weather at home, why am I doing it now, on vacation? I had not yet made a deep, spiritual connection with anyone. Why was I even doing this? I thought of travelling to Portugal instead and relaxing in the sun. But as the weather improved, and my encounters with others deepened, so did my desire to continue.

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A modern pilgrim, from Germany,
dressed somewhat in the style of a more ancient time

Both on the Camino and in the Black Rock Desert, physical surroundings and weather became defining factors for the quality of my experience. At Burning Man, with only a light rain or bucket of water, the parched, cracked earth could transform into thick, caking mud within seconds. In high winds, the super-fine dust could swirl into tornado-like eddies, blinding you if you didn’t have eye protection. Even in the heat, socks were de rigueur at all times; otherwise, you could contract playa foot, a painful condition whereby the desert’s dust lodged between your toes, creating cracks and welts in your skin.

 

On the Camino, I learned how important socks were because the sweating that mine caused produced an allergic reaction. It took me weeks of blisters before I realized how valuable it was to stop, take off my socks and shoes, and air them out to avoid damp feet. And in both Spain and in Nevada, I kept myself covered at all times to avoid sunburn and heat stroke.

 

Aspects of communal living were ever-present in both places. The Camino features bunk beds and shared co-ed rooms, bathrooms, and eating facilities at albergues. At Burning Man, we pitched our tent among dozens of others, side by side, in the Green Tortoise camp. Thousands of others sprawled out around us. The culture there is nomadic by definition; it’s a temporary town of transplanted souls, joined by the concept of a gift economy.

 

Through a guiding principle of “decommodification,” the Burning Man festival disallows commercial sponsorships, transactions or advertising. Except at centre camp, where coffee, lemonade and other beverages are available, there is no money exchange. Individuals are free to give away their own belongings, whether handmade expressly for this event or not, as symbols of gratitude and appreciation.

 

On the Camino, money is exchanged daily at the albergues, cafés, and restaurants along the way, yet the same ethos of “pay it forward” prevails. To a pilgrim with limited belongings in a backpack, a simple bandaid, safety pin or shoelace presented as a gift by another pilgrim can make the difference between grating discomfort and peace of mind.

The Man on fire

The giant effigy of “The Man” illuminated prior to its incineration at Burning Man

It’s pushing the comparisons to state that the desert at Burning Man is called, ironically, “the playa” (Spanish for “beach”) while the Way of St. James, as I’ve mentioned in a previous post, is associated with a beach symbol, a scallop shell. But one factor found in both places is liquid spirits: many camps at Burning Man offer a panoply of free booze while the Camino route has tasty, cheap and fresh local wines.

 

Just as Burning Man glorifies the collective burn of “the Man,” a giant figure, several storeys high, displayed at the centre of the festival, and many other structures, Spain has its own legacy of fire. In many places, especially Galicia, the bonfires of St. John are celebrated in late June: people burn large figures of wood and papier mache, in a ritual called the Hugueras.

I talked to a few pilgrims who had tasted some kind of ritualistic drink with Spaniards at a raucous party, perhaps as part of these celebrations. I wondered if it was something akin to the Queimada ceremonies in Spain on Nov. 2, All Souls Day. In modern Galacia, some Spaniards set ablaze a powerful drink called the Aguardiente, a distilled mixture of grape skins, coffee beans, fruit, and sugar.(Aguardiente is also a generic term used for booze drinks that have between 29- and 60-per-cent alcohol by volume.) They scoop the drink from a bowl and pour and repour it until fire seems to run from the ladle. This Spanish custom is supposed to have originated during the country’s occupation by the Phoenicians around 800 BC.

 NEXT WEEK: Social media on the Camino: barrier or portal?

 

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November 25, 2013 at 5:05 pm Comments (5)

Hurray for the arts, local and global

     — iPhone photos by Heather Conn

It’s almost the end of summer yet I’m still revelling in the creative spirit of Roberts Creek. Before the rains come and we head indoors in hibernation, I’d like to honour the artistic vision of my community.

I feel inspired to share some images from the first Roberts Creek Arts Crawl, held last spring. It was a joy to wander down driveways I’d unknowingly passed for years and discover what homegrown talent lay in my own neighbourhood.

I met many interesting souls and heard some local lore I’d never known (like the coins of a transplanted miner buried under a log cabin). To meet artists in their own milieu, see how they had transformed their studios and living spaces into workable art, taste homemade goodies, and hear local musical talent felt like a Canadian coastal version of Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion. I cherished the opportunity to glimpse into people’s creative sanctuaries and find out what themes and ideas keep them afire.

Here’s to the heart of the Creek, in every sense of the word . . .

(I had hoped to get these images up much sooner, but hey, I’m a busy gal.)

 

 

 

 


August 28, 2012 at 11:22 am Comments (0)

Honor the invisible and ordinary, says Choy

 

Author Wayson Choy is a joy.

 

When I saw him last week as the opening guest speaker at the Festival of the Written Arts in Sechelt, BC, I expected him to read from his classic novel Jade Peony and his latest book, the memoir Not Yet.

 

Instead, he walked out from behind the onstage podium and told the sold-out crowd: “I almost died twice.” With wry humor, he explained that while unconscious and in surgery, near-dead from an asthma and heart attack, he remembered no dramatic out-of-body experiences or ghostly encounters — just hospital staff discussing mundane things like recipes and golf.

 

Yet these seemingly dull topics are part of the “human mosaic” of everyday life, Choy said, the ordinary world that lives intertwined with the realm of what he calls “the invisible.” Our daily lives, and the secrets and sense of community they reveal through our stories, are the true valuables we leave behind, not real estate, jewelry or investments, he told us.

 

For an hour straight, with wit, irreverence and no notes, 73-year-old Choy graciously flowed from thanks and gratitude (“I do care so much that you’re here”) to punchy power (“I don’t give a shit.”) He quoted Antoine St. Exupery’s line from The Little Prince: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” (I have that saying framed on my wall.)

 

The soft-spoken, grey-haired author shared the Zen proverb “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water; after enlightenment, chop wood, carry water,” and reinforced that he focuses on the here and now and does not believe in an afterlife.

 

“In story, I found meaning,” he says on his agent Denise Bukowski’s website regarding writing his memoir about his two brushes with death (he had another heart attack four years after his surgery): “I found myself somehow assured that there is more strength in living one’s life as everyday adventure, as an unfinished tale to be lived, one enlightened moment after another, than to live blindly chained to the idea that life simply ends.”

 

A delightful storyteller, Choy described to us his brief attempt to write pornography. When he showed the new writing to Bukowski, she told him: “Don’t go there.” He spoke of learning how to write under novelist mentor Carol Shields, who told him to write about “what we don’t know.” She suggested Chinatown; he initially thought the idea “boring,” yet ended up producing his acclaimed novel Jade Peony.

 

“Chinatown has always been a mythology of the mind,” he said, referring to today’s Chinese enclave, Richmond, as “bubbles of wealthy people.” He said with a laugh that “his” people (Chinese-Canadians) are reading about making money. He spoke of secrets within families and cultures and how humiliation and racism have deeply imprinted the history of the Chinese experience in Canada. “We can tell the truth,” he said, while affirming “No one escapes the truth.” He urged us all: “Tell your stories.”

 

Overall, it was a treat to hear a noteworthy Canadian voice reveal such humble wisdom, fuelled by awareness of the potential story in every moment. “We only have to meet each other and know each other,” he said. I found his perspectives welcome validation of my own outlook. Thanks for the inspiration, Wayne.

 

Wayson Choy was making his fifth appearance at the festival in celebration of its 30th anniversary. He was the festival board’s first choice as opening night speaker, said board president Wendy Hunt.

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August 20, 2012 at 5:09 pm Comments (0)

Are you part of the millionth circle?

“When a critical number of people change how they think and behave, a new era will begin.”

Jean Shinoda Bolen, The Millionth Circle

Two SoulCollage cards in the Council Suit: the Sacred spiral

I would like to reaffirm and reclaim the true, symbolic power of the circle. The phrase “going in circles” implies that someone is lost, has no clarity, has not found a focus on a linear path. Yet, as we know, life is not a linear process at all: like a circle, it is a continuum of beginnings and endings and new beginnings.

 

The circle, one of our oldest symbols on the planet, represents wholeness and integration. Within a circle, there is no hierarchy; we are all equal. A woman I know in Vancouver, who facilitates workshops with executives, says that some CEOs she’s worked with have a hard time sitting in a circle. To them, it’s a scary concept; they no longer stand out or appear to have authority over others when they’re in a circle. Her comment shocked me; after all, kids in kindergarten sit in a circle almost every day. Do we need to relearn how to find our power within a circle?

Jean Houston at the 2012 Women of Wisdom conference in Seattle

At a recent Women of Wisdom conference in Seattle, author and Jungian analyst Jean Shinoda Bolen shared her concept of the millionth circle. Drawn from the concept of “the hundredth monkey,” it refers to a circle of people whose awareness, activism, and group collaboration shift global consciousness. Bolen and Jean Houston, another conference presenter and a leader in today’s human potential movement, see women as playing a deciding role in this evolution. In their view, grassroots circles of self-aware women are spreading the power of the sacred feminine around the world.

 

Yahoo! We need that kind of resounding inspiration right now, especially while U.S. Republican candidate Rick Santorum and others of his ilk are trying to drag women back to Neanderthal days of control and submission.

Tsawaysia Spukwus (Alice Guss) at the drum-making workshop at the Sunshine Coast Museum

Yesterday, while at a drum-making workshop in Gibsons, BC with Squamish nation educator Tsawaysia Spukwus (Alice Guss), I had to give my full attention to a 14-inch wooden circle in front of me. Ten of us (eight women and two men) were lacing deer hide around a circular wooden frame, trying to weave it over and under another double-looped circle of twine that we had knotted and placed inside the frame.

Each time I pulled on the long, thick cord that I was using as thread, the loose inner circle of twine within the frame got pulled out of shape and I had to keep repositioning it. At first, this was very frustrating, until enough woven loops were in place around it that the inner circle kept its form.

What a metaphor for life, I thought. We can each choose to find our own circle, inner and outer, and give it shape in a way that provides form and meaning for us. Then, we can use this circle (drum) to share our voice and vision with others. This circle reaches within and out to others across communities and nations and the planet in one ongoing, holographic sphere of interconnectedness.

Two of my SoulCollage Council Suit Cards: The Mandala (top) includes an aerial view of the Roberts Creek mandala and a photo of the Sam Mandala salmon fish design that I created several years ago. The bottom image is The Sacred Circle.

For most of my life, I have felt drawn to circles. In recent years, labyrinths and mandalas and spiral forms have held a strong attraction for me. I love the mandala at the pier in my home community of Roberts Creek, which gets created anew and repainted as a community project every year.

My SoulCollage card The Labyrinth shows the labyrinth where my husband and I were married, and our wedding cake. 

I was married in an 11-circuit labyrinth and continue to seek out labyrinths wherever I travel. I use circles and spirals as repeat motifs on the SoulCollage cards that I create, and group people in a circle during my SoulCollage workshops. I look forward to many more years of meeting with others in circles of all kinds, using my drum as an outward symbol of my own creative voice.

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March 4, 2012 at 12:12 pm Comments (0)

Pecha Kucha in Gibsons, BC: art and community unite

One of the photos from my Pecha Kucha presentation, taken of Tibetans  protesting the torch relay in San Francisco for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Fun with mouldy food. Road kill. Keeping communities creative. These three topics hardly seem to share a theme, yet they all came together last month in a wonderful visual presentation in Gibsons, BC.

 

As part of the town’s first Pecha Kucha night, nine Sunshine Coast residents each shared about six minutes of photos and storytelling on any subject of their choice. The rules were simple: 20 images, 20 seconds on each. This format, which draws its name from the Anglicized version of the Japanese term for “chit-chat,” started in Tokyo in 2003.

 

The Pecha Kucha framework began as a dynamic way for designers and architects to share their work in public without droning on about every miniscule detail; the images are programmed to switch automatically every 20 seconds, beyond the control of the speakers. Today, hundreds of cities around the world have hosted Pecha Kucha nights, drawing on the collective creativity and talent of their communities.

 

The Gibsons event made for a delightful evening of storytelling, from wry irreverency to poignant homage. Gibsons councillor Lee Ann Johnson started off with Creating Community Glue, followed by artist Junco Jan, who gave a heartfelt tribute to her recently deceased mother. Photographer Alan Sirulnikoff shared images as symbols of life and death while puppeteer Sandy Buck introduced her creations under the title Can Puppets Change the World? Photographer Barry Haynes showed local beauty shots of lesser-known getaways, taken from land and water, and had the audience guess the location of each. Coast Reporter arts reviewer Jan DeGrass explained her love of dance while Lou Guest gave comic close-ups of mouldy food in her piece, The Hairy Eyeball.

 

I was amazed to discover a talented, young glass artist, Robert Studer, who lives in my own community of Roberts Creek. I had never even heard of him before, even though he just lives across the highway and up the hill from me. He presented some of the large-format glass installations he’s done in public spaces and private homes, which resembled wavy lines of multi-coloured sky and giant other-worldly spheres. Incredible!

 

As a presenter, I was surprised at how nervous I was beforehand, because I usually enjoy public speaking and feel at ease with it. But the thought of this twenty-second time frame had me unnerved. Originally, I was going to do the whole thing ad lib, but decided to prepare a text in case I blanked out. In the end, I half read and half ad-libbed.

 

The packed house at The Arts Building was indeed appreciative, whistling and hollering after their favourites. Emcee Wendy Crumpler, who organized the event and spent many hours preparing the presentations on computer, created a warm, welcoming, and upbeat atmosphere. Much-appreciated thanks to her, all participants, and the audience. This made a great addition to the local arts scene.

 

(My evening’s contribution, Three Protests: Free Speech on the Street, can be viewed on YouTube.)

 

 

 

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February 5, 2012 at 3:45 pm Comment (1)

The Writers’ Hub: Local authors share their words

    

  — Linda Williams photo                                                       — Hugh Macauley photo

Gracie & I at the Arts Crawl                Part of my first audience for a Gracie mini-reading

                                                                                                             — Heather Conn photos

I had fun last weekend introducing Gracie the goldfish, the star of my new children’s book, Gracie’s Got a Secret, at the 2011 Sunshine Coast Arts Crawl in British Columbia, Canada. I was one of 15 local authors who was on hand at The Gumboot Café in Roberts Creek to chat with both residents and tourists, give mini-readings, and sell books, of course.

 Shelley Leedahl gives a mini-reading

I enjoyed reading the first few pages of my book to young readers who sat on the steps in front of me at the microphone. Since this is my first children’s book, this is a whole new audience for me to reach. Shelley Leedahl, a poet, fiction, and creative nonfiction author newly moved to the Coast from Saskatchewan, also read from her delightful children’s book The Bone Talker. Published by Fitzhenry & Whiteside in 2005, and with images by Bill Slavin, one of Canada’s top book illustrators, this poignant story has won the Saskatchewan Book of the Year Award.

Michael Maser, author of Learn Your Way!

Our Writers’ Hub event, organized by Creek author Jane Covernton, featured the “soft” or unofficial launch of three local books: Gracie’s Got a Secret, Jane’s own Healing Herbs to Know and Grow, and Michael Maser’s Learn Your Way! The published works of these additional local writers were also available: Terry Barker; Shelley Harrison-Rae; Gillian Kydd; George Payerle; Dorothy Riddle; David Roche; Andreas Schroeder; Dot Scott; Marina Sonkina; and Susan Telfer. I shared a table with volunteers from the Sunshine Coast Conservation Association, who were selling their book The People’s Water, and their photographic calendar.

 Jane Covernton reads her poetry, with her new herb book, visible to her right.

From poetry and prose, to self-published work and books of international acclaim, this two-day literary event celebrated the voices of independent publishers and the power of meeting and hearing authors in person – fresh and first-hand storytelling, rather than just reading a tale on a screen. Besides locals and friends, we had visitors from California and Seattle. Collectively, we sold 92 books over two days, from display tables available from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Thanks, Jane, for all of your hard work in organizing and setting up such a successful event. Since writing can often be a lonely pursuit, it was wonderful to connect with other scribes and share our written words with others.

 

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October 29, 2011 at 4:29 pm Comment (1)

Gracie’s ready to greet the world

This week, I received copies of my new kids’ book, Gracie’s Got a Secret, delivered straight from the printer.  It’s a thrill to show it to people and hear them admiring the illustrations. So far, I’ve only had responses from adults. The true test will be how children react to it. This is a new audience for me — I’ve never written a book for kids before. I look forward to sharing the book with listeners and readers of all ages.

 

I’ll be curious to see if kids “get” the book and understand its underlying message of “Let go and go with the flow.” I figured that if children could adopt this approach to life, it could save them a lot of anguish when they’re older.

 

Now, the process starts of “birthing” the book to the public, getting it out to bookstores and media and into people’s homes.  I’ve got a soft launch planned for Saturday, Oct. 22, as part of the Sunshine Coast Arts Crawl. The official launch, which will feature puppets and storyteller John Conway, will be on Saturday, Nov. 26 at the Sunshine Coast Arts Centre in Sechelt.  See my Gracie events page for details. To stay informed of author readings and other ongoing activities, become a Facebook friend of Gracie’s Got a Secret.

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October 8, 2011 at 1:10 pm Comments (3)

Gracie characters are coming to life

graciefamilycolour-low-res

Gracie: top left and right (in blue) with her brother Freddie (top right), dad (bottom left) and mom (bottom right)                — illustrations by Lillian Lai

What a joy it is working with illustrator Lillian Lai as she produces thumbnail sketches for my upcoming children’s book Gracie’s Got a Secret. I love the process of seeing how she translates my words into images. She’ll email me and the publisher roughly nine rough drawings or scenarios for each page, and we’ll select the ones that we like best. (Lillian took 2D and 3D animation at Capilano University in North Vancouver.)

She started with multiple drawings of each character and then the publisher, William Gelbart, and I suggested changes regarding facial expressions, body shape, colours and so on. It feels like participating in a magic show: you make comments, then see the results come back to you quickly. Voila — there’s the character, looking like a real creature with a personality all its own.

This reminds me of a playwriting course I took years ago. There were several professional actors in the class and when they read one of the students’ lines, within a minute, they truly inhabited that character.  It was like witnessing on the spot the embodiment of a new person who previously existed only on the page. I love witnessing such creative talent — it’s a gift that no one can put a price on.

As a first-time children’s author, having such direct, ongoing access to, and feedback regarding, the illustration process as it unfolds is indeed a privilege. I have a poet friend who has had dozens of books published and he often never even saw the cover of his book until it was already out. In most cases, he hated it.

Therefore, I am very grateful to William Gelbart, publisher of MW Books Publishing, for giving me this insider’s opportunity to shape the visual look of the characters and backgrounds of my story. It feels a bit like playing God — and I love it.

February 15, 2011 at 10:24 am Comments (2)

Gracie will soon dive into public life

I’m delighted to announce that this winter, MW Book Publishing of Garden Bay, BC will be releasing my first children’s book, Gracie’s Got a Secret.

In this picture book, an impatient and feisty little goldfish named Gracie escapes her fishbowl and leaves her family, determined to share a secret with the outside world. Along the way, she befriends a weepy alligator who’s stuck in the sewer and a circus elephant with dreams of freedom. By helping her new pals, Gracie learns to slow down and go with the flow, gaining remarkable results and a clear way back to a loving home.

I never do reveal what the secret is, but leave it to the reader’s imagination. This uplifting story, which comes with engaging questions to prompt discussion, invites children to believe in themselves, dream big, support others, and find their inner stillness.

Unbelievably, this book was twenty years in the making. I first got the idea for it while travelling in India. The book started out all in rhyme, but after a number of drafts, I dropped that. The first woman who ever gave me feedback produced a scathing, 10-page , single-spaced critique and ended with”I wouldn’t read it again to my nine-year-old.” Ouch.

Still, I didn’t give up. I researched markets and perused picture books and sent the manuscript to publishers. Besides the usual generic, impersonal rejection slips, I got comments like “We don’t do talking animals.” (So much for Dr. Seuss, Dr. Doolittle, and every Disney movie ever made.) One twenty-something reader told me that using alliteration was the sign of an amateur. Double ouch.

Tired of rejections, I put the manuscript away. Over the years, I would pull it out, do another few drafts, and send it out again. More rejections. I got feedback from friends. Some read it to kids. I got their views. Overall, most people seemed to really like it. Various friends, who are published authors, thought it was ready for publication years ago. But no publisher seemed to want to take a chance with it.

Once, when I was in a pet store,  a goldfish ended up on the floor at my feet, having somehow escaped from its aquarium. I took that as a sign.

I found out that children’s picture books are a more competitive market than even adult publishing, especially since they require costly, four-colour printing. I did more drafts. Got more rejections. Time to put it away again. I figured that it was probably going to be one of those learning projects that would sit in my drawer. I was too cheap to publish it myself.

I grew more encouraged after sending the manuscript to Dennis Lee, author of popular Canadian children’s books like Alligator Pie.  He said that my book was better than most that crossed his desk and added that he would be delighted to see Gracie “swimming into print.”

That was years ago. I did more drafts. Got more rejections. Then recently, I attended a literary function in Gibsons, and happened to share a table with MW Book publisher William Gelbart. When I heard that he published a variety of genres, including children’s books, I thought: Hmmm, maybe it’s time to revive Gracie. I hauled her out, did some more fine-tuning, and sent off my story. He liked it,  calling it “cute.”

Gee, that last part of this long process seemed so effortless. Success at last. I look forward to having Gracie out in the world and sharing her with audiences, young and old.

November 22, 2010 at 10:33 pm Comments (2)

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