Wednesday, March 30, 2011

RTW: Well, When I Was Your Age...

This week's YA Highway Road Trip Wednesday question is...

What books were you obsessed with as a kid?

There is only one book -well, series- that I was obsessed with.

Yup. My best friend and I tried (and failed miserably) to start our own babysitter club. We even painted this box in hopes to make it our own private BSC library, cardboard library cards and everything. And we also tried to make a movie of the book Mary Anne Saves the Day.

Yes, I think I was definitely obsessed. :)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

An Encouraging Post (I Hope)

As a newer blogger, the pages on other people's blogs that say "Tips for Blogging" or "How to Blog", etc, interest me quite a bit. And I read them, and they are helpful -very much so- but they also start me going on a "what if" spin.

I read "People like funny people. Be funny and interesting..." and all of a sudden I'm going: Am I interesting? What if I'm not interesting? What if I'm not funny? I'm not funny! How do I be funny? These things don't come naturally to some people...

And I dissolve into a puddle of worry and doubt, and I realize I should probably stop looking at those How-To Blog posts, and that I need to write An Encouraging Post, telling me as much as other new bloggers that everything's OK.


How to Blog Post: Be funny. Be interesting. Be cool, be this, that and the other thing.

Me: It's okay to be yourself. More than okay. Because if you're not yourself, who are you? And when you're yourself, you'll find that it's easy to be funny, and interesting, and slightly cool and nerdy and maybe a little bit awesome but still able to be serious sometimes too.

How to Blog Post: Blogging is work, blogging is for marketing, you need to work to get an audience, you need to adjust to your readership, on and on and on...

Me: It's okay to just have fun. Maybe you have different motivations, but for me, blogging is about sharing my thoughts on my interests like writing and reading, and looking at other people's thoughts on those same topics. And it's fun for me, writing about writing and reading about writing. Who doesn't like having fun?

So I just hope that will encourage someone in their blogging/writing journey!

And... I would also like to point out some great posts that you should check out, like, right now:

  • Dianna Wynne Jones just passed away, and Neil Gaiman posted about his friendship with her. 
  • Author Corrinne Jackson is holding a contest with cupcake prizes to celebrate all the awesome book deals, etc she is getting. You should also follow her blog... I find I am always inspired by her posts!
  • Writer Claire Dawn has a crazy idea and needs your help - she plans to make a list of 100 Books Every Writer Should Read. Go to the link to read contest details -and yes, there are prizes.
  • This post is awesome. And basically, I believe everything that is said in that post.

Happy spring!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

How People Think

This afternoon, as I was getting my haircut a chair over from me a woman was getting her hair dyed and cut. And, as happens so often, she was talking (to her hairdresser; not to me) and I was listening. (Listening! Not eavesdropping *ahem*, well.) I listened to her talk about various things like buying a house, or going out for dinner tonight and just by listening to a few random snippets of conversation I learned quite about this woman. For one, that she does or has lived in a condo in Toronto and is now looking for a house in Winnipeg. I also learned that she is a widow, and has kids that are grown and have kids of their own.

I was thinking about this -the interesting things you can learn about a stranger just by listening, and people's stories - when all of a sudden....


To... last night, me, my brother, my sister, my mom and my dad all standing (or lying down or sitting) around my parent's room and chatting at 10:30 PM about various things. Well, at first my mother and father were arguing, basically about who was right or who was wrong and it was all very amusing. Then it became even more amusing when my dad started reminiscing about the days when they were first married and they (my mom and dad) were working out their relationship, and how to deal with things, and Dad said that it helped him extremely to think of their relationship in terms of graphs.

Just by that, you can probably get a fairly decent picture of my dad in all his glorious nerdiness (today he and my cousin spent the day testing their cameras through various nerdy setups). Then he went on to say how he often thinks of things in terms of math, or science, and it helps him understand things.

This, I thought, was a very interesting concept: That different people think in terms of different things, favouring their interests.

I also wondered: what do I think in terms of?

And, in a lot of instances, I think in terms of... stories. :) Yup. Or really, what if questions that turn into stories. For example, once when I took the recycling out to the curb on a cold day in winter I noted that cold air really clears your head.

All of a sudden my brain was saying: what if someone really loved that feeling of being clear-headed? And they knew they could get it from the cold? And they were slightly crazy? And so they loved that feeling so much that they froze themselves to death....

My family thought I was, um, crazy.

What do you think in terms of? Math? Science? Stories?

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Heart of Fiction

I would die to be able to write a song.

Um... maybe not. But sometimes it feels really frustrating that I can't get my feelings out in a way that will display them to the world and tell others what I want to say without just saying things flatly outright like "I was wondering if I would be a different person if I didn't have a sister with Down Syndrome", but saying things like that in a kind of hidden, deep, metaphorical way with haunting melodies to match. And then you can feel and say, with maybe feeling exposed but at least not naked.

So then, as I'm standing in front of the mirror brushing my teeth (yes, these deep contemplative times for me come not when I am looking out over a sunset, but when I am brushing my teeth...) I think: OK. I can't write songs. But, you know, sometimes I write poems.

And the voice inside my head that somehow is able to disagree with me goes: But, a poem? No, just... no. Today, that's not going to work. I can't explain it, but I need the simpleness of lyrics and the comfort of music.

And then I was thinking of books, or I guess fiction, and how that's what I really love to do is write these made-up stories. And even though it's all just out of the thin air of imagination, it's not. It's threads of stories and ideas and thoughts and wonderings, all these things that if I was a songwriter or a (better) poet I would express in songs or poems.

Instead, I insert things into characters and their ideas and their stories and process my experiences and thoughts and beliefs there. And then when my characters are thinking and speaking and being profound I go, "Hey. I believe that too, whaddaya know?" or I just breathe because it's pretty.

Like a fiction song.


Friday, March 18, 2011

Story Week Day 5: Story Behind the Song

I love songs. They are stories in themselves a lot of the time, but a lot of times they also have a history behind them. Today I'm going to share with you the history behind two very different songs: It Is Well with My Soul by Hoartio G. Spafford, which is a hymn written in 1873, and Fire and Rain by James Taylor.

Fire and Rain
James Taylor

Apparently, at first there was a lot of debate about what exactly Taylor had written this song about, but eventually he narrowed it down to what each of the three different parts was about.

Just yesterday morning they let me know you were gone. Suzanne the plans they made put an end to you

This part of the song was speculated to be about Taylor's good childhood friend, Suzanne Schnerr, committing suicide, and this was what this part of the song ended up being about. Suzanne died while Taylor was away recording his first album, and he didn't even know about it until six months later because his friends and family at home were afraid it would distract him from his "big break".

Won't you look down upon me Jesus, you've got to help me take a stand, you've just got to see me through another day

This second verse refers to Taylor's struggles with drug addiction and depression.

Well there's hours of time on the telephone line to talk about things to come
Sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground

This third verse doesn't refer to a plane crash, but a band Taylor worked with briefly. It also dealt "with coming to grips with fame and fortune, looking back at the road that got him there."

It Is Well with My Soul
Horatio G. Spafford

It is Well with My Soul is probably on the other end of the spectrum from Fire and Rain, but has just as interesting a story behind it, if not more interesting.

Horatio dealt with a lot of grief and pain in his lifetime. First of all, he lost a fortune when the great Chicago fire consumed the city in 1871. Soon after, his only son who was only four, died from scarlet fever. He tried to forget about his grief by working to rebuild the city and help the newly homeless.

Then, only two years later in 1873 Horatio decided to take his wife and daughters to Europe, although there was complications with his job and he ended up sending them on the boat to Europe ahead of him. His wife, Anna, and their four daughters Maggie, Tanetta, Annie and Bessie all boarded the ship Ville du Havre that November with Horatio promising to join them soon.

At sea, the ship collided with an iron sailing vessel. Within hours, the mighty ship had sunk. All four of Horatio's daughters died, and Mrs. Spafford was found nearly unconscious clinging to a piece of wreckage.

Horatio hurriedly boarded a ship to go and join his wife. On the way there, the captain mentioned when they passed over the spot the Ville du Havre had sunk. Horatio went down to his cabin and said, of all things, "It is well; the will of God be done."

And thus the hymn "It is Well with My Soul" was written:

When peace like a river, attendeth my way
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say
"It is well, It is well, with my soul."

It is well (It is well)
With my soul (with my soul)
It is well, it is well with my soul!

My sin, O the bliss of this glorious tho't
My sin not in part but the whole
Is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more
Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord, O my soul!


O Lord haste the day when my faith shall be sight
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll
The trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend
Even so it is well with my soul.

Here's a modernized version of the hymn if you want to hear what it sounds like:

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Story Week Day 4: Epic Love Story

(Ha! It's still Thursday... barely, but still!)

So, my Grandma and Grandpa (my dad's parents) are very interesting people. My Grandma is social and speaks softly but chatters often and likes parties. My Grandpa has bad hearing, and doesn't talk all that much but sits in his chair during family gatherings and reads his Nora Roberts books.

I have heard their love story so many times, but it's awesome -epic, if you will- every time.

Before I get into that, though... tonight I was watching a video that my dad taped around six years ago of my Grandma telling stories about her childhood. At the end there was a funny conversation with my Grandma and Grandpa which sums up some of their very amusing personality:

Grandma: You know, Grandpa doesn't talk a lot at times and I-

Grandpa (in the background, interuppting): What do you mean, "at times"?

Grandma: And I, when Grandpa and I first met I think I did most of the talking and didn't catch on that he wasn't really starting many conversations.

Grandpa: Still the same, I can't get a word in edgewise!

:) Gotta love 'em.

Now... forward with today's story:

Gracie's Grandparents Epic Love Story

Just because he's interesting, I'll start with my Grandma's dad, whose name was Glen Patterson although everyone called him "Pat" (so when my Grandma was younger she thought his full name was Patrick). Anyway, he ran away to Canada from the U.S. when he was fourteen (I think because his father was abusive). Apparently he liked to make up stories and he would tell people he was born in Hull, Ontario even though he was from the states.

Well, my Grandma's dad was a chef with the military in Canada. My Grandpa came all the way from Australia to train in Canada for the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. Well, Grandma's dad and Grandpa must have worked together, and Pat invited Grandpa to his house. Which, incidentally, is where he met Grandma. Grandpa might've stayed there for dinners and weekends, I'm not sure exactly. But Grandpa wasn't in Canada very long before he went back to Australia.

Note: not one of their letters. Just an internet pic.
Then, they wrote letters. One of my Grandma's comments from the video is "he was very good at writing letters, he would write pages and pages". I think it is extremely sweet to imagine my Grandpa, who doesn't talk all that much, writing pages and pages of romantic letters to his sweetheart across the ocean...

Well, apparently as they were writing letters they planned to get engaged and married, and Grandma made plans to go to Australia. She took the entire three week boat trip there (the anticipation would be dreadful, I'm sure!) and arrived at the dock in Australia. Only once she got there, she panicked and realized she couldn't remember what Grandpa looked like! She started to worry that she wouldn't recognize him, and here she was, standing on the dock in Australia, miles away from home... but, alas, she did recognize him.

Grandma and Grandpa did get married and they stayed in Australia for five years, having one child (my uncle) in that time. But Grandma was really homesick for Canada, so they moved back to Canada and didn't go back to Australia for quite a long time.

My Grandpa still has his Australian accent, and my grandparents have now been married for over sixty years.

What did I tell you? Epic.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Story Week Day 3: From Stories To Books (and RTW!)

Today's YA Highway Road Trip Wednesday prompt is...

Who have you written into a book? Be honest.

First of all I have to say a few things: Story Week is the week (this week) that I've taken to tell some stories, to share some stories, and to just overall celebrate the power of the story. Check out my other two posts from this week here and here.

I love RTW, so all this week I've been hoping I could tie the Wednesday prompt into my Story Week... and, well, I can!

See, all these stories we encounter in life: our brother's best friend's dad dying, our best friend going through her parents divorce, our dad's stories of growing up in the 60s and 70s... all these stories end up in our writing. We take little bits and pieces of each one, put them together, add some imagination and make something new and fun. Our writing is influenced a lot by our lives and our stories and other's stories, it would be hard not to write someone into a book!

So, back to the question... I think I've probably written bits and pieces of everyone I know into my writing. A character I named Maggie was based off of my best friend. The better question for me would be who I have written into a book most.

And that person would be...

Me. I'm sure I've put myself more than anyone else into my characters. :)

What stories/people have you slipped into your writing?

Me about four years ago, reading (what else?)

Story Week Day 2: Childhood Story

I know, I know! I forgot to post Day 2 of Story Week yesterday, when I said I would post each day. Bad blogger, Gracie, bad blogger. >:( Okay.

But I hope you'll forgive me anyway and still enjoy this blog post...

So I've decided since I've announced my own Story Week, that today I am going to share with you some stories that I wrote when I was, um, younger. A lot younger. Like, six. Maybe seven. Just to let you know.

And now...

Linda and the Dragon

by Gracie The Six Year Old

Linda was in the meadow she heard something behind her. in front of her she saw a small stick that was burnt. she assumed there was nothing behind her. but when she saw what was behind her she screamed aaaahhhhhhhhhhh Linda screamed, it it it it’s a dragon! Who are you? Asked Linda, I’m a not very friendly dragon said the dragon sadly well, Ill be your friend said Linda in a nice voice OK said the dragon then what do you want to do suddenly Linda’s mother came to see what Linda was doing Linda didn’t know what to do about the dragon then she had an idea she found the dragons cave but the problem was that there was no were to get in and out of the cave. so nothing would work they tried everything there was a lock but no key there’s a secret for dragon’s whispered the dragon what secret? questioned Linda oh its th- STOP! yelled Linda why? I think I know a way in. What asked the dragon your t-that’s it its my TAIL interrupted the dragon in a loud voice my mother heard you as she screamed at the dragon.

Yes. I was that awesome. Haha. I'm sorry you had to read all that -no paragraphs, indents, quotations, periods, capital letters and all. But you've got to love Linda and her Dragon, right? Right?
What are some of the stories of your childhood?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Stories: Today, Silly Story Day

Last Thursday I closed the cover on the beautiful words of Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta and was immediately re-blown away (the initial blow-away occuring while I was reading). I think the most amazing thing about my new favourite book is the beautiful stories that each and every character has behind them. In a lot of books I've read the minor characters have names, and stereotypes through the protagnists eyes, and that's it. But the stories of all of these characters in Jellicoe Road.... well, blew me away.

And then that made me think of when I was sitting in church the Sunday before and thinking about how books don't just have stories, people do. Each and every person has stories, a bunch of them, inside them that makes them who they are. I went through a list in my head, thinking of every person I knew and their story and how, I don't know, cool it is that everyone has a story.

So, I've decided to make this Story Week! here on my blog. Each day I am going to share a story, whether it be one of my own or my grandparent's amazing love story that stretches between two continents. If you want, you can share some stories of your own on your blog and just let me know here and I'll go check them out, or just leave a story in the comments and I'll be sure to read it! :)

Anyway... today's story, I've decided is just going to be something silly (we need silliness on these dreary Mondays) that happened to me last year on a choir trip.

The Day the Turtle Emerged From Its Shell
by Gracie

There are two things you should know before I start this story. One, I am not really an outgoing person. (Although I am quite talkative when I want to be). Two, the choir director that I have had for the past three years is, um, kind of crazy (which, if you've ever known any music teacher, is kind of predictable).

Anyway... last year was my first time on a choir tour with this choir director's choir. They have a bunch of weird traditions -like saying "Opa" (I'm still not sure exactly when you're supposed to say this) and singing at every single street corner, restaurant and hotel we stop at/eat at/stay at. (Actually, "drive-by singing" is really fun).

Most of the time we get around by bus, and since we have to make sure we don't leave anyone behind, we have to do attendance each time. Awhile ago the chaperones found an efficient way of doing this - assign everyone a number and everyone just shouts out their number when it's their turn.

Well, guess what? My crazy choir director had made up a way to get all the students to pay attention during attendance -you have to do something embarassing if you don't say your number. And you have to do it whatever number of times your number is. One guy had to take his shirt off his shirt 3 times (his last name only started with C).

So. My last name starts with S. I was number 23. And... yeah, I missed my number. It was pretty terrible, I had completely forgotten it was mine and the chaperones were looking around going "23? Who's 23?" and all of a sudden my eyes widen and I realize... I'm 23. I did not like the mischevious looks my choir director was giving me as they tried to cook up a punishment!

After a few minutes of discussion, they came up with a plan: I had to count 23 of my curls. (If you've looked at the "The Blogger" page, you'll know I have a live creature that lives on my head -I mean, *ahem*, curly hair). Name each one. And give each one a characteristic. This might not have been so bad if it was someone who was outgoing and could easily stand up in front of a busload of teenagers and subsequently name and personalityize 23 locks of their hair.

But I did it, and I actually started naming them after people on the bus and saying one of their characteristics, and so it actually turned out to be kind of fun. I probably embarassed myself with some of the things I said, but I got a little turtle as an award on our unofficial end-of-trip awards ceremony (another choir tour tradition) for "coming out of my shell".

Yup. :) Hope you enjoyed that!

I will only come out of my shell for food. Only food!!

 Share your silly stories!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Who I Look Up To (RTW)

Today's Road Trip Wednesday over at YA Highway relates to Kirsten Hubbard's Like Mandarin, where there is a teen girl called Grace who would give anything to be like Mandarin Ramey.

My Mandarins:

I. Liz, who is a girl at my school a grade younger than I am and is one of the nicest people in the school. I want to have her ability to talk and connect with everyone, to be cute and fun, and to be that friendly, people-person. I'm sure she makes everyone and anyone around her go, "She's so nice". I want to be like that.

II. My sister, because she is just that awesome. She has a personality of gold, complete with effortless humour, cuteness and the ability to express herself with reckless abandon (sometimes, like when she's angry, this is not such a good thing... haha). My sister, though, is awesome and sometimes I feel sorry for all the people out there who don't get her as a sister. ;) Sorry, she's MINE (well, mine and my parents' and my brother's).

III. My best friend, Emily. I want to have her extreme loyalty in friendships and her awesome ability to do whatever she wants without worrying about caring what other people think.

I realize it's a good thing to be yourself, but now that I've laid out my role models, I also realize that it's good to have role models, people to look at and learn something from, take away what you learned and then use it. And then, whaddyaknow, it ends up becoming part of yourself anyway. And then you can be yourself, just better.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Staying In Focus


Freeze. Put brain into slo-mo. Breathe. Relax. Wait and...


A lot of us have trouble focusing these days, don't we? We have fifty tabs open to five different blogs, Facebook, IM, Wikipedia, Youtube, this that... and we're also chatting on the phone while reading snippets of the book we're currently reading.

(Okay, maybe I shouldn't be saying we maybe I should be saying I, but I am saying 'we' in all hope that I am not alone in overtasking!)

I have to admit that I am insane multitasker. I will be listening to music, doing homework, eating my snack and reading newspaper articles all at the same time. I will be studying in my head while doing laundry. I will be looking up stuff on the computer while surfing the blogs, while reading my book as I wait for pages to load. It's efficient, I tell myself, I am getting more done in a little time.

I am surprised my brain has not gone on strike by now! 

As it turns out, multitasking isn't multitasking at all. We aren't actually capable of doing many things at once. What we are capable of is flitting from one thing to another, quickly on one thing like posting on a blog, oh now to reading a book, back to blog, over to the phone conversation, back to book, then to blog... all around like that. 

You can see how it would take a toll on our brain, on our focus.

And, can I say that we need some of that focus to write? I know I've been victim to the nagging feeling in the back of my head as I'm writing that's saying you should be, can be doing something else like doing homework or blogging or-or-or and on and on like that. SHUT UP, NAGGING VOICE!!

*note suggestions are suggestions not guaranteed to achieve focus. Only you can do that!

  • RESIST THE INTERNET. Close every window but your story. If the temptation is too much, turn off your internet for awhile (or break your Wi-Fi connection! - or, not).
  • REMOVE ALL DISTRACTIONS. Books, away. Cellphones, away. Music, away (unless this helps you write). EVERYTHING AWAY except for, you know, your brain and your writing.
  • DISCIPLINE. I'm sorry, but you have to have discipline. Discipline to concentrate, to push yourself forward into your story and I think once you're in there you'll have a hard time getting out. (Like when you're a kid and you just DON'T want to get in the bath, you HATE baths and then half an hour later when your mom comes and says time to get out, you hold your breath underwater for thirty seconds hoping she won't see you and leave you be in your perfect bubbly paradise.) Look forward to that perfect bubbly paradise! 

What do you do to help you stay focused on your writing? 

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Reappeared From Off The Face of the Earth

Well, not the face of the Earth. Just... from Cuba!


Yup, that's where I have disappeared to for a week on a trip with my school's grade 11 & 12 band. Um, I sort of forgot to tell you that my posts would be minimal for about a week (okay, fine, non-existent)... yeah, sorry about that. Anyway.

It was a really awesome experience, definitely one you wouldn't get if  you were just going to Cuba on vacation. The music was amazing -at one school there was four probably six-year-old girls singing in four part harmony! :O

Out of everything we did, though, there are definitely two things that affected everyone the most.

The first thing is we went to a music school in Havana:

First our concert band and one of the jazz bands played for them, and then they played for us. They were really good, and even played one of our songs (about ten times better and faster than we do). One of the final songs was more upbeat and a couple people from our group in the audience stood up and started moving and dancing on the spot. Very quickly everyone stood up and also started moving and clapping and dancing to the music. By the last song (which was also upbeat) everyone was at the back of the rows of chairs, dancing around and going around in conga lines like the one above (that is what they're called right? I feel like I have it wrong...).

Too soon, the band ended their last song. A bunch of our group started shouting "One more!" and then all the Cuban students started shouting I'm guessing what was "one more" in Spanish. The band didn't play another song, but a small group of brass players from some older grades came and started to play a bunch of songs. All the young elementary school kids that were watching upstairs came rushing downstairs with huge smiles on their faces and joined in.

Elementary school kids watching from the balcony.

We moved all the chairs and danced around -and man, are the Cubans good dancers! On the spot someone would think of a certain step they knew and then everyone would catch on and follow along.

It was so fun and cool seeing all us Canadians and Cubans interacting and having fun with each other even though we're so different and we speak different languages and we're from totally different countries. After all the music was done, everyone was talking with each other and getting pictures with all the different Cuban students. It was awesome. Definitely not an experience you would get in Cuba if you just went on a vacation.

The second thing we did that was really cool was visit a tobacco farm in the province Pinar del Rio, just outside of the city Vinales (I think).

It made me, and I'm sure everyone else, think, walking around on this little farm that had been pretty much destroyed a few years ago in a hurricane. To us, all it looked like they had was basic furniture and that's it. To us, they basically had nothing and yet they were so happy and so willing to let us walk around their property and look at their home and show us what their life was like. The eldest man in the house was 90 years old, and so cheery and smiley and willing to pose for pictures and giving away tobacco leaves that I'm sure he would've gotten money for otherwise. Oh, and he still works in the tobacco farms, to boot. At ninety!

We had a few bags of donations to give them afterward, and it was really cool seeing their faces and their gratefulness. It was special, special, special.

Those were just the two most memorable experiences of our week-long band trip. There were definitely lots of other awesome, fun things that we did, and I'm glad I got to go to experience them!

Anyway, now that I'm back... I'll try to start posting more!


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