Don’t dilute your audience

Ever have watered-down lemonade? Even though it seems like everyone would enjoy something as innocuous as lemon-tinged water, it has been diluted to the point where no one would really like it, let alone pay for it. Watered-down lemonade is neither sweet nor tangy, enticing no palate.

Similarly, in the spirit of appealing to numerous audiences, some writers have a habit of watering down their prose. “It’s for academics and lay audiences!” they say. “Adults and children alike!” The result is that the academics overlook the publication as “not serious enough,” the lay audience ignores it as “too academic”…you get the point. Watered-down prose is insipid and uninspired, capturing no reader. Continue reading “Don’t dilute your audience”

Patrick Lane

Soon after moving to Toronto, I came across a copy of Patrick Lane’s memoir, There Is a Season. I started reading and then, electrified after only a few sentences, felt compelled to stop and copy what I was reading onto the surface closest at hand—shards of a white ceramic lamp that had recently broken in our house.

As I read, I wrote, transferring word after word from smooth page to smoother pottery. I burned through black felt pens and wrote to the edges until I ran out of fragments, and that was my introduction to Patrick Lane’s words: his raw imagery and honesty and depth of feeling prompting an immediate response, even if only to live in his words a little longer. Continue reading “Patrick Lane”

Kate Harris wins the RBC Taylor Prize

Quill & Quire says it all. I am verklempt.

Kate Harris has won the $25,000 RBC Taylor Prize for her debut book, Lands of Lost Borders: Out of Bounds on the Silk Road (Knopf Canada), which follows the modern-day explorer on her 14-month journey travelling Marco Polo’s Silk Road by bicycle.

The Rhodes scholar, who lives off-grid in Atlin, B.C., was visibly surprised by the win. She spoke about exploration as a team effort, thanking a group of people, including her editor, Amanda Lewis, and her travel companion and childhood friend, Mel Yule. Harris also spoke about the importance of “paying the world the kind of attention it deserves.”

In April, she is expected to announce her selection for this year’s Emerging Writer Award, which includes a $10,000 cash prize and mentorship by Harris.

The jury, composed of Camilla Gibb, Roy MacGregor, and Beverley McLachlin, read 105 books before narrowing down their five-title shortlist. The other finalists were Just Let Me Look at You: On Fatherhood by Bill Gaston (Hamish Hamilton/Penguin Canada); Jan in 35 Pieces: A Memoir in Music by Ian Hampton (Porcupine’s Quill); All Things Consoled: A Daughter’s Memoir by Elizabeth Hay (McClelland & Stewart), and Mamaskatch: A Cree Coming of Age, Darrel McLeod (Douglas & MacIntyre). All finalists, including Harris, received $5,000.

One theme, one problem, one big question. That’s all you need.

How many times, when reading a non-fiction book, have you thought, This would have made a great magazine article. Meaning: this book has one good idea that could have been executed so well in a shorter format.

In some cases, that book grew out of a magazine article. An agent or editor decided the writer hadn’t explored the idea in quite enough detail, what with the limited word count and all. What could go wrong? Continue reading “One theme, one problem, one big question. That’s all you need.”

“The content changes, but the anxiety remains the same.”

Garth Greenwell, author of the award-winning novel What Belongs to You, recently gave the commencement speech to the graduates of the writers’ seminar at Bennington College. Here are his seven rules for “making it” as a writer (without losing yourself in the process).

  1. Hold your friends close.
  2. Comparison is the devil.
  3. Envy doesn’t matter.
  4. The content changes, but the anxiety remains the same.
  5. Not writing is the only failure that matters.
  6. Read everything.
  7. Remember the real life of literature.

Carve out time and space to write, and protect it as Cerberus would guard Hades

I’m writing this post from a cabin in the woods. Truly. I’m in a small town on Vancouver Island, and I travelled about five hours to get here. I know it’s over the top to say I drove down icy roads to get here, but that’s true, too. Life provides the drama, and I lock in at 40 km/hour in a 90 km/hour zone and ride it out.

I booked a long weekend for myself as a writing retreat. I left my partner at home, hired a catsitter, paused my email, put on my out-of-office. I have a goal for the weekend, and a writing schedule for each day. I’m keeping this post short because I need to get back to it.

Continue reading “Carve out time and space to write, and protect it as Cerberus would guard Hades”

We want to help YOU start a Book Ride

The falling snow and cold temperatures have me dreaming of summer bike rides with friends. It’s the perfect time of year for you to start planning a Book Ride in your community. And The Reading Line is here to help.

Since 2014, The Reading Line has produced Book Rides that bring together the literary and cycling communities. We have a proven track record of engaging key changemakers in government and non-profit organizations by using a mix of vibrant programming and eclectic media to raise awareness of safe cycling infrastructure, literacy, and the arts.

And now we want to share our secrets with you. Continue reading “We want to help YOU start a Book Ride”

Every book has a mouldy couch. Find yours.

It could be the opening paragraph you drafted at the start of your project, the conclusion you tacked on in a hurry, or the chapter that contains crucial information but never really fit (face it).

Every manuscript contains what I think of as a mouldy couch. It’s something that shouldn’t be there and really is not improving anyone’s life, let alone the manuscript. It needs to be hauled away. And you, dear writer, need to do the hauling. Continue reading “Every book has a mouldy couch. Find yours.”

Take command of the intersection

My dad taught me and my two sisters to drive. In addition to being a skilled driver who used to take the narrow roads of rural Ireland at a fast clip, he teaches marine firefighting to land-based fire fighters. When I say “safety!” you say “professional!” My sisters and I grew up playing in smokehouses and life rafts, and tucking-and-rolling from slowly moving firetrucks. It was the perfect combination of risk and risk prevention.

So it was no wonder that accident preparedness would be a big part of our driving lessons. One of our exercises involved driving to a quiet dead-end road early in the morning. My dad would set up approximately seven 10-gallon buckets in a V, about 20 feet wide. We would then drive at the centre point of the V at 50 km an hour, and at the last minute he would shout “LEFT!” or “RIGHT!” and I would swerve the car, taking out the buckets in the process.

Lots of fun. Very messy. Sphincter-clenchingly scary. But the lesson sunk in.

Continue reading “Take command of the intersection”