Review, Uncategorized

Read Indigenous

This week on #TheBookshelf, I’ve got some great reads for you by Indigenous poets and authors from all over Turtle Island.

There’s a lot I could say about the responsibilities of being part of a settler society, but if you’re here and reading this, then I’m guessing you already know much of what I might say, and you’ve already embarked on a learning journey of your own.

And if you haven’t, then maybe you can start your journey here.

We are never closer as people than when we walk a mile in another’s shoes. Reading fiction and non-fiction from cultures and experiences that are not our own allows us to do just that.

Stories have infinite power to connect us as human beings. Amplifying Indigenous voices–and promoting diversity in the arts as a whole–is important and necessary to us all.

Here are a few of the writers whose work–whose heart-breaking, heart-healing, exciting, hilarious, suspenseful poems and stories–I’ve either already read (and loved) or look forward to reading this summer!

Marilyn Dumont is an award winning poet and educator of Cree/Métis descent. One of my all-time favourite poems is her piece, “The Dimness of Mothers and Daughters” from her collection, Green Girl Dreams Mountains.

Excerpt from Marilyn Dumont’s “The Dimness of Mothers and Daughters” displayed at the Thunder Bay Marina. Photo credit: Michelle Woodvine

There is powerful magic in poetry and it always seems to find me just when I need it the most. I came across this piece shortly after my mother died, when her story–and mine–were all I could think about. These words wrote themselves into my bones. Here’s an excerpt of the poem, displayed at the revitalized Marina complex in Thunder Bay, Ontario.

You can read more about Ms. Dumont and her poetry collections here.

Joy Harjo is a poet of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation in the United States. She is currently serving her second term as the 23rd U.S. Poet Laureate. I love her collection, The Woman Who Fell From the Sky and in particular, her poem “Perhaps the World Ends Here.” For me and my family, the kitchen table has always been the most important place in our home, the place where we gather together at least once a day to share meals, to tackle homework, work on craft projects, to talk and share, to learn and celebrate and grieve. This poem captures the essence of family and of life itself–all in a single piece of furniture. Here’s an excerpt:

"The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.

The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.


We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.


It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.
"

-Excerpt from "Perhaps the World Ends Here" by Joy Harjo

Visit the Poetry Foundation here for the full poem.

Pick up Strangers by David Robertson at Indiebound

David A. Robertson is a prolific writer of picture books, graphic novels, YA novels, memoir, and more. He is a member of Norway House Cree Nation and currently lives in Winnipeg.

Strangers, released in 2017, and the first book in his Reckoners YA series, is near the top of my TBR list and based on the blurbs, is packed with intrigue, humour, and magic–I can’t wait to dive in!

His latest work (released in September 2020) is the graphic novel The Barren Grounds (The Misewa Saga, Book One) and has been called “Narnia meets traditional Indigenous stories of the sky and constellations.”

Yes, that sound you hear is my TBR list growing again!

Learn more about Robertson, his writing and his other books in this excellent Quill & Quire interview–or at his website.

Buy Motorcycles and Sweetgrass at Indiebound!

Drew Hayden Taylor, originally from Curve Lake First Nation, Ontario, is a jack-of-many creative trades–from playwright, to author of both fiction and non-fiction, to filmaker, and (not surprisingly) stand-up comedian. His book Motorcycles and Sweetgrass is one of my favourite reads, and is bursting with trickster magic, clever twists on Indigenous folklore, family drama, and loads of magic, charm, and love.

Come for the mystery, stay for the…raccoons. Yes, you heard me. As a Torontonian, I’ve long had my suspicions about those crafty critters…

Read more about Taylor’s work here.

Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

Rebecca Roanhorse is a speculative fiction writer from the US, whose latest novel, Black Sun, has been nominated for the 2021 Hugo Award for best novel. (She has won the Hugo Award in the past, not to mention the Nebula, and the Locus, as well as the 2018 Astounding (Campbell) Award for Best New Writer.)

While Black Sun will be on my TBR list soon, it’s the author’s debut novel that I’m cueing up first.

Trail of Lightning came out in 2018. Here’s the publisher’s blurb:

“While most of the world has drowned beneath the sudden rising waters of a climate apocalypse, Dinétah (formerly the Navajo reservation) has been reborn. The gods and heroes of legend walk the land, but so do monsters—and it is up to one young woman to unravel the mysteries of the past before they destroy the future.”

I mean, really. How have I not read this book already?! Oh, right. I’ve yet to find a job that pays me to read whatever I want all day. Ahhh…someday <cough> Tor.com <cough>. #dream #IDigress

Learn more about Ms. Roanhorse (she’s also written a middle grade novel for the Rick Riordan Presents series and a StarWars novel. I mean how freaking cool is that?!) at her website.

Last, but certainly not least, if you don’t live in Canada, you might not be aware of the national “Battle of the Books”–the literary Survivor–known as Canada Reads.

The 2021 Canada Reads winner was none other than Jonny Appleseed, a novel by the poet, Joshua Whitehead, a two-Spirit, Oji-nêhiyaw member of Peguis First Nation (Treaty 1).

Jonny Appleseed has been nominated for–or won–numerous awards and is described as “A tour-de-force debut novel about a Two-Spirit Indigiqueer young man and proud NDN glitter princess who must reckon with his past when he returns home to his reserve.”

Then I read the publisher’s blurb and was immediately hooked:

“You’re gonna need a rock and a whole lotta medicine” is a mantra that Jonny Appleseed, a young Two-Spirit/Indigiqueer, repeats to himself in this vivid and utterly compelling debut novel by poet Joshua Whitehead. Off the reserve and trying to find ways to live and love in the big city, Jonny becomes a cybersex worker who fetishizes himself in order to make a living. Self-ordained as an NDN glitter princess, Jonny has one week before he must return to the “rez”–and his former life–to attend the funeral of his stepfather. The seven days that follow are like a fevered dream: stories of love, trauma, sex, kinship, ambition, and the heartbreaking recollection of his beloved kokum (grandmother). Jonny’s life is a series of breakages, appendages, and linkages–and as he goes through the motions of preparing to return home, he learns how to put together the pieces of his life.

Sounds amazing, right? Seriously, my TBR list rocks so hard.

Wait, what was that? You’re looking for more?

Awesomesauce! Check out this fantastic round-up from CBC Books: 35 books to read for National Indigenous History Month. Covering adult fiction, non-fiction, YA, graphic novels, and poetry, this article includes links to some great interviews and loads of resources for further reading.

Happy reading!

(And if you lovely folks at Tor.com are looking for a nerdy reader/writer/editor/gamer/knitter/plant girl…well, you know where to find me.)

Review, Uncategorized

Long Story Short.

Political slogan on a wall in the city of Pompeii.
(Image credit: Mirko Tobias Schäfer / Flickr and this fantastic article from The Atlantic.)

Sometimes it feels like we’re drowning in information.

And that information–every text, Tweet, meme, slogan, or headline–takes the form of short writing.

It would be easy to assume that short writing is a product of the digital age, but in actual fact it has been used–often with significant impact–for far longer. From the graffiti-inscribed walls of Pompeii, to the final desperate telegrams dispatched from the Titanic, short writing has always played a vital role in human communication.

Today, in a world built on speed and information, it is more important than ever to be able to write short and do it well.

How to Write Short by Roy Peter Clark. (Published in 2013 by Little, Brown Spark.)
Buy this book at Indiebound

This week on #TheBookshelf, we’re looking at How to Write Short by Roy Peter Clark.

Clark is an author and editor who has taught writing at the prestigious Poynter Institute for Media Studies for more than 30 years. He has authored or edited nineteen books about writing, including his excellent craft book, Writing Tools.

Put it this way, what Roy Peter Clark doesn’t know about journalism and writing probably isn’t worth knowing.

As a freelance writer and editor, I do a lot of short writing–social media posts, book blurbs, titles, bios, etc.–both for clients and to promote WoodvineWrites–and I love to play with short writing, especially the challenge of a haiku or a 280 character Tweet, so I was eager to dive in and see what this book has to offer!

How to Write Short is, in itself, an homage to the art of writing short. Comprised of 35 bite-sized chapters, the book is divided into two sections: how to write short, and why we write short–including the practical uses of short writing.

The chapters are well laid out–with the student in mind. Each one begins with an anecdote that puts the chapter’s topic into context. Then comes the lesson. Here, Clark expands on the themes from the chapter intro with clever and accessible examples ranging from the Bible to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In between you’ll find well-chosen examples of short writing by Oscar Wilde, Tom Petty, Dorothy Parker, The Sopranos, Abe Lincoln…and many more. Each chapter wraps up with a section called “Grace Notes”–short exercises designed to reinforce the chapter’s lesson and ultimately build a better writer.

Clark covers a lot of ground, from the often hilarious worlds of texts and online dating apps, to tombstones, tattoos, idioms, sales pitches and just about every other kind of short writing you can think of. He gives practical guidance for trimming your writing, including the vital lesson that “brevity comes from selection and not compression.”

Brevity comes from selection and not compression.

Roy Peter Clark, How to Write Short

In much the same way that Clark encourages writers to find the rhythm–the music–in their work, many of the lessons in How to Write Short are summarized in rhythmic, easy-to-learn 3’s or 5’s, like “perfect, polish, revise”, “focus, wit, polish”, and Joseph M. Williams’ “Five Principles of Concision.”

Even the book’s typography and layout lend themselves to ease of learning through the judicious use of bullet points, bold type and/or italics for key ideas, words, or concepts.

We all write. We use words to sell, to converse, to amuse, to explain. With the lessons in How to Write Short, you can make every word count.

Join me next week on #TheBookshelf for some self care for editors, writers, and anyone else tethered to a desk!

(Featured image credit: Mirko Tobias Schäfer / Flickr and this fantastic article from The Atlantic.)

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We’re All Ears…

Last week on #TheBookshelf, I mentioned that when I’m working, I often try to drown out distracting noise with music. But there are some days when even music is too much and I need to lower the volume completely.

When that happens, I escalate to ear plugs. This week on #TheBookshelf, I’ll introduce you to five different styles of ear plugs (all under $40 CAD). I’ll give you my pros and cons, pricing, noise reduction levels, and my final verdict for each one.

(“Ear plugs” by 4nitsirk is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

When you’re looking for a good pair of earplugs, it’s important to understand that they’re not all created equally. There are foam ones, silicone ones, some that go in the ear, others that cover the ear. Some block sound (passive noise cancelling) while others eliminate it (active noise cancelling). They can be cheap and disposable or expensive and last for years. But whatever the type or style, most earplugs tend to be good for one type of use, but maybe not as ideal for others.

For instance, if you want to sleep, but you have a snoring spouse or noisy neighbours, you need earplugs that not only block noise, but are also comfortable for sleeping–after all, you’ll be using them for several hours and if you’re a side sleeper, you don’t want something that pushes into your ears.

If you need to focus in a noisy environment, you need earplugs that dampen the sound around you, but you don’t need to worry so much about them sticking out of your ears.

If, like me, your anxiety spikes when you’re surrounded and overwhelmed by too much sound (think busy house and happy kids playing, or a noisy workplace for instance), then earplugs are an absolutely brilliant solution to dampen the sharper sounds (shouting, or loud noises for instance) while still allowing you to hear what you need to. In this situation, comfort is key, but so is the right amount of attenuation.

For hearing protection, you need whatever has the highest decibel rating. Seriously. Because when it comes to protecting your hearing, you do not want to mess about.

But wait you say! What I’m you’re listening to my favourite band perform live (which, fingers crossed, we’ll all be able to do soon) and I want to hear every note, but not damage my hearing in the process? Well, there’s an earplug for that, too.

So let’s get to it.

First up, are the cheap and cheerful bright orange foam earplugs that you roll between your fingers and then cram into your ears. If you do it right, they expand to fit snugly in your ear canal. You can find them at most drugstores. They come in several different shapes and sizes.

Pros: They’re cheap. Shopper’s Drug Mart sells 4 pairs for $4.79 CAD

Cons: It’s not always easy to get them in your ear. They may not comfortable for side sleepers (They weren’t for me) because they tend to stick out of the ear. And finally, the pressure of the expanding foam pressing against the insides of your ear can be uncomfortable over long periods of time. Plus, you can only use them a few times before you have to throw them away–and if you can reduce waste, you should! Rated at a noise reduction of 33 dB.

Final verdict: Better for occasional earplug users, or users who need hefty hearing protection.

Next, we have these mouldable silicone earplugs from Mack’s.

These earplugs are interesting because they do not go into the ear canal. You mould them to cover the opening of the ear canal only (which also makes them great for swimmers, although I’ve never tried them in that capacity). These are slightly pricier per pair than the foam earplugs, and I had to get mine on Amazon because none of my local shops carried them. Price: about $20 CAD. Rated at a 22 dB noise reduction.

Pros: They’re comfortable and they can form a waterproof seal. Nice and flat for side sleepers. You can reuse each wad of silicone several times before having to throw them away.

Cons: The seal can be too good! On occasion, if you’re using them while sleeping, the seal can cause a slight suction effect that can be uncomfortable. Plus, they stick to hair.

Final verdict: Reasonably comfortable and easy to use. A bit on the pricey side for (somewhat) disposable earplugs. I like that they don’t go inside my ears.

Now, these intriguing-looking little earplugs are called Happy Ears. They’re made in Sweden but shipped from Canada. They don’t change shape or size to fit or cover your ear, so it’s up to you to buy a size that will fit. The Happy Ears solution to the fit issue is an introductory three pack, featuring one pair each of small, medium, and large size. This three pack will set you back $40 CAD. Rated at a 25 dB noise reduction.

Pros: Small, comfortable, and fit well. Reusable. Not too bad for side sleepers, but they do press into your ear quite a bit.

Cons: The initial cost is fairly steep, but once you find a pair that fit, you’re good to go. Shipping is fast and free. The hard stem is small, but can be poky for the side sleepers.

The Final Verdict: Having to buy 3 pairs to figure out what size you need is a bit of a pain, but these are comfortable and work well. Not great for side sleepers.

The last earplugs on my list are both from Loop and they take the earplug game to a whole new level.

The Loop Experience model is made up of an ear tip, a filter and an acoustic channel (the loop!). Sound enters the acoustic channel goes around the loop, through the filter (that reduces sound by 20 dB across all frequencies), and into your ear. The result is sound that is quieter but maintains it’s integrity.

Pro: Comfortable enough to wear for long periods, and they sit quite flat against the ear, so not bad for side sleepers, too. They work well to attenuate noise. I purchased an additional accessory, the Loop Mute (that’s the little mint-coloured ring in the photo), and when you insert it into the centre of the Loop, it reduces sound by another 5 dB. The Loop, the ear tips and the Mute accessory come in a variety of colours for mixing and matching. Price for the basic model is $38 (CAD). Can be reused.

And I have to say it–they look really, really cool.

Con: A bit stiff for side sleeping, but definitely more comfortable than any of the others I tried…well, except for one…

…The Loop Quiet. This earplug looks a lot like it’s flashier sibling, but instead of an acoustic channel, it has a solid silicone loop that acts more like a traditional earplug. It reduces sound by 25 dB and is priced at $23 (CAD)

Pro: More flexible than the Loop Experience, good for side sleepers.

Con: None.

Final verdict: The Loops win! I use the Loop Experience for work, and Loop Quiet for sleep.

These are just five of the many kinds of hearing attenuation and/or protection that are out there. I hope this review helps you to get started toward finding the quieter solution!

Do you have a favourite kind of earplug? I’m all ears! Let me know in the comments below.

Join me again next week on #TheBookshelf when I explore Roy Peter Clark’s new(ish) book, Writing Short.

Disclaimer: unless otherwise specified, the opinions expressed on #TheBookshelf are those of the author. Reviews on this blog are unsolicited unless otherwise stated.

Featured cover image: “Sudden Loud Noises” by STML is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Uncategorized

Write to this! The Propellerheads

When I’m writing, I usually turn to music to drown out the world around me (small apartment, everyone working from home, pesky cat, noisy neighbours, busy street…you get the idea).

That being said, song lyrics can be too distracting. Writing down the story that lives in my head is challenging enough, but trying to do it when someone else is crooning their story into my ears? Yeah, that’s a nope.

But give my brain some clever beats or a good melody? Bazinga! That musical magic is a solid distraction tactic that drowns out my inner critic (currently calling itself Frank), my impostor syndrome (as yet unnamed), and the myriad of other thoughts that insist they need me to deal with them RIGHT NOW!!

Sadly, while some magic burns hard and bright, it isn’t destined to burn for long.

Such was the case for the Propellerheads, the English electronic music duo of Will White and Alex Gifford.

Their debut album Decksanddrumsandrockandroll swaggered onto the big beat music scene in 1998 with a brash electronic sound, reworked samples from movie soundtracks, and, on the epic track “History Repeating,” the staggeringly awesome vocals of the one and only Dame Shirley Bassey.

It also turned out to be their last album <sob>.

There’s a cleverness to their music–a sly cheek–that makes it one of those albums that I never get tired of and one of my go-to albums for writing.

So, if you’re looking for some action-packed James-Bond-on-the-dance-floor-type magic for your next writing sprint, check out the 20th Anniversary Propellerheads Decksanddrumsandrockandroll double album.

Frank says you’ll like it.

Learn more about the Propellerheads here!

Full track listing for the double album:

Disc 1:

  1. “Take California” 7:23
  2. “Echo and Bounce” 5:29
  3. “Velvet Pants” 5:49
  4. “Better?” 2:05
  5. “Oh Yeah?” 5:28
  6. “History Repeating” Knee Length Mix (featuring Shirley Bassey) 4:05
  7. “Winning Style” 6:00
  8. “Bang On!” 5:57
  9. “A Number of Microphones” 0:48
  10. “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” 9:23
  11. “Bigger?” 2:22
  12. “Cominagetcha” 7:07
  13. “Spybreak!”

Disc 2:

  1. “Dive” 7:05
  2. “Ron’s Theory” 6:39
  3. “Lethal Cut” 7:27
  4. “Go Faster” 6:10
  5. “Big Dog” 5:43
  6. “Clang” 5:27
  7. “Bring Us Together” 6:32
  8. “History Repeating (Ankle Length Mix)” (featuring Shirley Bassey) 5:49
  9. “History Repeating (Hip Length Mix)” (featuring Shirley Bassey) 4:14
  10. “Props Vote of Gratitude” 5:07
  11. “360˚ (Oh Yeah)” (featuring De La Soul) 4:27
  12. “You Want It Back” (featuring Jungle Brothers) 5:59
  13. “Crash!”
Review, Uncategorized

The Write Stuff.

Today on #TheBookshelf we take a look at Nathan Bransford’s How To Write a Novel: 49 Rules for Writing a Stupendously Awesome Novel That You Will Love Forever.

(…But we do tend to sit on a mighty hoard of craft books, do we not?)

Every writer I know has a collection of books about writing. Speaking for my own collection, think Smaug the dragon from The Hobbit and you’re not far off.

Some of these books are massive and cover the broader scope of story itself, like Alice LaPlante’s The Making of Story, while others are small enough to fit in your back pocket and distill their advice into it’s essentials, like Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style. Some are semi-autobiographical, like Stephen King’s On Writing, and others contain workshop-style exercises, like Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones.

And while some have a serious, academic tone, others are more akin to having a conversation with a writer friend.

Buy the book here or at your favourite local independent bookstore.

Nathan Bransford’s How To Write a Novel definitely feels like the latter.

This guide to novel writing is a series of 49 rules, grouped into four sections: First Things First, Pen to Paper, Troubleshooting and Staying Sane, and Revising.

Writing a novel is a massive undertaking with a lot of moving parts. This book takes you through the process from concept to revision, covering bigger picture issues like the writing life and chasing trends (don’t), and the nitty-gritty things like formatting and (for the love of all things holy) backing up your work. There are rules for style, genre, ideas, plot and theme, setting, chapter beginnings and endings, and my favourite: tentpoles–the events that prop up your story like a circus tent. There are rules for things you could do, rules for things you should do, and rules for things that you absolutely must not do.

But it’s important to stop yourself from chasing after an idea by shaking your biography like a piggy bank to see what shiny things fall out.

Nathan Bransford, “How To Write a Novel.”

I really enjoyed this book. I re-read it and refer to it often, and I recommend it to writers at any stage of their writing journey.

First, the rules are short. I’m a freelance writer and editor working from home with two teenagers in remote school, a husband who is also working from home…and a cat. I am interrupted so much it’s should be comical–except it’s really not. In How To Write a Novel, each rule is 4-7 pages long and gets to the point without messing around. Easy to read a rule between interruptions!

Second, the advice. Within its pages, you will find valuable tools, tips and tricks that you can immediately put to use, no matter where you are with your current WIP (work in progress). Nathan’s rules are clear, helpful, and he uses relatable and familiar examples taken from his own work, popular fiction, and the classics. (It’s worth noting that while the foundational terms and theories he mentions are briefly-but well-explained, if someone is putting pen to paper for the very first time, they may want to check out a more detailed guide to the mechanics of story and then come back to this book.)

Finally–and most of all–I loved this book for the heart within its style. Nathan doesn’t pull any punches–writing a novel is hard– but time after time, I found myself laughing out loud at his take on the process. For me, his wit and tongue-in-cheek style are what make the rules easier to follow and remember. For some readers this casual, off-the-cuff approach might be off-putting, but I found it made the book more accessible.

When it comes to books on the writer’s craft, there is no one size fits all. The trick is to read widely and collect the advice that works for you from wherever you can. If you’re looking for guidance that is staid and/or academic, this book is not for you. But if it’s real talk and solid writing tools that you need, How To Write a Novel might be exactly the right book to add to your hoard collection!

For more information: Nathan Bransford is an author and former literary agent whose website and newsletters are packed with helpful information for writers. Find him at https://nathanbransford.com/

And don’t miss this interview with the author.

Join me again next week on #TheBookshelf for Write to this!, a segment exploring some of my favourite music to write to!