Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Write. Play. Repeat.

WRITE: I recently attended the Surrey International Writers' Conference for the first time and immediately felt among "my people". There EVERYONE talked about imaginary characters as if they were old family friends - the real kind you might have over for a backyard BBQ. No judgements, just a whole hell of a lot of writers of all formats - from picture books to erotica, as well as screenwriters, agents, editors, and publishers.

Each day of the conference unfolded with gem upon gem of brilliant sessions on writing craft, promotion, industry trends, and / or fangirl / boy moments. Highlights:

- winning the Writing for Young People award for my short story ANNe - a dark retelling of Anne of Green Gables. This was an instant conversation starter and everyone made me feel very welcome by their interest in my story.
- Jane Porter's session on Writing Hot - great insights into steaming up fiction
- Diana Gabaldon's session on How to Make Them Turn the Page - yeah, one major fangirl session for me.
- Michael Slade's session Danse Macabre: Writing Horror - loved his "rules" and have added many to my tricks of the trade
- hanging with a great group of authors during the Saturday Book Fair
- meeting so MANY wonderfully talented, witty, and wise writers

I highly recommend this conference to fiction and screenwriters, especially if you're in Canada. You can't beat the workshops or the networking.

PLAY: This month saw the production and launch of my first play, co-written with Teresa Pettit and Julie Waage, two members of Grande Parlour Productions right here in my home town of Cold Lake. To say this was a monumental undertaking is an understatement. The entire project went from idea (in May) to completed script (in August), and full show (in October).

What a ton of fun...and work, but so worth it. Our play, INHABITED, was a Halloween themed show featuring a graveyard, a haunted house, and three acts taking place in three different eras - bringing three of the house's ghost stories to life. Thankfully my town is bursting with local talent and supporters of the arts. INHABITED was a great success. Here's the full cast on set:

REPEAT: I hope to make it back to Surrey - perhaps every second year. I'd also take on another play in a heart beat. But for now - I better get back to writing my NANO project...

Saturday, July 13, 2013

All The World's A Stage

...and it's a writer's job to sit front and centre. We observe, absorb, evaluate, speculate, and ultimately create our own dramas from what we witness. There's no better way to spark that process than to do a bit of travelling.
A bike in Prague. Where will it take you?
When you set out on the open road you leave the familiar behind and embrace the unknown. You may not speak or read the local language. Away from touristy sites, the most basic of tasks: buying a toothbrush, locating a hotel, or even just using your debit card can prove challenging.

You're suddenly at the mercy of the weather, flight delays, train schedules, traffic jams, and cab drivers. Without conscious effort, your observational skills kick into high gear. You interpret facial expressions, the timber and pitch of the voices around you, and study body language for social cues.

Sometimes you'll get it wrong. The guy shouting in your face may not be furious - he might be warning you of potential danger. The friendly woman offering to exchange currency may be out to rip you off. But you learn with each encounter. You also gain a stockpile of story ideas brimming with conflict, tension, excitement, and did-you-freaking-see-that moments.

All that and I haven't even mentioned the sights / sounds / histories you'll discover - that dazzling architecture, unexpected blends of rich hues and melodies may be found around every corner. The humble cafe where you stop in to quench your thirst might be the site of a long-ago rebellion.

I'm not saying you have to travel to exotic locals - the next town, an unfamiliar neighbourhood, or a pub you've never noticed before can lead to fantastical adventures - real or ones you dream up for your characters after the fact. Sometimes you need to step out of the familiar, the mundane, the norm to see things differently. This shift in perspective just might lead to better stories - better writing.

So what are you waiting for? Get on your bike. Hop on a plane. Take an evening constitutional. Immerse yourself in the world. Take photos. Jot down your impressions. Record audio with your phone. Take video clips. Drink it all in.

Then bring it to life on the page.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Press Release: ROCK You Cancer

The official press release for the ROCK You Cancer compilation CD I've organized. Please share!

Tracy Belsher, Organizer


Eight Bands from Across Alberta Tell Cancer to ROCK Off!

Cold Lake, Alberta – May 30, 2013 – Eight bands and singer-songwriters from across Alberta - willing, keen, and freaking able to deliver, have produced a compilation CD of diverse sounds to benefit the Canadian Cancer Society’s Relay For Life.
“The talent, musicianship, vocals, hooks, and wicked riffs…”organizer, Tracy Belsher, a novelist, screenwriter, and musician from Cold Lake, Alberta gets dizzy thinking about how lucky she’s been able to rally such formidable troops for this benefit project. ROCK You Cancer is a fundraising effort to support the Canadian Cancer Society's Relay For Life. Participating artists share their voices, musicianship, and skills - confident the compilation will inspire as well as entertain.

While supporting a worthy cause, listeners will gain exposure to some of Alberta's finest new talent, the likes of: Greg Wood, Calista, Jenie Thai, Maria Sue Roberts, The Gibson Block, The Crook Art, Wilder Than We, and Rustic Charm.

“I’ve tried to keep a local connection,” Belsher said. “Most of the bands feature homegrown talent. Guys like former Cold Lake residents Paul Bergeron, bassist, and Braydonn Wollmann, lead singer of Edmonton’s, Calista, as well as Calgary’s, The Crook Art’s drummer, Denver Petterson.” These are local artists who have moved on to bigger cities. “Maria Sue Roberts, a teacher, musician, and songwriter from Cold Lake, is a transplanted Newfoundlander who just opened for comedian Shaun Majumder.” Belsher wanted to highlight the quality artists sprouting from the Lakeland Region as well as support Relay 2013.
Bonnyville’s Greg Wood was keen to be involved in the project. “Cancer touches most families eventually. Having a song on ROCK You Cancer was an opportunity to help out close to home.” Hope In Her Eyes, is “a catchy rock / country cross-over song” Wood said of his contribution. The melody “seems to stick in people’s heads after just one listen. The lyrics are universal.”

Edmonton’s 4-piece rock ensemble, The Gibson Block, was “thrilled to be included on a compilation with great Alberta musicians supporting a cause that affects everyone.” Their tune, Without Me, can “be read many different ways by listeners.” They hope the song “encourages listeners to think of all those people in the world who are supporting them and wishing them well and brings them some comfort.”

“If music soothes the savage beast,” Belsher concludes, “maybe our efforts to raise our voices and awareness for Relay will inspire others. Sometimes a song is all it takes to change your perspective.” As classically trained pianist, Edmonton’s, Jenie Thai croons on her emotionally charged song, Your Sweet Lullaby:

I wish you sweet, sweet dreams
In your darkest night.
All I can give to you
Is a…lullaby.

The Cold Lake Energy Centre is hosting Relay For Life on June 21st from 7pm to 7am.

About ROCK You Cancer:
ROCK You Cancer is a fundraising compilation CD featuring eight bands from across Alberta with proceeds going directly to the Canadian Cancer Society’s Relay For Life. Download cards are available at Lots-A-Books in Cold Lake and online via iTunes and Amazon. Follow ROCK You Cancer on Twitter: @ROCKYouCancer and on Facebook.


Monday, May 27, 2013

Show Me the Awesome

                                                                                                   design by John LeMasney via lemasney.com

To support my screenwriting and fiction writing I have this thing known as "the day job". Now, don't go picturing me slaving away in some stuffy office building or working a factory assembly line - my day job just might be the best damn job out there. I'm a library technician in an elementary school. 

That's right, I went to college for a few years and learned more than just the fine art of shusshing. I'm a researching, cataloguing, organizing, literature loving, speed reading, story-timeing, read alouding machine. And I LOVE it. Other than having to control my potty mouth, it's a dream job for an author of young adult fiction. I'm surrounded by my target audience.

Library types make great authors - it's kind of a no brainer. We love to research, investigate, dig for the heart of a story - we love reading and immersing ourselves in other worlds. We're often in the background, observing - a vital skill for a scribe. But that also means we're in the background. Our work is appreciated, but may not be really noticed or completely understood.

Which is why, when I found out about a series of month-long web posts featuring the great work librarians are doing, I just had to participate. SHOW ME THE AWESOME is the brainchild of Kelly Jensen, Sophie Brooker, and Liz Burns - librarians who manage a cool website, Stacked. You can also follow this project on twitter (#30awesome).

The project I had the most fun with at my school so far, was a year-long collaborative / interactive story that got the staff, students, and parents involved. The story was told through monthly instalments that were displayed on the library bulletin board, included in our monthly newsletter, as well as posted to the library wiki and recorded as an audio podcast - with a student reader.

The plot was directed by popular vote. Each month the story ended on a cliffhanger and there were two possible directions for which the story could progress. Students and staff could vote in the library and through the library blog. Once votes were tallied, the tale continued according to which plot twist that had the most votes. 

When the year ended - so did our collective story. I then printed a few copies to put on the library shelves and students still request to take them out today. I also created an online flip book using Adobe InDesign which students can access at anytime via the library website. The best part about this project was that it was sparked by my discussions with an imaginative student who put a face on his eraser and told me it was alive.

So too is the love of story in our children. It's our job to build on that spark and get them fired up for reading. 

Yes, our Diary of a Rubbery Kid title is a play on the very popular Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney, however, our tale doesn't follow his plot in any way.

Click HERE to go to the story's official page and listen to the audio clips / read the online flipbook. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

ROCK You Cancer

I'm damned excited to share this news. For a few years I've been mulling over the idea of merging my love of music and writing fiction with a fundraising effort of some sort. A Rock and Read sort of event similar to the one US author, Stephanie Kuehnert (I Want to be Your Joey Ramone, MTV Books) did back in 2008 - featuring live bands, as well as readings from young adult fiction authors.

Okay, so far that hasn't happened, but I'm working on it. ;0

In the meantime, I've decided to cut my teeth on a smaller, but incredibly cool - and oh so worthy project, ROCK You Cancer.

With the help of a few friends with fingers on the pulse of the Alberta music scene, I've gathered eight bands and singer-songwriters from across Alberta willing, keen, and freaking able to deliver a fantastic compilation CD of diverse sounds. (yeah, okay, my band has one tune on the thing as well.) The talent, musicianship, vocals, hooks, and wicked riffs - I get dizzy thinking about how lucky I've been to rally such formidable troops.

A big THANK YOU to all who have contributed. These bands are ones to watch:

Greg Wood
Jenie Thai
Maria Sue Roberts
The Gibson Block
The Crook Art
Wilder Than We
Rustic Charm

Being from the small town of Cold Lake, I've tried to retain a local connection. Some of the bands feature homegrown talent that has moved on to bigger cities, and others have local musicians performing on the tunes. So - it's across the province, but grounded from home. I like that. And what I also like - proceeds from ROCK You Cancer will go directly to the Canadian Cancer Society's Relay for Life. The Lakeland area is hosting a Relay on June 21st and a few of the bands from the CD will perform live during the event.

Cancer's claws dig into many lives - you can't live in this world and not have a friend or relative under its shadow. If music soothes the savage beast, maybe our efforts to fundraise and raise our voices will give others hope, inspire, entertain, or even just set a toe tapping.

I'll post the "buy" links as soon as the CD is live. 
Here's the Facebook page - please spread the word.
Support the cause....together let's tell Cancer to ROCK off!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Calgary Expo Adventures

My first "con" experience has me hooked. From the costumed attendees (check out the very cool steampunk couples in the photos) and booths filled with collectibles, to the informative, entertaining, or just plain awe-inspiring panels. Yeah, I've had one hell of a weekend. The 12 hour drive - time well invested.

Not only have I gotten my sci-fi / fantasy fix, as a novelist and screenwriter, I've found numerous panels applicable to honing my craft. And there are still a few to attend today. Stan Lee, the voice of comics, was brilliant - connecting with, and charming, thousands of people in the arena. "I'm a commercial writer. I'm a hack," Lee said. "I don't even like writing." But if you're going to pay the man, his imagination will go into overdrive. "Greed is the mother of invention."

You gotta respect the fact that Lee knows the business and his audience.

Carrie Fisher, actor, novelist, producer, screenwriter, also had nuggets of wisdom amidst her self-depreciating humour. Advice for those wanting into the Hollywood game? "Stay out!" The stories she shared about her time on the set of Star Wars, The Burbs, and other films, as well as her love of "having written" versus enjoying the process of writing itself resonated with the crowd.

I also thoughouly enjoyed a playwriting panel, The Art of Playwright, with Alberta's Dan Gibbins, Ben Blue, and Alberta Playwrights Network president, Trevor Rueger. In particular, I enjoyed their take on the differences between writing for film and writing for the stage, from the facetious, "Car chases don't work on stage", to the wise, "Play to the strengths of your medium". While the panel agreed plays can evoke emotion and laughter - they were cautious when I enquired, "Is there a place for horror on stage?".

Their comments were enlightening. Yes, horror could be done. But it was easy to do it wrong. Too much gore, or shoddy effects pull the audience out of the moment. Thrills are best achieved by "making whatever the monster is....seen as little as possible". On the stage it's the unknown, the feeling of dread, and physiological horror that will have the audience enthralled.

Good to know. Thanks Calgary Expo...and I do hope to see you again next year!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Dialogue and Character Motive

I recently did a series of workshops with students ranging from grade 4 to 9 tackling various aspects of writing craft: story structure, hooking a reader, character development, and a general introduction to screenwriting.

In discussions with the teachers, before or after my presentations, a similar issue was brought to my attention - the misuse of dialogue in their student's short stories. Dialogue rambled, was too "every day", failed to reflect character personalities, there was too much, or too little for it to be effective. I got the sense the use of dialogue in creative writing might therefore become discouraged.

And this information made me rather sad. My writing has always been dialogue heavy, likely why I was attracted to screenwriting in the first place, and, frankly, some of my best lines are words my characters say - not description or action sequences or heavy internal monologues.

Which is why I tweaked my workshops to include a segment on dialogue dos and don'ts. I flipped through my personal collection of writing manuals, googled the topic, scanned YouTube videos, and tossed my own ideas into the mix. The result is a two-page document I'm hopeful teachers, students, and writers will find handy. The PDF version is available HERE.

I believe the key to great dialogue is knowing your character motives / goals / beliefs / values / desires and how that knowledge will influence what they choose to say or leave unsaid. Then make sure what the character wants, in any given scene / interaction, comes through loud and clear. If their goals clash - all the better - your characters will challenge each other, contradict each other, and more importantly try to influence each other to see the situation they way THEY want it to be seen. Instant tension. Instant buy-in from your readers. If you do it right.

Below is a clip from the film The Knight's Tale. I highly recommend reading the script which you can purchase here, The Knight's Tale Shooting Script. Watch the clip and evaluate each character's dialogue. They know what they want and they aren't afraid to say it. Observe how the main character, William, wins his friends over. Bonus - this scene also sums up the theme of the film...anyone can change their stars.

Great dialogue. I know you can write it too.