Zeus’ Fallen Temple

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The ruins of Zeus’ temple at Olympia.

The Temple of Zeus at Olympia was once a colossus of stone. Immovable. For the ages. Built around 460 BC, it stood for eight and a half centuries and sheltered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient world – a statue of Zeus thirteen metres tall made of ivory and gold.

Today the temple lies in ruins. My guide spoke of Continue reading

changing gears

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been learning more about travel writing. I bought the “Lonely Planet’s Guide to Travel Writing” – because what better authority would there be, I suppose – as a happy-birthday-to-me present at the end of March. I’m still working my way through it.

I seem to swing back and forth on whether this is a kind of writing I want to delve into. I find the idea of writing endless click-bait pieces on the ‘5 Hottest Party Cities’, or the ’10 Most Undiscovered Gems’, or whatever, incredibly depressing. But I love to travel, and I love to write, and there is an area of longform travel writing that crosses over with creative non-fiction, so I’m nibbling around the edges of that.

Maybe all I really want to do is travel and blog. I loved writing those little posts while I was in Paris. I found it helped in contextualizing and remembering my experiences. I regret that I didn’t keep them up while I travelled around Greece, but I just ran out of hours in the day. And I was struggling with travel burn-out around the time I stayed overnight in Milan, so for a couple of days it all just kind of became about endurance.

I did continue to take photographs, though, so maybe before the memories grow too faint I’ll find some favourites and tell the stories behind them.

My story in print!

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The issue of PRISM with my story in it spotted in the wild.

I meant to post this ages ago, of course, back when it came out. But I wanted to include a photo of the magazine actually in a store, and though I visited several branches I couldn’t find it anywhere in the time before I left on my adventure. By the time I got back in late November, it didn’t seem worth posting anymore. Although I did go back to the bookstore to snap my coveted photo.

But this whole year-in-review time seems to be as good as any for remembering that someone paid me for a story I wrote for the very first time this year. It came out in PRISM 53.1, the Fall 2014 issue. I’m delighted with the cover art on the issue, too, which is both classy and whimsical. The little blurb on their page about my piece reads:

“On the non-fiction side, PRISM 53:1 includes K.A. MacKinnon’s “Character Sketch,” a uniquely-structured piece about two women traveling through Europe as circus employees.”

I also wanted to include a link to Ayelet Tsabari’s web page. (If you haven’t read her stuff, you really should. ‘Yemeni Soup and Other Recipes’ is my favourite.) She taught me in the two Continuing Ed. creative non-fiction courses I took last year. Those classes turned out to provide exactly the right information at exactly the right time for me, in terms of the progress of my writing, and the piece PRISM published originally started as an assignment in one of those classes.

Anyway, Ayelet wrote a lovely post recently in which she bragged on behalf of a few of her students who are doing well, and I was one of them.

In other writing-related news, I have two stories out being considered at the moment. For one, I should hear sometime in January, for the other they’re saying ‘the first quarter of 2015’, so sometime before April, I guess.

I’ve been writing with reasonable dedication this month and I have another story that is about 500 words from being finished. I have sworn the first draft will be done this month, so that’s mostly my plan for this evening.

Finally…

I love the summertime.

I love the warm cross-breeze through my apartment when all the windows are open.

I love bare feet indoors and sandals outdoors.

I love not having to wear socks.

I love linen capri trousers and shoulders bare to the sun.

I love sunshine through dappled, leafy shade.

I love the sharp smell of rain on hot pavement.

I love the soft smell of growing things on the wind.

I love the freedom from layers and mittens and boots.

I love not having to brace myself to step outside.

I love the feeling of a summer breeze on sweat-damp skin.

I love sprawling across the bed in nothing but a bra and boxer shorts on a lazy afternoon.

I love walking down the beach with my feet in the water and the sun on my back.

I love the rumble of distant thunder and the rush of cool air ahead of a storm on a sweaty, sticky evening.

I love being able to sleep with the windows open.

After a long, brutal, exhausting winter, summer is finally on the way.

The Corner in Torrin

The Corner in Torrin

The road to Elgol, the small village where my family lived going as far back as there are records to show it, has only one lane, winding and twisting with lochs on one side and steep hills on the other. … Continue reading

Another one for the collection

Last week I posted about Doing the To Dos, and I was pleased with myself for getting my butt in gear and submitting the stories I’d been meaning to submit.

One of the two I submitted last week, the story I wrote for a call on a specific topic (a topic on which I felt I had a lot to say) was rejected by form letter in eight days.

Ouch.

Not even a flicker of consideration there. And there’s not a lot of positive I can take away from this other than it’s practice at being rejected.

I will admit that I sulked for a couple of days.

But last night I sat down and started writing again. Well, world-building technically, but it all needs to be done before I can get to the meat of the story. So I’m staggering back up onto my feet.

Time to haul out the Tubthumping again, I guess.

It’s a new dawn, a new day…

I don’t do new year’s resolutions. I’m still me, even when the calendar ticks over. It doesn’t seem worth starting out a new year by setting myself up to fail. Instead, I decided to spend new year’s day actually doing the things that I want to continue doing through the year. Starting off as I mean to go on.

So instead of putting the TV on, I picked up a book. And I spent a chunk of the afternoon writing as well. Step one.

I completely failed to accomplish my own little NaNoWriMo. I had set myself the goal of finishing a draft of my current fictional short story (novella?) by the end of November. I ended up stuck in the same scene for nearly two months. I have rewritten it countless times and it’s still not right. I have, I think, finally isolated why. I’ve been trying to push forward and get to the end, create a draft that I can then fix. But in not addressing some of the problems early in the story, I have created a house with a shoddy foundation, and when I hit this particular scene the whole wall fell down.

Yesterday I sat down and began to address the problems at the beginning of the story. We’ll see how I go from here.

I also wrote a new draft of a piece of creative non-fiction I’ve been working on. It was designed for a particular lit magazine and the deadline is January 31st. I workshopped it with my writers’ group this evening, and I think it’s pretty close to being done. I’ll do some final tweaking and hopefully send it out in the next week or so.

So the new year is going well so far. Step by step.

(6 + 4) * 2 – 1 / 18 + 1 = ?

There is a neat white 9″ x 12″ envelope sitting by my front door. I spent the afternoon getting one of my essays ready for submission and putting together a cover letter. It took longer than I expected to make sure I had name, address, and word count in all the right places and none of the wrong ones, and to set everything up with the correct font, spacing and margins. I swear the submissions guidelines for some of these magazines are designed as skill-testing questions.

This isn’t my first submission, but it’s the first one I’ve had to do in hard copy. Back in March I submitted a different essay to two magazines using Submittable. I have a matched pair of rejection letters for that one that I’m actually quite proud of.

The first one was the best possible rejection:

Thank you for submitting your Creative Non-fiction to [such-and-such] magazine. While we are unable to accept Character Sketch for publication, we would like to see more of your work.

Your work was almost there. We liked it, but felt it was not quite ready to be forwarded to an editor. We would like to encourage you, however, to send us more of your writing in the future. You can find out what themes might be under consideration by visiting our website.

We look forward to reading more of your work.

I’ve written two more drafts of the piece since then – they were absolutely right, it wasn’t ready yet – and I’m confident it’s getting closer. I’ll find a new home for it when I’m satisfied it’s good to go.

The other rejection was more generic:

Thank you for submitting your work to [such-and-other]. We have read and considered it, and have decided it isn’t right for the magazine.

Our editorial decisions have more to do with our own tastes and preferences than the quality of your submission, and we hope you find the right home for the work.

I knew the essay was borderline when I sent it. The piece is a lyric essay with a unique structure, and the magazine had occasionally published non-traditional essays, so I thought I’d give it a shot. It was gratifying to hear they didn’t think it was bad, just not right. I can totally live with that.

So yes. I’m ready to add to my collection of rejections. I’ll take my envelope to be mailed in the morning. And now, to work on the next piece.

Signs of Dedication

I am not a morning person. And, in particular, I am not creative in the morning. When my schedule is flexible, my peak writing time is between 9pm and 2am. I’m not sure why, but that has been true since I was a teenager. Maybe it just takes a whole day of stimulus to wear my inner editor into submission, I don’t know.

Early yesterday morning, I got some notes back from my writing buddy about a piece I’m struggling with. This is a story I’m very fond of. And it’s not so much my beautiful prose that I’m attached to, but rather the fact that I’m writing about a time in my life that involved a whole soup kettle of emotions, and about a person at that time who was very important to me. My buddy’s comments were spot on, as well as being an exact echo of the comments I gave him on his current piece. So, clearly I should know better. Still, I was resistant. Because this is a story I’m very fond of.

My schedule had me running around all day yesterday, so the notes were left to percolate at the back of my brain. By the end of the day, when I sat down with a cup of hot chocolate and my laptop, I realised that I’ve received the same comments from three different people, now. That’s a clear sign that something isn’t working, so I sat down, determined to finally address the problem.

The hardest thing to let go of was the tone. There was a certain melancholy to the piece, a nostalgia, that I loved. It’s a feeling that permeates my memories of that time, and I worked hard to capture that in my writing. It was hard to accept that it was actually creating distance between the audience and the story.

So last night I sat down and shifted the whole thing into the present tense, something I had avoided on purpose in the previous draft. I rewrote or rearranged almost every section, and along the way I had a couple of revelatory moments – small fixes that addressed bigger problems.

I flamed out at midnight with two sections left to go. I knew I had to be at work today, so I couldn’t keep writing into the night, and my eyes were closing on me anyway. But. Today was the deadline to get stories in to be workshopped at my writers’ group this Wednesday. And I want the others to read this. I need to know whether I’m on the right track now.

So this morning, still in my pyjamas, I plunked myself back down in front of the laptop, bashed out the last two sections and mailed it off. All before breakfast.

I killed one of my darlings and I met my deadline. I just wanted to take a moment to celebrate this small triumph. It’s not easy in a busy world, so it’s worth crowing when we can.

Do you have a small triumph to crow about? Or a big one? Let’s congratulate each other, shall we?