The Creative Writer as Voyeur

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The Aunties, National Palace Museum, Taipei – Photo by JS

I was in Taiwan recently and, looking through the pictures I took, found a few where I’d snapped groups of strangers.

Who are you and what brought you there? All delightful possibilities for the imagination to explore.

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Schoolgirls 1, Chung Ching Shrine, Taipei, Photo by JS
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Schoolgirls 2, Chung Ching Shrine, Taipei – Photo by JS
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Railway Lunch, Fenchihu Station, Alishan – Photo by JS
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Sightseeing in Style, National Palace Museum, Taipei – Photo by JS

Thanks for the memories, fellow travelers!

p.s.: I’ve done my best to blur all faces.

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Temporal Point-of-view; Upcoming Reading

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Autumn’s glory in Stanley Park, Vancouver, 2016 – Photo by JS

Less noticeable than who steers the narrative – a first person narrator, say, or an omniscient third person narrator – is the point in time from which a story is told. Have years passed and is the storyteller, older and wiser, revisiting her youth, as in Lee Harper’s To Kill a Mockingbird, or is the story unfolding in present time with no hindsight to call upon – except for portions told in flashback? Something to ponder as we go about crafting our stories.

Meanwhile I’d like to invite everyone in the Toronto area to Draft 12.1 on Sunday October 23rd, 3 pm, at the Flying Pony, an artist-run gallery at 1481 Gerrard Street East, west of Coxwell. The event will include readings by:

Karen Mulhallen

Josée Sigouin

Teri Vlassopoulos

Bänoo Zan

This will be my second reading at Draft. Thank you, Draft collective! My first was on October 31st, 2010 – Halloween – and the theme was Death! Back then my novel was entitled Intersection rather than The Fifth Season, and the excerpt I read here and here were narrated from a different point in time. The set-up is explained in the first video but what counts here is that my male protagonist, Adam, was in North America and had recently met female protagonist, Joanne, before he flash-backed to an earlier love interest and a dramatic event connected to it.

In the current version of the story, Adam is back in his home country, South Korea. The flashback occurs a whole year later and is motivated by trying to grapple with the novel’s central dilemma more than Adam’s poor track record with relationships.

In any event, I’m not planning to read the re-imagined version of this scene but, rather, the opening chapter of The Fifth Season narrated by Joanne. The temporal point-of-view should be be obvious in the first minute or two. If you come, let’s talk about it at the break!

Exhausting the Wind

The wind ruffles curtains
And sweeps dust bunnies under beds.
The wind gusts.
The wind puffs sails
And cartwheels through wheat fields.
The wind booms.
The wind knocks chairs down
And wrestles tables to the ground.
The wind keens.
The wind whistle past windows
And moans through roof rafters.
The wind sighs.
The wind rushes through leaves
And gallops between houses.
The wind wallops.
The wind lifts up my skirt
And whips my hair into my mouth.
The wind drives.
The wind slips through cracks
And coats the floors with grit.
The wind swirls.
The wind swings weathervanes
And chatters through blind slats.
The wind races.
The wind fans flames
And slams doors shut.
The wind roars.
The wind funnels through streets
And hurtles across public squares.
The wind growls.
The wind tears through backyards
And strips sheets off clotheslines.
The wind hisses.
The wind lashes across lakes
And slashes old flags in half.
The wind dries.
The wind desiccates the ground
And mops sweat off my brow.
The wind whispers.
The wind whooshes past my ears
And blows cool on my cheeks.
The wind wafts.
The wind carries the scent of curry
And makes us all hungry.
The wind caresses.
The wind brushes eyelashes
And tickles wind chimes.
The wind retreats.
The wind recedes as the sun sets.
The wind dies.

Quirky Characters

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Confession #1: I started writing a novel because I thought blogging was (a bit of) a waste of time. One blogger, looking back on a series she had just finished writing in her spare time, said that her word count added up to a staggering 70,000, novel length! That was 2007.
Well, if I was going to devote that kind of time, I vowed, it would have to have more permanence than a few dozen blog posts. Yet here I am blogging (occasionally). Authors must have a web presence, which means that instead of thinking about my fictitious characters mired in their ficThai Basiltitious situations, I have to carve out a little time to think of something to say to you, my esteemed blog readers.
Confession #2: I have quite a few quirky habits. Take food combinations: Asian pear and cabernet sauvignon? Honeydew melon and Thai basil flower buds? Fresh mint and banana? Ahhhh … I could write whole blog posts about each but I won’t. This ain’t a food blog.
In a writer’s life quirks exist for one purpose and one purpose only: to flesh out characters. Imagine a fussy man who “babysits” his bacon, or a woman who suffers from “banana anxiety.” Don’t know what I’m talking about? That’s OK. Just make of it what you will. Go ahead and soak your cereals in milk overnight or squirt sriracha sauce on your cottage cheese. But don’t blog about it.
Use it.

 

The Whole of the Moon

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“I spoke about wings
You just flew
I wondered I guessed and I tried
You just knew
I sighed
… but you swooned!
I saw the crescent
You saw the whole of the moon”[2]

 757px-Van_Gogh_-_Starry_Night_-_Google_Art_Project[3]

Vincent Van Goth was in the lunatic asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence when he painted one of his most iconic oeuvres, Starry Night, in the pre-dawn swirl of a June 1889 morning. He caught the crescent moon rising. How do we know?

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[4]

In the leftmost image, the waxing (growing toward full) crescent curls like a D, whereas the waning (decreasing toward the new moon) curls like a C.

Unlike the sun, which always rises in the morning and always sets at night, the moon rises at all hours of the day and night, approximately one hour later each day as it goes from new to full and full to new again. The phases we see on earth are caused by the relative positions of the moon and sun in our sky.

When the moon rises in the east just as the sun set in the west (or sets in west just as the sun rises in the east), they are in perfect opposition and we see a full moon.

When the moon rises in the east at the same time as the sun, we see no moon at all. It’s the new moon, the first day of the lunar month. By extension, the crescent moon we see in the western sky on the next few days is referred to as the new moon. It traveled through the daytime sky, unseen by us, until the sun set and lit a small section of the orb, leaving the rest in shadow from our terrestrial point-of-view.

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[5]

As time passes and the moon rises progressively later in the day, we come closer and closer to the full moon. After that point and for the next two weeks, the moon will rise after the sun sets, again progressively later until it rises just before dawn and appears to us as a thin crescent curling like a C – Van Gogh’s moon in Starry Night.

Why should we, creative writers, care? Well, if our narratives include a crescent moon in an evening sky, it had better be setting, not rising.

If we include a crescent moon in a morning sky, it had better be rising, not setting.

And should our characters find themselves travelling at night, aided solely by moonlight, they had better use other means of seeing where they’re going for some substantial part of the month, even assuming an extended spell of clear weather.

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[6]

As for the Full Moon in all its mysterious glory, may we all stop Wondering, Guessing and Trying.

Let’s Know, let’s Swoon and let’s Fly!

[1] Painting by Mike Schultz

[2] From The Whole Of The Moon, composed by Mike Scott (The Waterboys);  lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Warner/Chappell Music, Inc. Complete lyrics here.

[3] Painting Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh,

[4] Source: Astropixel.

[5] By Sheree Canfield

[6] Moonlight Scene Near Leeds by Victorian-era artist, John Atkinson Grimshaw.