Saturday, November 24, 2007

On Leave for a Few Weeks

I'm moving into my new home a week, so life's a little crazy at the moment. I also won't have Internet for a few days until after I move in, so I'm going dark for a little while.

Catch you when I get back!


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Word on Wednesday - A Real Meme Challenge

I'm amused how the term "meme" has been acquired by the blogging community. I'm not entirely sure how it started to be called a "meme." To bloggers, it seems to mean a questionnaire (or simply a question) passed through the blog-o-sphere in which participants post their answers on their blogs. The questions stay the same, but the answers change, so it's not technically a meme in the traditional sense. Or maybe it is, and it's a metameme...

The traditional meaning of the word is a societal / cultural piece of information that becomes adopted into the mainstream and understood, even if the person was not witness to the origin of the information. I always think of the phrase "Can't we all just get along?" which has been made fun of, but also marked a moment in time in North America where we had to stop and look at the ridiculousness of our behaviour. If you repeat that phrase, most people in North America know what you mean by it, even if they can't remember where it came from.

Other forms memes can take:

("A guy walks into a bar...")
Nursery rhymes ("Jack and Jill went up the hill...")
Children's culture: games, activities and chants typical for different age-groups. I'm amazed that kids in Canada play some of the same hand-chant games I played in Elementary School!

Conspiracy theories
Fashions (tube tops, anyone?)
catch phrases ("Show me the money!")
Group-based biases (racist stereotypes)

Internet slang ("LOL")
Viral marketing ("word of mouth")

The phrase was invented by evolutionary theorist Richard Dawkins in the 1970's.
They're like cultural genes, and they can mutate over time. With memes, some ideas will propagate less successfully and die out, while others survive and spread.

Even this is a watered down version of what a meme means, and if interested, read the fascinating history of the idea on Wikipedia.

The reason I'm saying all this is to introduce you to my little social experiment. I've tried this twice before. I've started a word or phrase with someone and tried to see if we could get others to start using it, too. Once, with one friend, we started using the phrase "curb" as in "stop curbing me" or "you're curbing my cool" or "don't be curbing me, girlfriend." We didn't take it too seriously, so it didn't catch on.

Once, when I was teaching high school, my 9th grade English class invented a word called skooz - it didn't really mean anything, just a silly derogatory remark. "What a skooz!" We used it all the time and it only took a few weeks for the other students at the school to start using it. Their enthusiasm waned and it died out.

So... I've always wanted to try this on the Internet, because things can really get passed along around here. I tried to make up a few words, phrases and define them. What I'd like YOU to do, is to 1) use them in your own blogs and LINK back here. 2) use them when commenting in other people's blogs (without saying what it means, pretend its just something everyone says, like "meme"). and 3) IF YOU SEE someone else using it who did not post it here, let me know!

Everyone game? Okay, here they are:

Blixen - A blog vixen. In the traditional sense of the word vixen, though... not someone who's got a sexual appetite, but someone who is shrewish or malicious. This is a person who puts mean comments on other people's blogs. You could shorten it to Blix if you want, especially for a guy. OR, you could even Blix someone. "Man, she totally blixed me on my post about gay rights."

Salad Blog - I thought of this at dinner. It's a light blog. Not meaty, just a fun, non-serious, kind of blog. Nothing political or charged. "What's her blog about?" "Oh, it's a salad blog, you know, about traveling with her kids."

Rudy - This one is in honour of Christmas. Rudolph lights the way, takes the lead, inspires us. So Rudy, is short for a person who does that. "Rhian's quite a Rudy, she's led people to express themselves poetically.

Game on?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Monday Poetry Train #12

I'm going to kill the proverbial "two birds with one stone" (I hate that saying, I have got to think up something better, like feeding two starving cats with the same fish).

I was tagged by the lovely Michelle Johnson over at Poefusion to list at least 4 things a beginning poet should attend to and four mistakes you think a poet should avoid.

In an added twist and challenge, I will incorporate the five words from her weekly Friday Five list into my answer. This is an advanced poetry move. DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME. You may pull something, perhaps an adverb.

Attend to:

1 - Writing groups are great. If on-line is your only option, do that. But nothing beats getting together with other writers in person to read - loudly, with pride, as if performing theater - and talk about your work. Have one person host each week who finds a warm-up exercise, which you can then rewrite as your "homework." Share your rewritten poems each week and give constructive feedback (see #3 in the AVOID section).

2 - Read your work out loud. To yourself after you write it, while editing it, and to your writer's group. Hear and feel the rhythms. Even if your poem is not a metered poem, it will still have a rhythm and the rhythm should work. Read other people's poetry out loud.

3 - Also, read books about poetry. In particular, read Jane Hirschfield's wonderful book Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry if for nothing else then the first essay "Poetry and the Mind of Concentration." It's extremely accessible and quite lovely. I promise you she's not overly erudite. One of my other favourite essays on poetry is Frank O'Hara's "Personism." It's quite funny, actually.

4 - Play in ALL the forms. experiment. try writing rituals (like waking up at 3:15 AM every morning for a month to write, right Gwen?). HERE are a few examples of some of my rituals and experiments. Try cutting up other people's poetry (I once made a fabulous Shakespeare - e.e. cummings sonnet). make collages! Fill up a journal page, place a leaf over the words, and trace the leaf. Take everything INSIDE the lines as your poem. experimenting yields the most surprising work. And poetry should surprise both the writer and the reader.

What to AVOID:

1 - It drives me crazy when people write in flowery language, using thees and thous, as if the language of poetry (and language itself!) hasn't changed like every other art form over the years! We don't speak that way, so why would we write that way? Poetry is to connect, you'll distance your audience if you can't communicate with them.

2 - Don't insist on sticking with (predictable) rhyming poetry... there are other forms out there. Rhyming can be fun (hey, I love a good rap or villanelle and I'm a total sucker for a surprise rhymed couplet), but it can be quite limiting. I mean, seriously, try to come up with a good rhyme for malaria while keeping the intent of your poem.

3 - I find it amusing when I get students in my writing workshops who present their work, and then get defensive when I critique it. I start to wonder why they're there - for me to simply pat them on the back and say well done? Shut up and LISTEN in workshop situations. Take it all in, think about it, use what makes sense. Be open to making your poem better! If it's not working for your audience, it's not working for them.

4 - Whatever you do, DO NOT enter the poetry writing contests on (aka the International Library of Poetry, the International Society of Poets and the International Poetry Hall of Fame) - it's a total scam and a shame that they got to that url first. They tell everyone who enters "you're a semi-finalist" and you can buy the anthology with your poem published in it for $59! Then it comes in a 600 page book with 10 poems per page. You do the math. (even Wikipedia lists it as suspect). Do not support them, they have scammed many unsuspecting poets over the years. My incalescent blood boils just thinking about it.

In case you were wondering, Michelle's words were:

The poetry train has left the station...

I TAG the Art predator (because she's a new blogger and hasn't been tagged yet). You now must list at least 4 things a beginning poet should attend to and four mistakes you think a poet should avoid and tag someone else (if you want).

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Weekend Writing Workout #9 - Objects, Images, and Incidents (#4 of 5)

Yes, I am tardy with my Weekend Writing Workout.

I've been involved with FTX West these past few days, which is a growing Film and Television Expo in Vancouver, BC. It's got some really great people leading fabulous workshops at their conference. We (Women in Film) sponsored a pitch session with Laurie Sheer (media maven and all around great lady) this morning. Also teaching this weekend are Guerrilla film-maker Chris Jones from the U.K., Jeff Kitchen, and Blake Snyder (who wrote Save the Cat!, billed as "The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need"). In addition to the conference, there's a huge exhibition over the weekend.

If you ever needed an excuse to come to Vancouver (other than the fabulous city itself), FTX would be it.

In any case... are you ready to ROCK your writing?

Back to my exercises around Objects, Images, and Incidents...

Here's a way to get into that mode of SHOWING instead of TELLING. Of finding the images within your story.

Part One

Pick a story you want to work on (short story, novel, screenplay, it doesn't matter) and for 5-7 minutes, write spontaneously - no stopping, no editing, no crossing out - starting with the line This is a story about...

Write it as a LIST, beginning with that line each time. WRITE OUT the line, do not write " " to repeat the line, as writing the actual words allows you to generate the next thought. This is important. Set a timer and just go.


This is a story about guilt. This is a story about love. This is a story about redemption. This is a story about loss. This is a story about a father losing his child. This is a story about taking responsibility for one's actions. This is a story about a man who needs a friend. This is a story about a man who needs to participate in life again. ETC.

Part Two

Go through your list and find one of the things your story is "about" that really resonates with you. Then, for another 5-7 minutes, list as many IMAGES (from your story) that you associate with that idea. Don't stop to think, don't edit, just write them down. Even if they sound silly, even if they don't make sense to you at the time, write them down.


This is a story about loss
Empty bottles strewn around Winston's house
Boarded up windows
Winston sitting up alone in his bed, middle of the night, awake
Margaret working alone late, at her desk, small lamp on, Janitor knocks on door
Margaret eating in a restaurant by herself, mostly empty, raining outside
Winston's pool, no water, leaves covering the bottom
Winston's ex-student leaving a pizza on the porch

Part Three

Now the really fun part. You get to write a scene! Pick one of the images above, one that inspires you, and use it to generate your scene. Remember to consider all the images in the scene, which is actually an incident. So your image is moving you to create an incident around it.


Margaret stares into Winston's pool. There is no water. The bottom is filled with a season's worth of leaves. A plastic patio chair is half buried beneath them. She surveys the patio. A second patio chair sits overturned in a bush. She approaches the chair and pulls it out of the bush.
"What are you doing!" a voice shouts from the house. Margaret looks up into Winston's unshaven face in the window. He holds it open an inch. His hair is uncombed. "Leave that alone."


Write on and have a great weekend.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Word on Wednesday

I don't actually say much about myself or my work on my own blog, so thought I would indulge. This week's W.O.W. is a little bit of self-promotion.

I was recently interviewed for PIF magazine by Derek Alger. I have to say, Derek was very nice and quite thorough and one of the only interviewers who actually sent material for my approval. We spoke on the phone for an hour and he was very enthusiastic.

PIF bills itself as the longest running on-line literary magazine. They have some great interviews and material posted. I was quite impressed with their site and very honored that they chose to interview me. Please check them out, it's well worth it. Be careful, though, last time I visited I was there for at least an hour reading interviews and some damn good poetry.

* * * * *
Also in the world of Danika... I thought I'd post this for my friends, family, and fans. Sometimes pictures speak a thousand words:

The Accidental Novelist "Before" (4 1/2 years worth of dreadlocks)

The Accidental Novelist "After" ( 15 minutes of Zoe's scissors)

Change is good. And I feel 10 lbs lighter. (anyone need any extra hair?)

Monday, November 12, 2007

Monday Poetry Train #11

Ha! It's 2 minutes to midnight, still technically Monday. Just under the gun. Jumping on the train.

This week's Poetry Train entry was inspired by Poefusion's Friday Five. Michelle lists 5 words each week and our job is to write a poem using those five words. Sound easy? You should see the words she picks each week! She's making us work for it, that's for sure.

Love Us

I have arranged my heart with you
a formation of willows, bending
bedward we are
bedouins lingering in
vagile dreams we require
request, conquest, each
crepuscular creation means
we see each other anew
as plural us, our
nation, kin against
the hierarchy of history
loyal and free
nomadic across the we

words this week: vagile, plural, formation, willow, crepuscular

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Weekend Writing Workout #8 (The Postcard Story)

I'm posting something a little different this week for the Writing Workout. It's a break from the usual in-depth exercises. Everyone I know seems ultra busy right now, so I thought this was appropriate.

I was inspired when I read about a contest sponsored by the Writers' Union of Canada (not to be confused with the Writers Guild of Canada). The contest is called the Postcard Story Contest and it's open to all Canadian citizens and landed immigrants (sorry, Vicki).

The challenge is "to create a dramatic, short, snappy piece in only 250 words. You can use humour, poetry, dialogue…anything goes."

This type of fiction is often called Flash Fiction or Micro Fiction. I'd always admired it, but had never tried it. I've written plenty of poems, some of them narrative, and many short stories. However, I think the shortest story I've ever written was still over 1,000 words. This sounded like a great challenge...

Many of you know I love challenges and often do them in 10 day spurts. Well, this opportunity was no exception. I got two friends together and we decided to write a postcard story every day for 10 days. We're on our last day today.

Here are some different ways to approach your workout:

1) Write a story in 250 words or less. If you have no idea how to begin the story, I've supplied you with several start lines below. You can also just randomly pick a line from a book you're reading. When I was writing my stories I would simply crank out a bunch of first lines until one inspired me and I continued. That's why I have all these leftover first lines.

First Lines:

She packed everything except the salt and pepper shakers.

He was the biggest kid in the class at 310 lbs.

As soon as he had mailed the letter, he regretted having done so.

When he awoke from his dream, he had the answer.

If she was going to leave him, it was now or never.

There was only one person left on her Christmas list.

I buried the dog on Monday.

The zoo was empty.

He walked up to the blackboard.

Example Postcard Story:

Final Chapter

When he awoke from his dream, he had the answer. The final chapter for his book. A way to end it that was not contrived, not maudlin… a way to imply “happily ever after,” but not in fairy-tale manner, in a way anyone could believe might happen. He stumbled out of bed. It was 3:15 am. Where was his laptop… no, forget the laptop, this had to be written in ink, writer’s blood, it had to flow like his dream… his dream… He had been dreaming of Samantha. Of how she had looked at 17 and he was fresh from the Navy. He met her at a cafĂ©. She was a waitress studying art history. He was a writer disguised as a servant of the government. She saw right through him. He left poems on napkins for her. He asked her to marry him by writing the words on her bathroom mirror. She said yes in red lipstick. He stumbled through the hallway, bathed strangely in green light. Without his glasses on, it looked as if he were underwater. The walls breathed like gills. He didn’t remember the house having so many pictures. Ghostly figures in large frames followed him until he reached his office. The door was closed. The doorknob so cold it caught him off guard. Then the smell, subtle, yet unmistakable, the perfume Samantha had worn every day for 50 years. He opened the door and was enveloped in the light.

2) If you are working on a screenplay or novel right now, why not try a series of postcard stories about your characters? You might write a series of five postcard stories about one character, or one each for five different characters.

3) Join the challenge! Write one postcard story a day for 10 days. If you're Canadian, enter the postcard contest for a chance to win $500.

Post the stories on your own blogs and link below.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The Word on Wednesday

I've had several folks ask me why the WGA writers are on strike. What it comes down to is the pay structure for multi-platform and new media. There's currently nothing in place to assure writers will be compensated appropriately for this work. Where they could get residuals for shows broadcast on television, this doesn't exist for the internet. Writers have actually written webisodes (which are downloaded by viewers and chock full of advertising revenue) and not been compensated for them. In addition, writers make about .04 on each $20 DVD sale (and we all know DVD's cost about .15 to make so who's keeping all the money?)

Watch the following videos to hear it straight from the streets of Hollywood. We Canadian writers need to pay attention to this as it will affect all of us in the long run. And be sure to visit United Hollywood for daily news and updates.

THE WORD on WEDNESDAY is a weekly column here at the Accidental Novelist about writers and writing.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Monday Poetry Train #10 - Will You Play Along?

Hello Poetry Train Riders!

I thought it would be fun to have a game/contest and hope you hop on and play. (you don't even have to be a regular poetry train rider to play)

I've rearranged 36 words from part of an old poem of mine to make a new poem. There are 6 words in each line and 6 lines in the poem.

YOUR job is to rearrange the words to form a new poem. Each line must have the SAME amout of words in it. So it could have 2 words per line and 18 lines, 3 words in 12 lines, 4 words in 9 lines, etc. You get the point.

Here's the poem I came up with:

landscape is a form of character
reaching into leaves a wasp nest
licked together by an orchestra of
tongues wild and orange sliver for
moon impeccable shadow some kinds of
beauty you just have to trust

Everyone who rearranges the words will be in the contest and I'll pick one winner (along with an anonymous judge and any of you who would like to vote for particular poems). I'll send a little poetry package to the winner.

Take a RIDE on RHIAN'S poetry train

Friday, November 2, 2007

Weekend Writing Workout #7 Objects, Images, and Incidences (Part 3 of 5)

Yup, time for another Weekend Writing Workout. Gotta keep those brain muscles in shape.

This weekend we continue on my object, image, incident exercises. Todays focus: Incidents.

Incidents come in all sizes. I primarily focus on small incidences, not news-shattering items. Every day occurrences that stand out. For instance, today while I was in a waiting room, a young child put a plastic stool up to the counter and stood up on it. One of the legs collapsed and he fell. He cried until his mother picked him up. The other day, I sat down on the bus and picked up the paper sitting in the seat to read it. An old lady behind me, with a thick German accent, said "You don't want to read that, it's for the gays." She raised her eyebrows when I responded "I don't mind" and the man behind her started laughing.

These are small incidences that I tuck away in my mind to use later. Observations on what it is to be human and useful when writing about humans.

But let's begin even SMALLER than that.

Exercise #1

I encourage my writing classes to find the smallest incidences possible in order to find the larger truths within them. So, that's what you're going to do. You'll have to go outside (if possible). It's kind of challenging to do this one inside your own home, but you can try it if you'd like.

Wander around or sit and locate any "small incident." Not between human beings, but between the grass and the trees, the clouds and the sun, the chipmunks, the neighbor's cat, even the blades of grass. Pick something, the smallest "incident" you can and look at it politically.

For instance:
The clouds blocking out the sun.
One cat chasing another through a hole in the fence, guarding its territory.
A leaf falling from a tree and getting caught in the wind.

Using the incident as a start line, simply let it take you away. Start with the incident, describing the participants (in this case leaves and the wind), and then simply let it take you away. Time yourself for 7-10 minutes (may be done in poetry or prose).


The leaf, now dead, now over, tumbles down, turns, flits, too weak to direct itself. Its job description simple, the distance equal to the third act in its performance. Caught off guard in the wind it blows off course, if such a course exists. If such a path could be bought and sold. Now helpless, now bullied, it gives in to the breeze and crashes end over end in the street, passing parked cars and fences, the house being demolished and the house being built. In the direction of the park, now rolling faster... ETC.

Exercise #2

This one is done in a public space (again, if possible), on a bus, in a cafe, in the park. This time, note the people interacting. Note any small incidence that involves power, manipulation, deceit. Something a little "under the surface" would be good, or if an emotion is evoked. Using the same technique as above, write for 7-10 minutes on this small incident.


Sitting side-by-side, two gangly, acne-faced teenagers with long uncombed hair and ratty baseball caps. One says they are looking for Sarah, for Sarah's school. He points to a bus stop and says "that's Sarah's stop." His smaller friend tells him he's retarded. The larger boy says "I was born in 200 log cabins." His smaller friends says "How is that possible, unless you were born in parts and assembled later?" The bigger boy thinks this is funny, he laughs and says "cool." They pick up a drum beat, singing loudly about tattoos and skateboard stores. The Asian Ladies shift their grocery bags and frown. Big boy wants a free skateboard. Wants to skip school and go to the store.... ETC.

Exercise #3 - Putting it all together!

Now, using a character from a story (novel, screenplay, etc) on which you are currently working, pick one (or both!) of the exercises above and put your character inside the "incident." Make her a part of it. You can try it twice with each incident or use them together if you'd like. Write a SCENE, this time, with action and dialogue.


Polly walked through the scattered leaves. The leaves William had raked into great piles the morning before. The wind had taken no time to mock his work. It wouldn't have bothered her if he had gotten angry about the leaves, flying fiercely about the neighborhood. He had simply laughed and shrugged. So typically Bill. She used to like that he took things so lightly, that he could let the days and months and seasons go by... ETC.

You may be surprised by where you go in this scene and may end up using it in your final manuscript.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

(TT Substitute) What Risks Have You Taken Today?

We interrupt the regularly scheduled Thursday Thirteen for this message:

What have you done to push your comfort zone today? How have you stretched yourself? What risks have you taken? What fears have you pushed past?

An ex-student of mine from Vancouver Film School is testing his own faith and trust. It's a long story, but in a nutshell, he decided to spend all his money giving people what they needed. On nothing but a hunch, he went down to an underprivileged neighborhood in Los Angeles and simply started asking people what they needed. He bought clothes and food for one family, a single hot dog for another man. He decided that he was going to raise one million dollars and give it all away in this manner, by cutting through the middle man and simply handing people what they need. He's had a wild journey working on this, and has changed directions several times figuring out what exactly he needs to do with this hunch.

Less than one week ago he found out that a friend of his sister's was dying. She was being kept alive by a dialysis machine and had decided to pull the plug. She didn't want to suffer any longer and her family had given her their blessing. He decided that she should be given a last wish by someone, so he asked her what she wanted.

What she wanted was a motorcycle for her Father. He had taught her to ride and that was their connection. Jim asked around for people to help, but no one stepped forward, so he bought it himself. ON HIS CREDIT CARD. He didn't have the money, but he bought it for her anyway because he felt this was a test of his faith in his idea.

Here's the link if you'd like to watch the story on our local news: View Streaming News
and then click on WEDNESDAY
- the story is 13:25 minutes into the broadcast.

If you'd like to see more of Jim's journey, check out his WEBSITE

I was inspired by Jim to think about what risks I take in life and inspired by this story to think about how I spend my life, which could be cut short at any time. Where are my leaps of faith? When do I stop myself? How do I approach my fears?

Risks come in many different packages, from "risking" telling someone how you feel about them to the risk you take when you send your work to producers and publishers to financially risky things like purchasing a motorcycle on credit in order to do a good deed. But what are we really risking? I think the more important question is what are we risking by NOT doing these things?

To follow our dreams, we need to take risks.

So, today I challenged myself to take at least one risk every day. To do something uncomfortable. Something that also meshes with my goals and dreams. Today's risk was contacting a producer (out of the blue, cold contact) about a writing gig. She may ignore me, she may think I'm silly, she may not like my writing. But by not contacting her, I'm not even giving her the opportunity to accept me, to think I'm amazing, and to love my work.

Seems like a no-brainer to me.