Archive for the ‘writing process’ Category

My year of Joy Kogawa House and Haiku

November 26, 2017

For me, 2017 has been a year connected to Joy Kogawa House.

Historic Joy Kogawa House is the childhood home of Canadian author Joy Kogawa, who wrote the ground-breaking novel Obasan, a fictional story based on Joy’s memories of being interned as a child during WW II, along with thousands of other Canadians of Japanese descent. Located in the Marpole neighbourhood of Vancouver, the house was built in 1912-13. Joy and her family lived there from 1937 until they were interned in 1942. During the war, the house was confiscated and sold, and Joy’s family was not able to return to Marpole. Years later, however, Joy lent her support to a community campaign that saved the house from demolition. Today, the house is a space for author residencies, literary events, as well as remembering the injustices experienced by Japanese Canadians during the Second World War, and moving toward healing and reconciliation.

Joy Kogawa House c 1938

Joy and her brother at the front (west side) of the house c. 1938

 

I was grateful to be offered a writing residency at the house, which was initially planned for February. Since February is National Haiku Writing Month (the shortest month of the year for the shortest form of poetry), and haiku is one of my passions, I decided to focus on haiku, and to partner with the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival (VCBF), preparing for the spring blossom celebration and the festival’s international haiku contest. Plans shifted slightly, and rather than staying at the house in February, I organized a poetry reading and haiku workshop, and worked with the VCBF on koinobori scale-painting activities in preparation for Sakura Days Japan Fair without staying at Joy Kogawa House (which I was able to do since I live in the Vancouver area). (More on these activities in an earlier blog post.)

Joy Kogawa House events

February poetry reading, plus haiku workshop & koi scale painting

In May, I visited the house for a reading and performance of “A Suitcase full of Memories” by Joy Kogawa and Soramaru Takayama of Japanese Poets North of 49, and was delighted to meet and briefly chat with Joy afterwards.

In July, I was able to live at the house and work on my own writing projects, finishing a verse novel for children, and co-editing an anthology of haiku poetry written by members of the Vancouver Haiku Group. I started the month by hosting a book-making workshop given by poet and book artist Terry Ann Carter from Victoria, which brought together many creative people, and was an inspiring kick-off to my in-house residency. Staying at the house by myself gave me time and space to focus on writing without my usual distractions, making a big difference to my writing pattern and productivity. I also enjoyed the opportunity to explore and get to know the Marpole neighbourhood, including its tree-lined streets, housing mix, history, and changing local culture, and to relax in the peaceful stillness of the backyard where a young Joy Kogawa once played.

four images

I returned to the house to live and work at the end of August, and also hosted a presentation by my friend and colleague Jean-Pierre Antonio, a professor at Suzuka University in Japan, who gave us a fascinating account of the life of Japanese immigrant Masayuki Yano through the translation of Mr. Yano’s pre-WW II diaries.

Jean-Pierre's talk

At the end of September, my haiku activities at the house concluded with the hosting of An Evening of Japanese Poetic Forms: from the Tokaido Road to the World Stage, with Terry Ann Carter reading from her new book of haibun (prose with haiku), Tokaido (Red Moon Press), Rachel Enomoto sharing haiku, and Kozue Uzawa reading tanka and leading participants in a short tanka-writing workshop.

Japanese forms reading

An Evening of Japanese Forms, a Word Vancouver event (with thanks to Tracey Wan for the bottom right photo)

In early November, Joy Kogawa returned to the house to read from her children’s picture book, Naomi’s Tree, which was a treat for all of us who came out to listen and celebrate the old cherry tree in the laneway behind Joy Kogawa House. The tree now has a plaque, encouraging people to seek it out on their neighbourhood walks.

So now, I seem to have come full circle, enjoying the house in each season, and again, looking ahead to early spring when the cherry blossoms will bloom again.

P1220292

My workspace while in residence at Joy Kogawa House (looking out at the old cherry tree behind the back fence)

 

To close, here are a few simple haiku written during my stay:

 

no need

for an alarm clock

early morning crows

 

picking the last

ripe raspberry

evening robin

 

And from my evening walk past the elementary school young Joy Kogawa attended:

 

fading daylight

the empty swing

still swinging

 

 

Blog Hop stop

June 2, 2014

hopscotchI’ve been “tagged” by author friend Laura Langston to join in a game of blog hop. The rules of the game: answer four questions about your writing and writing process, and tag three more people. Laura writes picture books, young adult novels and adult novels. To see her post on the blog hop, click here.

Here I go with the questions:

1)    What am I working on?

I’ve just finished the final edits for a new novel called Siege (for ages 10-14), which will be out this fall with Orca Books. It’s about a teenage boy who reluctantly attends a War of 1812 re-enactment summer camp and discovers some modern-day criminal activity around the Niagara River and Old Fort Erie.  As part of my research for the story, I watched the re-enactment of the Battle of Queenston Heights on its 200-year anniversary and also visited Old Fort Erie. I have a picture book story about the War of 1812 in the works as well.

I’m also working on two short non-fiction stories about dogs which will appear in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Dog Did What?, scheduled for release in August.

Re-enactor staff at Fort Erie answered my many questions while I poked around the fort

Re-enactor staff at Fort Erie answered my many questions while I poked around the fort

2)    How does my work differ from others of its genre?

My newest book, Siege, mixes history in with the present day, which is a bit unusual. I don’t think I’ve come across any other stories about people re-enacting historical events. It was fun to write, partly because the main character doesn’t want to be where he is, and I enjoyed writing about his reactions to things like his musket misfiring, the old fort’s ghost stories, and trying to navigate the Niagara River in an old-fashioned row boat.

FloodWarning_coverI’ve also written more straight-forward contemporary fiction and historical fiction. Flood Warning, for example, is a chapter book (for ages 6-8) that takes place during the Fraser River flood of 1948. There aren’t a lot of chapter books that tell historical stories (especially BC and Canadian history), which makes my story (and the others I’d like to write) somewhat unique.

3)    Why do I write what I do?

I write for kids because it’s  something I’ve wanted to do ever since I was a kid (about the time my dad made the hopscotch in our backyard, which appears at the top of this post). I fell in love with books such as The Narnia Chronicles by C.S. Lewis and the Emily of New Moon series by Lucy Maud Montgomery when I was in grade six and have continued to love books for children (both reading them and writing them). I also sometimes write poetry and nonfiction for adults, but writing for kids is my main compulsion.

As for what I write about: I like to explore the world around me and notice things that maybe nobody else is paying attention to. I’m always fascinated by history, nature, and unique bits and pieces that I stumble across. When something surprises or intrigues me, I immediately start imagining it as part of a story (I always keep a notebook handy).  I write about things that interest me and hope someone else will be interested, too.

4)    How does my writing process work?

Usually when I’m working on a new story, I do quite a bit of research first (which I always enjoy, especially when it involves visiting interesting new places or trying out some new activity). Sometimes I find it difficult to actually sit down and begin the writing, though, and I might procrastinate by doing more research, or even by doing some different types of writing (like nonfiction articles or blog posts). But, once I dig into a story,  it starts to flow, and I get caught up in the world of the story.

I do most of my writing from my home office. If I need a break, or get stuck on some aspect of the story, I go for a walk, and usually the problem or the next scene works itself out in my mind as I walk. Rather than doing several drafts of a story, I edit as I go, which means sometimes I can rework the same  chapter or scene for days before moving on, and by the time I get to the end of the first draft of the story, it’s fairly polished. But, of course, there’s always more editing to be done.

P1150827

sunset from my office window

For the next stop on the blog hop, I’ve tagged Cindy Henrichs and Daniela Elza (I tried to tag a third person, but everyone else got away), and they’ll be blogging on June 16.

Cynthia Heinrichs is the author of two books: Mermaids, a picture book about the diving women of South Korea, and Under the Mound, a novel for young adults set in 12th-century Scotland. Cynthia is also a regular contributor to British Columbia Magazine. She lives in Vancouver, BC, where she writes and tutors college students in academic writing. To learn more about Cynthia, please visit her website here (and check out her blog on June 16).

Daniela Elza had been published nationally and internationally in over 80 publications. Her poetry books are milk tooth bane bone (Leaf Press, 2013), the weight of dew (Mother Tongue Publishing, 2012) and the book of It (2011).  Daniela earned her doctorate in Philosophy of Education from Simon Fraser University and was the 2014 Writer-In-Residence at the University of the Fraser Valley. Check out her website here (her blog hop post will be up June 16).

Note: If the next blog hop posts aren’t up by June 16, please check again in a few days.

Thanks for playing!

 

Haiku, or not?

April 11, 2013

What is haiku? Many people think it is simply a short three-line poem of 5-7-5 syllables. But please forget this definition! It leads to things like:

that song was poppinhaiku
hari ini tdr gk ya?
Sorting the bedroom
Haiku Robot

or

Haikus are easy
but sometimes they don’t make sense
Refrigerator
-anonymous

What is a haiku, really? Haiku is a very short form of poetry (originally Japanese) that aims to capture the essence of something. It uses simple, direct language to point to a thing or moment (usually in nature), while at the same time implying something more. Traditional haiku contains three main elements:

– a kigo (seasonal reference)

– a kireji (cutting word, symbol, or pause, that divides the haiku into two juxtaposed parts)

– 17 on (17 Japanese sound units), with the poem usually broken into three phrases of 5-7-5 on (written in Japanese as one or two vertical lines)

Today, haiku are written all over the world in many different languages, including English (the word “haiku” is both singular and plural).

The 17 Japanese on sounds do not actually correspond to English syllables (for example, the word “on” itself, which English-speakers would view as a single syllable, comprises two on). Translating a Japanese haiku into 17 English syllables actually makes the haiku longer than it was meant to be. For example, a famous haiku by the 17th century Japanese poet Basho was originally written using 17 on, but it is translated:

old pond…
a frog leaps in
water’s sound

To translate it into 17 English syllables would make it too cumbersome, moving away from the original intent of the poem. Here’s an example (from the Wikipedia haiku page):

at the age old pond
a frog leaps into water
a deep resonance

It’s the simplicity and directness of the first translation (and the original haiku) that catches the reader’s attention and leaves the reader room to see the moment for him or herself. In fact, it’s haiku’s simplicity ─its ability to focus the reader in on a precise, concrete “a-ha” moment─ that makes it so appealing to many haiku-lovers. Simplicity keeps the moment fresh. Any added decoration, metaphor or explanation entangles the reader; gives you so much that there is nothing to stop and think about. The simple wording engages your imagination. You pause and hear the sound of the water as the frog’s body breaks the surface. But the simply written haiku can also imply emotion and allude to deeper meaning. The “old pond,” for example, can be read as a reference to Basho, himself, an old poet still moved by the world around him.

So, the idea that English haiku should be written in 17 syllables is not actually correct, and throwing a bunch of words together into three lines of 5-7-5 syllables (even if they are poetically written, rather than generated by a robot) does not make those lines a haiku. To be a real haiku, a poem has to have some or all of the elements mentioned above (seasonal reference, simplicity, and also a juxtaposition or a space between images that suggests something deeper). In other words, “That song was poppin” is not a haiku.

Here are a few haiku I’ve come across recently that I really like (my favorite haiku are always changing):

evening walkblossoms_crop
the faded leash
I can’t throw out
-John Soules

abandoned farm
still there, the scents
in the barn
George Swede

graveside
forming one shadow
with my sister
-Tom Painting

solo hike─
slowly catching up
with myself
-Annette Makino

You’ll notice that none of them have 5-7-5 syllables. But yes, all of them are haiku.

I hope this post doesn’t sound like an anti-5-7-5 rant. Like many people, I grew up thinking English haiku had to be written as three lines of 5-7-5 syllables (you’ll find many haiku written this way in my earlier blog posts), and I wasn’t really conscious of the other elements of good haiku, other than the seasonal reference. I wrote and read haiku intuitively, I guess (with mixed results). I still write this way, but I’ve also been making an effort to think more about haiku, how it works, and what makes a good haiku (which leads to more re-writing), and I’ve come across an awful lot of writing that calls itself haiku, but is not. This pseudo-haiku is sometimes interesting writing forced to fit the 5-7-5 format (often with the first sentence ending in the middle of the second line), or even good poetry with intriguing metaphors, but it’s not haiku. The main point I want to make here is that haiku is about more than syllable count (I’m talking to you, Haiku Robot, children’s book publishers of stories written in so-called “haiku” format, companies that hold “haiku” slogan contests to advertise new products, and anyone who leaves comments on haiku blogs complaining that the haiku is not real haiku because the syllable count isn’t right).

Okay, maybe this is an anti-5-7-5 rant.

Anyway, if you want to learn more about haiku, here are some good websites and blog posts to check out:

Haiku on Wikipedia (good explanation of haiku and the issues around syllable count)

Graceguts, the website of haiku poet, Michael Dylan Welch (contains examples of haiku, articles, and links to other resources)

Haiku checklist (helpful for thinking about and revising your own haiku)

Essential elements of haiku

Haiku journey of poet Ferris Gilli (many good insights into how to write haiku)

How to write bad haiku (a fun post that looks at what makes a haiku “bad” or “good”)

Why No 5-7-5

Kireji and kigo (cutting word & seasonal reference)

More on juxtaposition and seasonal references

Inspired by fall leaves and history

November 23, 2012

I thought I’d share a glimpse into the wonderful writing retreat I experienced last month at Spark Box Studio near Picton Ontario (with funding gratefully received from the Canada Council!). A whole week without distractions, focusing on the craft of writing historical picture books! I was particularly interested in exploring the question, “How do I take a huge topic such as the War of 1812 and hone in on a small story suitable for children?”

To help me get on the right footing for my retreat, I stopped in Toronto beforehand to meet with children’s book author Monica Kulling, for a thoughtful and inspiring discussion about writing historical stories for children. Her latest book, Lumpito and the Painter from Spain, about a little dog who touched the life of Pablo Picasso, was hot off the press, and provided a great example (I love the dog, illustrated by Dean Griffiths).

Next, I took a side trip to soak up some War of 1812 history and watch the reenactment of the Battle of Queenston Heights near Niagara Falls. The boom of cannons, smell of smoke, calls of the soldiers, costumes of the military and civilian reenactors, and the cool, damp fall day helped to cast a spell that opened a window into the past.

At Spark Box Studio, I started each day with a solitary walk between farmers’ fields. The empty fields, subdued colours, and the whispers and rustles of leaves and grasses that followed me as I walked, made it easy to imagine a young girl two hundred years in the past, standing on the edge of a field, hearing the distant boom of cannon and cracks of musket fire. I felt like I was walking with one foot in the present and one in the past as I wrote these haiku:

.

autumn wind

on the lonely path

many voices

.

 

whispering grasses

the words always

out of reach

.

While it was great to have so much time to myself to think and write,  talking with the creative hosts and other guests at Spark Box Studio was also enriching. And, despite that last haiku, the words weren’t out of reach. I finished the first draft of a picture book story and concluded the retreat feeling buoyed in spirit, recharged and reinspired to continue writing…

A shared experience with Stephanie Meyer (?)

February 22, 2010

I recently finished reading Host, Stephanie Meyer’s science fiction novel for adults. (In a nutshell, the story is about what happens when an alien parasite species takes over Earth, but the occupation doesn’t quite go as expected, nor does the resistance.) I found the writing much tighter than in her Twilight books, and the story riveted me from beginning to end (interesting characters and situation, unpredictable plot, entertained and also made me think). I finished the book and immediately wanted to read more. Since, Stephanie Meyer has yet to write a sequel or any other novels in the genre, I had to satisfy myself by looking up interviews with the author. For example, this one behind the scenes at Oprah:

I was intrigued to discover that Stephanie Meyer feels Host is her best novel so far (she wrote it after the learning process of creating the Twilight series) and that she plans to write more in the series or at least in the speculative fiction genre. This is good news!

In a different interview I came across, Stephanie Meyer talked about her first novel, the highly successful Twilight, being inspired by a dream. She said she woke up with the story fully formed in her head. As an author who has been struggling with writing lately, I thought to myself how great it would be to have this kind of dream-powered inspiration. Then I remembered that this actually did happen to me once. My very first piece of published fiction was inspired by a dream that remained vivid in my mind after I awoke. By coincidence, my dream had something in common with Host, as it involved meeting an alien. Unfortunately, the story that emerged from the dream did not turn out to be an amazingly popular novel that spawned a series of hugely successful books and movies. In fact, it wasn’t anything as long as a novel. If, as Stephanie Meyer speculates, a story emerging fully formed out of a dream only happens to an author once in a life time, it’s rather unfortunate that my once-in-a-life-time inspiration turned out to be a short poem. In any case, here it is:

First Contact

in our greeting
centuries of preparation,
rehearsal, speculation
become meaningless

face to face
yet still light years apart
I, hidden by layers
of more than clothing

he, wearing a naked openness
I do not know how
to read

until his eyes
honest and sharp
as stars

cut away my surface skins
of history, culture, gender,
misplaced identity

exposing me to
my self
naked and clear
for the first time

and only then
do we have
a common language

Published in Tesseracts6, the Anthology of New Canadian Speculative Fiction, edited by Robert J. Sawyer and Carolyn Clink (Tesseract Books 1997).

I’ve been wanting to blog about something else, but…

December 8, 2009

It seems that all I ever have time for these days is a quick haiku. Here’s one from yesterday, when four eagles pulled me out of the fatigue and cold I was experiencing at the end of a tiring day:

waiting for the bus
cold stone step is a hard bench
above, eagles soar

I snapped a quick photo as the bus pulled up, but all I managed to get was blue sky (which was, itself, amazing) and one blurry eagle:

Meanwhile, unpacking and setting up my office/studio space continues:

Grandma and the Storytelling Shell

September 23, 2009

This morning I listened to an interview with author/illustrator Lee Edward Fodi in which he mentioned that his interest in writing and illustrating books goes back to when he first picked up a crayon. He also said that, for him, the visual images always came first. I was thinking that, although I loved to draw as a kid, the written story always came before the visual image for me. Then I remembered the pictures I drew for my grandma.

For most of my childhood, my grandma lived several hundred miles away, and I only saw her a couple times a year. We used to write letters back and forth, and for a brief period, we also did something special. I would send my grandma a drawing, and she would send me back a story to go with the drawing. The story she created from the picture would be a total surprise, and I always waited for it with great anticipation. (I still have at least two of those drawings and their accompanying stories –perhaps I’ll post one here when I find it.)

My grandma always encouraged my interest in being a writer, but I’d forgotten how much she modelled storytelling herself and inspired creativity by her approach to life and the things she had around her. There was always a mood of fun around my grandmother. She had a big encompassing laugh, sang lively French songs, made paper dolls with us, played cards, and always had a lazy-Susan tray of Bugles, Cheezies, chips and dip at the ready. She loved Hawaii, dressed in a bright floral muu muu at home, played Hawaiian music on her stereo, called her grandchildren by Hawaiianified names, and always had little shells and tiny toys hidden in her flower pots. And, there was the story-telling shell.

My brothers, sister and I loved to curl up next to my grandma while she held the storytelling shell on her lap (like a mother-of-pearl bowl), traced lines and patterns with her finger, and told stories about children who sailed the sea and had encounters with pirates. It wasn’t so much the content of the stories that made the stories great, it was the personality, warmth and love with which my grandma told them.

So, some stories begin with pictures, some with words, and if your’e lucky, some begin with a storytelling shell.

story-telling_shell

Travel stories

May 27, 2009

At my last book club meeting the conversation went from discussing A Year in Provence to sharing humorous travel stories (book club tangents are often more interesting than the actual book discussions). After hearing about several hilarious mishaps, inadvertent cultural faux pas, and near-disasters (most, funny only from the safety of hindsight and home), it occurred to me that problem-free trips do not make for very interesting travel anecdotes.

Both my trips to Japan were so well choreographed and shepherded by friends, that there was little opportunity for me to get lost, botch anything up, or encounter any risks or pitfalls. The funniest things to happen on my latest trip was having to ask a male friend to help me decipher the Japanese on feminine hygiene products (he was unable to offer any enlightenment as to the reason for the pictures of rabbits and flying pigs). The only other funny thing was, apparently, my pronunciation of Japanese words, which baffled some people and highly entertained others. Also, running out of money 2/3 the way through the trip did lead to some unexpected challenges and suspense.

So, if no problems means no stories, than I’m relieved to say I have no real stories to tell about my trip. However, that doesn’t mean I have no stories to tell. They just wont be about me.

Some of my favourite places and things experienced on my recent trip:

– stopping to eat a box lunch overlooking the Oi River and the lush green mountainside of Arashiyama (storm mountain), Kyoto

– hearing uguisu, the Japanese nightingale, call in the bamboo forest beside an old inari shrine

– shopping for kimono fabric and antiques at Kitano Tenmangu market, Kyoto (and escaping from the rain in a tiny tofu hot pot restaurant)

– eating a delicious lunch of fresh vegetables, rice and grilled tofu braised with miso sauce (if you scoff at the idea of tofu tasting good, then you’ve never eaten in Japan!), followed by exploring a school for samurai, a castle, and a ninja house

– enjoying the view from Kiyumizu Temple in Kyoto and Roppongi Tower in Tokyo

– following the beckoning cats signs to Gotokuji temple, the home of the first maneki-neko (lucky cat)

– experiencing Kabuki

– soaking in a natural hotspring beside a river in Wakayama

– walking down ancient stones stairs to the base of Nachi Falls

– following a crow through the huge tori gate at Kumano Taisha, the shrine of the three-legged crow

– walking on the old Tokaido hwy through the historic town of Seki-cho and sitting in a 370 year old shop interviewing the 13th and 14th generation wagashi-makers (who may or may not be related to ninjas)

– meeting highschool and university students, and chatting with people at my talks

– basking in the hospitality and kindness of friends and acquaintances (old and new)

 
I came away with two notebooks full of notes and ideas, as well as over 2000 photos (mostly for research and to help jog my memory), so look for a future story — possibly involving a 17th century girl, a wagashi shop, ninjas, a fire, and a trip on the old Tokaido hwy.… (that is, after the maneki-neko story).

trip-collage2

Skateboard haiku challenge

April 17, 2009

In honour of poetry month, I’ve been asked to start off the skateboard haiku challenge over at the blog of Darby Speaks.

I haven’t had a lot of time for writing anything this month, as I’m busy preparing for a trip to Japan. I leave in a few days. Once there, I’ll be talking about my books and Canada to five different groups, plus touring around and doing research for a possible future book. I hope I wont be too distracted and full of new ideas to start back in on finishing off my current novel when I get home again.

I don’t know if I’ll be able to post photos while I’m away, but I’ll try to at least post a few updates.

In the mean time, the cherry blossoms are finally out here (about a month behind)! I’ve got to enjoy them while I can, as they’ll already be finished in Japan.

blossoms_09

Guess who’s the mystery guest

March 2, 2009

pirate_jacquie

To find out what this is about, check out author kc dyer’s blog and Darby Speaks, the blog of her new time-travelling character.