Yesterday Ibi Kaslik came to my creative writing class. She's the novelist who's writer-in-res at the library this year. As it happened, I'd already written a list of certain things on the board--suicide, murder and mayhem, serious illness or surgery, exotic destinations, rape, assorted other sensational or melodramatic plot bits--and wondered if my students would agree to BAN them from their short stories. Then Ibi shared some of her tips, one of which was "start small," as in, your characters don't have to go from zero to sixty in two seconds. Perfect!
Today it was Brenda Schmidt. Talking about one of her poems in my "writing the western landscape class", I waited until the class got good and puzzled, then said "Hey, why don't we call her up right now?" followed by my favourite question: "Anybody got a cell phone?" Of course, I'd set all this up with Brenda ahead of time. So we compiled some questions and called her, using one guy's blackberry phone on speaker so we could all hear. Brenda had everyone's attention, I'll tell you, as she patiently responded to our queries, although "most of the time, writers don't have a clue about their own work," I'd warned the class, and Brenda agreed. When at one point she articulated a connection between "place" in general, her boreal forest place in particular, and herself, well it was as if she'd leapt from the pages of the Banting text we've used for most of the material in the class. I also really liked Brenda's notion that any poem is just part of the the trail to the next poem, part of that lifelong trail.