Farewell, Sr. Lucy Togle, OSB

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Dear Sr. Lucy,

I was thinking about you last week and I told myself I would have to write you, to tell you how I was doing, to ask how you were doing. I wonder if I was thinking of you out of the blue because you were thinking of me.

You are definitely one of the most memorable people in my life. You have done so much for me, from when I was still in high school and you were the assistant principal. I think you also taught a class or two, occasionally. I don’t remember much, but I know you encouraged me to keep writing and entrusted with special projects. You listened to me and paid attention to what I was doing. I did not think you would remember me after I had graduated. Au contraire. You were the principal when I visited the faculty room one day, when I was picking up my younger sister, who was in her freshman year in high school. Out of the blue, you asked me what I was doing, if I was working.

I was not.

“Good,” you said. “How would you like to teach in the high school?” you asked.

I was a bit flabbergasted and not sure what to say. I had a degree in mathematics for teachers up my sleeve, but I had not mentioned it. Despite my degree, I had not really thought of getting into teaching. I had been thinking of taking my master’s degree, but had not acted on it because of my personal situation at the time.

“I need an English teacher,” you said.

“Okay,” I said, excited. I could not believe my luck. I did not think I would be back to teach at my alma mater. The invitation to teach was an honor and something I also needed, not having a job just then.

“By the way, what was your major?” you asked.

“Mathematics for teachers,” I said, hesitantly.

“That’s okay,” you said. “Come in next week to do some paperwork. I want you to go to Ateneo so you can enroll for your masters. Fr. Galdon will be happy to have you.”

“Okay,” I said. “Thank you!”

“You should start reporting here in May,” you said. “We have planning workshops and seminars before classes begin in June.”

“Okay.”

And just like that, I found myself enrolling at the Ateneo de Manila University, meeting Fr. Joseph Galdon, S.J., who has since passed through the pearly gates, and attending two summer courses, one of which was a methods class for teaching English. All of a sudden, from an intense focus on math and numbers, I was back in my milieu with several other students, most of whom were already teachers and taking a summer course for professional development.

When I was done for the summer, I reported right back to SSC and you introduced me to the other English teachers. I was happy to meet former teachers, who were equally happy to welcome me into their fold. Later, I would hear from co-teachers that I had been labeled the principal’s pet–again–because I had been given that label first by classmates, then by co-teachers. I tried very hard not to spend so much time in your office and, instead, spent more time with Me-an or Tita Medy when they weren’t too busy.

In that first year, you called on me time and again for help in editing and planning little projects. You made me the adviser for the drama club. You invited me to be your co-editor for the first literary chapbook of student works. Later in the school year, you invited me to interview some new teacher applicants. I had to take a maternity leave when I gave birth to Bianca Margaret in October and was back teaching in January. At the end of the year, you told me you wanted me to head the English area.

Things moved very fast after that. During the summer of my first year as subject area coordinator, you encouraged me to revise the curriculum for the English area. You also let me implement the initial survey for my master’s thesis, which would be a longitudinal study, following all the students for four years as they practiced using journals in English classes to learn creative writing. As part of revamping the curriculum, you let me design and introduce independent classes in public speaking for all levels and I became their speech teacher because you knew I had been a proficient public speaker in high school. You also let me start a Reading Circle and a Forensics Guild, for which I served as adviser for the first few years of their existence. In my second year of teaching, you also started to send me to other branches of SSC to deliver all kinds of workshops and seminars to other teachers as well as selected students. Because of you, I got to travel more around the Philippines–something Mrs. Cova continued when she became principal and you moved to Bacolod. I was happy to visit Bacolod to deliver seminars and workshops there. It was at those workshops that I gained a few new friends, including one who later raised Bian. I was happy to know she was studying where you were principal because I knew she would be watched over, nurtured, cared for, and loved.

We used to exchange letters quite frequently, until I became so busy I did not have time to even write. For that, I am sorry. I wish we still wrote and many times, I would have the urge to write. In fact, I did write a couple of times after I left teaching at SSC, but never received a reply from you.

Now and then, I would hear news about you. I always prayed you would continue to find happiness and fulfillment in your work.

Today, I scrolled down my Facebook wall to see what friends had been posting throughout the day and very close to the top, I saw this notice shared by Charlie Azcuna. I’m glad she shared it, because I had been thinking of you and now, I must say farewell.

Thank you for encouraging me, trusting me, and pushing me forward and upward. Thank you for believing in what I could do and believing I could do anything you asked of me. Thank you for providing me with opportunities to grow, improve, and serve others. Thank you for understanding me and not putting me in uncomfortable situations. Thank you for watching over Bian, taking her under your wing, and giving her the same opportunities you gave me. Above all, thank you for allowing me to work closely with you on several projects that were mutually dear to us both.

Dear Sr. Lucy, I will always remember you because of the many ways you have helped me become the woman I am.

You have earned your rest. May it forever be a peaceful one.

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Five thousand fires and counting

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This poem was written during the 2019 Wild Threads Writing Symposium, Charlottetown, PEI, in one of George Elliott Clarke’s sessions on August 23rd, and read during the participants’ open mic on August 25th. With some really great advice from George and some techniques from Anne Simpson’s workshop on the 24th.

Five thousand fires blazing

Maybe more

children of the jungles fleeing

Into the world

Down from the north  running

Feet burning on ice

Up from the south  crawling

Hair dripping with fire

Ten years is five is one counting

Marking time

Giants out-shout giants mouthing

Words will not rhyme

people of the world stand watching

Beneath the shadow of hate

Millions of shards of colors reflecting

Black, brown, red, yellow, white

Is this the beginning of human destruction?

The continent lies silently burning

Bonfires march across the world

Sparks and embers leap exploding

Hearts, minds, bodies lying cold

Remnants of reality

Settling ash-like in the frost.

Resolutions after 12 years in Canada

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Thank you so much to everyone who follows me, likes my posts, shares my posts, and comments on them. I know I haven’t said it much and my lame excuse is I frequently have so many reactions to my posts that the most I can do is like them. Of course, sometimes I will respond when it is warranted, and sometimes I choose to reserve my comments in order to preserve the peace and friendships!


Thank you to all my new friends in Canada, all elsewhere around the world. Even if I have never met many of you, I feel that I know some of you well enough to call you friends rather than acquaintances. I have looked forward to your support as shown by your likes and the hundreds of greetings I get on my birthday, at Christmas, and even sympathies shared when I express grief. I can never express how much warmth, love, and acceptance I have felt through those little ways of communicating because you affirm my existence and add to the meaning of my life.


I am not good at expressing my emotions and cannot easily post what I am feeling most of the time. I am good at posting what I think, however, and when the feeling is indignation, I am very capable of expressing that. But when it comes to the part of me I hide deep within my heart, my tendency is to be silent and withdraw. It could be the fear of rejection or the fear of seeming weak, no matter how I tell others that being emotional or admitting deeper feelings is not a sign of weakness, but of strength. Sadly, my strengths lie elsewhere.

But because I am celebrating 12 years in Canada today, I figured it would be a good time to open up a little. In two consecutive years, I have lost two women, both very dear to me, both of whom always had my back and always encouraged me. One was a mentor–a lovely woman I first met when I was still a high school student, who always believed in me and continuously challenged me to do better. She always gave me more responsibilities and opportunities to show me how much I could accomplish. And she told me all those things–how much she believed in me, as well as how much she loved me. She had been my role model since I first met her because she exuded confidence, determination, and accomplishment. She inspired me and I have to admit that I seriously considered taking a history major because of her. (It was the thought of memorizing dates and names that convinced me not to do it.) When I started teaching, she was Vice Principal and, later, Principal. Even when I took a hiatus from teaching, she kept in touch, kept me in the loop, and continued to build my confidence by trusting in me. She was instrumental in my return to teaching with her as my Dean. She always wanted the best for me and continued to nurture my fragile ego by inspiring me to achieve even greater accomplishments.

The second woman, I lost just two weeks ago. We met in my second year of teaching and became even closer with each passing year. She became the older sister I had always wished I had and she treated me like her sister. More than just a sister, however, she was a dear friend, a confidante, a staunch supporter, and defender. Despite my reticence and reluctance to share my feelings openly, she could read me and knew exactly how to respond. She was ready to stand up for me and she even tried to stand up to my mother for me when I was unable to. She was more expressive than I am and I would be there for her to confide in, to seek advice, to help out in many different ways whenever I could. Even when I had taken a different path, we were still there for each other stayed in touch, catching up on everything we’d missed sharing whenever we could. Losing her has been a huge blow and I miss her dearly.

There is a third lady, another former teacher who has become one of my very best and dearest friends on earth, although I look to her more as a mother than anything else. I know she isn’t old enough to be my mother, but she saw me through so many emotionally difficult spots without my needing to explain how emotional I was. With her, I learned the simple joys of letting my hair down and enjoying things I had grown up not doing because we were trained not to do those things. She never judged me and, like my history teacher, helped me learn to be kinder to myself, understand myself and the relationships in my life that had always been challenging and often painful, and helped me build up my self worth. She taught me how to love myself, something that still comes to me with difficulty, but that I am able to celebrate every now and then–and even more now than then. I cling to the knowledge that she is still around and is there whenever I need someone to listen to me, someone who knows me inside and out, someone who is proud of me and my accomplishments, and who makes me feel that I can take pride in myself and my accomplishments as well. If, God forbid, something were to happen to her, I would be utterly devastated.

These three women have done so much to help me be who I am today, and I am and will be eternally grateful for their love, support, encouragement, and friendship.

As much as I would like to continue writing about all the people who have meant so much to me, who have touched my life and seared their marks on my soul, I will reserve them for other writing.

In this 12th year of a new life in a new country, I have decided to open up more. I have decided to take definite and positive steps towards living my life on my terms and creating my own opportunities rather than following wherever opportunities took me. All my life, I grabbed opportunities that led me down different paths; I allowed myself to be led along by people I trusted; I shied away from any personal confrontation, even if it meant losing my children; I let my heart and my curiosity lead me even if I knew better; I kept my emotions to myself, always trying to be in control, trying to keep a brave front, because every time I had let go, I ended up being embarrassed, blamed, shamed, bullied, or ridiculed. I always tried to learn as much as I could and always do everything right so I would not call attention to myself and would not need to ask anyone for help; besides, it gave me a bit of satisfaction that I could do so many things well even if other people did not care or only cared when it benefited them. I put up with being bullied if I would only be noticed or accepted by girls who had what I did not have: confidence, talent, and many friends.

In this 12th year of a new life in a new country, I have decided I will follow the path I have wanted all my life. I will immerse myself in what I love doing and make a career of it. I will learn to enjoy little simple pleasures without feeling guilt. I will try to share more of my deeper feelings because I know that doing so will not make people respect me any less. I will try to remember that there is nothing wrong with admitting fears or weakness, and hope you all understand how difficult that is for me and forgive me if I do not easily or quickly admit to pain or grief. I hope you do not think I am seeking attention or approval when I share my joys and triumphs and accomplishments because I trust that you will sincerely share the same feelings with me, just as I will be happy to share your joys and triumphs and accomplishments with me. I hope you do not think me aloof if I sometimes am unable to express how I feel about some things, or if I sometimes forget a birthday or miss greeting you on anniversaries and other celebratory occasions. Sometimes, I am too busy to check in or sometimes I am too emotional and do not want to see all your joyful moments as they remind me of what I never had or might never have. I also hope you do not think me cold and indifferent because I might be afraid to admit that what you are sharing reminds me of painful events in my past, events I cannot talk about easily without opening up old scars.

I can promise that I will be honest if you ask me questions, but I cannot promise I will always be ready to volunteer information. Some people need their privacy more than others and I know I am one of those people. Although my life might be an open book, my heart might not. But I will not lie, and if I cannot tell you openly, I might send you a private message. Because I am writer and an artist, I will be expressing most of my thoughts and feelings in what I create: I wear my heart on my pages and bare my soul on my canvases.

My birth certificate says I am Cynthia Paulina Fabella Lapeña.

I say I am just me, Cindy. Hello, world.

Switching Gears: A Teaching Life (Part II)

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During my seven-year high-school teaching stint, I threw myself into teaching, in my first year, as well as getting to know my former teachers-turned-colleagues, and the politics of an educational institution. I also conducted a preliminary survey of creative writing among high school students prior to introducing journal writing as a method of teaching creative writing, with the intent of conducting a survey after several years of practice.

In my second year, I was appointed the area coordinator of the English Communication Arts and spent part of my time managing the faculty, mentoring students and teachers, creating new student organizations, and overhauling the English Communication Arts curriculum. I was a weekday-single-mom with a live-in nanny-cum-housemaid courtesy of an absentee husband who “worked” for his parents in their province a 3-hour-drive away. In that year, I had also befriended a few new teachers with whom I shared many common sentiments, from politics to friendship to teaching styles.

My 3rd and 4th years of teaching saw me travelling more frequently around the country to facilitate workshops and seminars for other schools also run by the same religious order I grew up with. As my professional career was becoming more established, my marriage was floundering and towards the end of the 4th school year, it ended dramatically with a broken ankle and my mother rushing in to the rescue. I spent the last month of the school year and most of the summer in a full leg cast in my mother’s house, with the school sending paperwork to keep me busy. Summer was hectic with lawyer interviews as my mother facilitated the initiation of annulment proceedings. Later that year, Philippine courts adopted a new family law that recognized annulments through legal systems rather than merely through the church. This law gave my lawyer the opportunity to push my annulment through and after next 2 years, I could legally use my maiden name again. Even then, I had already reverted to it as soon as I returned to teaching after the cast came off.

While the annulment was in the works, I had met the man who would eventually become husband #2 several years later. In an effort to push me into another marriage because she thought I would be overcome by depression, my mother had contacted everyone she knew as my friends and solicited their help to take me out to socialize and meet someone new. Future husband #2 was introduced to me by a friend who had convinced me that we were a perfect match. But this isn’t about my marriages, it’s about my teaching career.

On my 6th year, the school was beset by a strike of teachers who were members of the employees association, which was pushing for a union. I stayed with the school because I did not believe in unions. Besides, the school was my alma mater and my loyalties were with the school. I stayed another year with the school, after the strike, then felt I could move on.

Before my 8th year of teaching began, I resigned to take a job as an indexer and abstracter, reading articles from newspapers, periodicals, magazines, and academic journals and creating index entries and abstracts. Within a year, I had been promoted to team leader, and after a couple more years, I was promoted to a division head with a director’s title. While the job was not a teaching job, I still ended up doing the occasional training seminar or workshop for new employees. The formation of a union and their displeasure at how I dealt openly and transparently with my division told me it was time to leave. I resigned and decided to devote my time to raising and home schooling my son.

During that time, I did a bit of research writing, writing for a publication distributed among students in public schools, and writing a set of pre-school workbooks for my son, but which would also have been published by a publishing group I was invited to join as part of the board. Unfortunately, only the first volume was published. Later in the year, I also accepted a temporary job managing an exhibit that consisted of 12 large exhibit rooms celebrating the Year of the Ocean. My directive was to interview, hire, train, and manage the staff. After nearly a year of freelancing, I was offered the position of Director of Publicity and Public Relations with the premier English repertory theatre company in the country, with a salary slightly higher than what I had left as Director/ division head. I accepted. I would be in theatre and writing! After a couple of seasons, I was invited to be Assistant Director to a major production.

I would have continued to work with the company had I not been offered a position as School Director for a progressive new school in the same mall within the year. It was exciting to be pirated by another company because they recognized by skills, knowledge, and the contributions I could bring to the company. Within a year, the school moved towards expansion and I was promoted to Director of Operations, then Director of Program Development. After a year with the company, I realized it would not get anywhere because of the overall handling by top management, so I resigned.

Shortly thereafter, I learned some of the directors were giving up their pay so teachers could get paid; eventually, there was not enough to pay teachers and the company downsized, disposed of property, furniture, and equipment. For a few months, I freelanced again from home, then a friend informed me that my former principal and high school teacher who had become Dean of Liberal Arts in the college department of my school was asking after me. Before I knew it, she had invited me to join the English faculty, so I went in for an interview and demonstration. I was assigned a part-time load and immersed myself in teaching once more, except that it was in college.

Around that time, my mother offered me a huge sum of money to apply for immigration to Canada, in the hope that it would transform Number 2 into a productive, useful contributor to society. She had it on a friend’s word that life in Canada had transformed her lazy, non-productive son into a hard worker to survive. Considering the deal, I decided it would be the best thing for me and my little boy. After 10 years, my marriage had deteriorated into a sham. With each year that passed waiting for an interview and approval, my resolve to leave Number 2 behind strengthened.

Two years later, I was invited to interview and give a demo at another college across the street and accepted a part-time position as well. On my fourth year into college teaching, I was offered a full-time position in the second college, so I completed my semester with the first college and moved to the second college, where I also accepted a position as a department chairperson. Shortly thereafter, I was recommended to take over the position of Executive Director for a dance scholarship program. In my year and a half as E.D., I managed the dancers and produced six major original performances, choreographing segments for two shows and designing costumes, stage, and lights for some others. I often brought along my son to classes, where he impressed everyone with his knowledge, speaking, and confidence. Little did I know that whenever he was left home with his father, the foundations of a psychological barrier were being established.

On my 7th teaching year in college, in September, papa died. We were in the middle of preparations for a new show and it was just after lunch when I received the call from my older sister-in-law. I took a short break to attend the wake and funeral, then had to return to work to mount the show.

Towards the end of October, I received an unexpected phone call from the Canadian Embassy inviting us to an interview the next month, during which our permanent resident visas to Canada were given to us. We were informed we had exactly a year from that date to migrate to Canada or the visas would expire and we would have to re-apply. Although I already knew my stay in the college would end at the end of my 3rd year as a full-time faculty member, receiving the end-of-contract notice from a dean who had opposed my appointment to department head then Executive Director (reporting only and directly to the President and Vice-President) was bittersweet.

I was beset with the stress of packing, disposing of a house and its contents, and other details of immigration plus preparations for a dance performance tour of a new show, and dealing with college politics were too much for me and I spent my last month of teaching in hospital for over a week. I missed the trip and returned to school in time to clear my office and file my final reports. Then the stress of packing and booking tickets before disposable funds started eating into immigration funds were not helped by the fact that number 2 was of no help at all. Still, I managed to get everything together, booking a flight and ending up with overweight luggage because of last minute packing that did not making the shipment we were sending by boat to follow us after we had found a place to live.

Thus ended stage 2–the next 8 years of my teaching career, with a 7-year hiatus from full classroom teaching in between, broken only by one year with the progressive mall-school that never made it.

Not Yet a Poet?

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I have to admit that the very first genre I wrote in was poetry. I grew up with Whitman, Longfellow, and Tennyson. I could not get enough of Frost or Stevenson. Shakespeare’s sonnets were my nightly prayers and Shelley was my moon. A little later, I met Hopkins and Arnold, the Williamses and Eliot, Donne and Burns. They were not the only ones, I must confess. There were dozens of others and, for a while, I even pursued a cummingesque stage. It wasn’t always serious poetry, because I always found a way to return to Nash and Lear. A course on Japanese literature and culture renewed my interest in the short forms of haiku and tanka, and the purist in me cringes when I read haiku that don’t fulfill the original purpose of the form.

The best thing about poetry, and I say this to encourage all writers to try their hand at it, is both the freedom of the form as well as the challenge of expressing ideas, emotions, or incidents in very few words—unless you are writing epic poetry or some narrative form, in which case you could have a whole book, as was the case with Dante. It’s not likely we will return to writing drama in verse form as Shakespeare did, nor are do we see many lengthy contemporary poems that run over a few pages.

On the other hand, multiculturalism has opened up several forms of poetry not frequently observed in the canon of literature in English and we now celebrate Hispanic, Italian, French, German, and Arabic forms and writers. Not surprising is that a large proportion of that poetry is from the past century or earlier. Probably because it takes longer for poetry to establish a foothold in the classical literary canon. Regardless of the geographic or cultural origin of the poetry that move you, the fact that it does move you is what makes poetry succeed. Like any other great literature, it must have the power to move the readers, the power to connect with the readers, so readers recognize some universal truth in what they read.

Regardless of how you do or do not incorporate figures of speech, rhythm, or rhyme, if the poem resonates or strikes a chord in the reader, it succeeds. If you are not a writer of poetry, I encourage you to try your hand at it. Read some poetry and when you find something that resonates with you, use it as a model, as an inspiration to write one of your own—or many. Every writer has that yearning to express something more personal without having to write a sentence or more. Every writer has words and thoughts that tug at their hearts and need to be released. You could just fall in love with free verse and, if you are brave enough to wander towards the deeper end, you might just discover some other form that works for you. You don’t have to become a poet. You just need to learn to express yourself personally in fewer words. Not only is it good practice for writing more concisely, you just might become a poet!

Slow Down and Live!

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It’s June! How is it time flies so fast? Is it a sign of age, perhaps? Once we are out of school and start working, maybe have a family, the time just seems to go by in a flash. It’s not like the days are really any shorter, no matter how much it may seem that way. It’s a sign of how busy we’ve become, how much we’ve filled our lives so that there is no time for anything else but work, work, work. For people in the creative fields like writing and art, we actually take time to enjoy the little things in life. We have the capacity to expand each moment, extend the experience, so that we are able to explore and absorb the minutest detail, savor the tiniest nuances of sound, shape, color, flavor, and feel. Rather than whisk through a day, we saunter and flow from one minute to another. It is the very time we choose to take that gives us the details that spice our creations. Indeed, how else would we be able to describe the exquisite beauty of a flower tenderly unfurling its silky petals, releasing its gentle scent to waft on the breeze and float lazily about us, permeating our pores, almost suffocating us with sweetness that lingers for but a moment but lasts in our memories forever? In people’s mad rush to amass as much material wealth and possessions as they can, to maintain classy lifestyles touted by fashionable magazines, to constantly outdo, outbid, outshine the next person, they have forgotten how much beauty, fulfillment, pleasure, and satisfaction they can get from simply slowing down and savoring the little things, the details, the nuances of life. That is where true meaning and meaningfulness is–in the simple, innocuous pleasures of life.

Jaunty Jovial June

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“I wonder what it would be like to live in a world where it was always June.”
L.M. Montgomery, Anne of the Island

One of the delights of living on Prince Edward Island is the experience of June. Although associated with summer and one of the hottest months of the year in most countries, June in Prince Edward Island is, to say the least, pleasurable. The temperature in June ranges in the teens with occasional spikes to the low and mid 20s and nights hovering around the low double digits. If you come from a tropical country like I did, that might sound chilly, since the coolest temperatures in the coldest days of January might drop to 18. Here on the Island, that would be the perfect June day sans rain. We do have the occasional sprinkle or thunderstorm, especially at the cusp of May and June, when temperatures might still drop to single digits overnight or in the early morning. The atmosphere does border on muggy when the higher teens climb to the 20s. The best days are when the temperature remains above 16 and below 23 and the sky is the purest blue from one horizon to another, perhaps a dotting of fluff or even a thin blanket of shredded cotton spread across and over the countryside, a whisper of air ruffling the uppermost leaves and branches of the trees. On such a day, you can go anywhere on the Island, be it the beach, a park, a pond, river, or trail—or even just your porch, deck, or balcony—and bask in its luscious glory.

Why Writers Need Thick Skin

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I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide.
~Harper Lee, WD

As a career, writing can be one of the most satisfying professions, and yet is one of the most difficult to break into. First of all, everyone has a story to tell, so what is so special about your story? Second, even if you’re able to write your story better than others, who’s going to buy enough copies so that you can live off the income? Third, even if you make that breakthrough bestseller that gets you on the charts and earns you loads of money, you can’t just sit on your laurels. You need to keep on writing because once you’ve got a following, your readers will be looking for more. That’s not the half of it, though.

First you have to break into the market and get published. Sure, you can self-publish, but that doesn’t mean you’ll have a huge following and sell thousands, let alone millions of books. Just getting a publisher is a major problem. Depending on your market or target audience, you’ll have to find the right publisher and convince that publisher that you’re the right fit for them. You need to submit your work and wait for them to decide whether or not they want to publish you. Sometimes, waiting can take anywhere from three months to a year. Meanwhile, you try to send your work to other publishers, assuming they don’t mind you’ve sent your work to other publishers.

Be prepared for rejection. Many times, if you don’t have even a small publishing history, some market visibility, some followers, maybe even some writing awards, publishers won’t even take a second look at your work. Every successful writer has been rejected more often than any of us would care to experience, but it seems to be part of becoming a writer. It definitely is not for the faint of heart, but if you know you have something really good and many other people who’ve read it have told you so, maybe all you need to do is keep on trying. You’re really in quite good company. J.K. Rowling was rejected by 12 publishers before Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was picked up. Jack London’s collected rejection letters on a spike grew to four feet high; Stephen King had a similar spike on his wall that has grown heavy with rejection letters; William Golding’s Lord of the Flies was rejected 21 times; L.M. Montgomery was rejected so many times she put stored Anne of Green Gables for two years before trying to find a publisher again; Dr. Seuss received 27 rejections before his first story And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street was accepted. Many major publishers nowadays will not entertain writers and will only deal with agents. Finding agents is no easier than finding a publisher. Kathryn Stockett, author of The Help, was rejected by 60 literary agents before she found one and her book eventually was 100 weeks on the NYTimes bestseller list as well as turned into a movie. If you do decide to take the self-publishing route, it’s not impossible either. One of my favorite poets, e.e. cummings, had great difficulty getting his first book published he went on to self-publishing six volumes of poetry because he couldn’t publish them any other way. Beatrix Potter was so disappointed by numerous rejections she finally decided to self-publish The Tale of Peter Rabbit, which has sold 45 million copies to date. Nowadays, many writers choose to self-publish first, and if their books gain recognition, accept offers from publishing houses. On the other hand, if your book sells as well as The Tale of Peter Rabbit, who needs a traditional publisher?

Having a career as a writer doesn’t just mean having to get published. That’s just part of it, albeit a great part, because you can’t have that career until you’re published, and on a regular basis. That’s why it’s called a career. More than just being published is the fact that, as a writer, you’re opening yourself up to criticism from just about anyone who comes across your writing. That’s not to say it’s all going to be negative. It’s a huge misconception that criticism is always negative. Criticism can also be positive, but because of the general impression that it is negative, I think the world has decided to just call it feedback–which can be both negative or positive, and which really sounds more neutral. Let’s agree to call it feedback, hereon.

Feedback should be looked at by writers as something helpful or useful because they can get a good idea of how people understand and react to their writing. Without feedback, writers would have no idea what people think, unless people are buying their books like–well–hotcakes. Inevitably, some of that feedback will not be positive or even diplomatic. That’s where thick hides come in. Without those thick hides, writers could become extremely offended by whatever others say. Writers have no business being onion-skinned if they want their work to be read widely. Nobody ever gets 100 percent approval on anything, so be prepared for those naysayers. No matter how good your writing, there will be people who won’t like it. No matter what you write or how you write it, there will be those who won’t agree. If you let yourself be affected by every single thing people say about your writing, you could cripple yourself as a writer. You would be too afraid to put out your work because of what others might say.

On the other hand, if you ignore everything others say, you’ll never learn from your readers and if you need to improve something, you’ll never pick up on that either. It takes time and it takes getting used to. More sensitive people have a harder time putting their work out there, but no matter how sensitive you are, if you want to be a writer and be known as one, you will need to swallow your pride, pick your battles carefully, learn from everything you can, believe in yourself, and maybe, when you can afford it, hire someone to read the reviews for you.

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On Holidays, Canadian Writers, and Books

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Happy Valentine’s Day everyone! And right after that, Happy Islander Day, a.k.a. Family Day in the rest of Canada. In a way, I think it’s great that we call it Islander Day on PEI because that includes everyone and not just those with families. Not everyone has a family to be with on Family Day, so Islander Day is a great way to celebrate everyone. It’s funny that the holiday was created just so there would be a break in an otherwise holiday-less stretch between Christmas and Holy Week, because February happened to be the only month in the year without a public holiday. Not that it matters to me, because I’ve got my very own personal holiday in February! Yay! That said, we can always declare our own holidays, but we don’t always get paid for them. Of course, if you’re unemployed or a freelancer or own your business, then holidays become moot, because you can take any day you want off as a holiday. Believe me, that’s not the way it works because you end up working odd hours and just about any day of the year, because it’s always ‘no work, no pay’ for you. When you answer to an employer, you get paid for public holidays because the law requires it. Why am talking about holidays? Because I’m back working at full time job and will get paid for the holiday! Woohoo!

Holidays aside, a large group of island writers showed up at the PEI Writers’ Guild Winter Social to find out who won bragging rights for the first ever PEI Battle Tales week-long writing contest and to duke it out at a literary trivia contest for free beer and a handful of gift cards, but really, to duke it out. What I found so revealing is that we Canadians know so little of our literary history! My excuse is I didn’t grow up here and I didn’t attend school or university here. Still, the information we have about Canadian literature is so meager, it surprised me. Canada is the only country I am aware of, at present, that emphasizes reading and books so much, particularly through the CBC’s Canada Reads program. I have to admit I do not know how long it has been running–it will take a bit of research and I’m sure there are those of you who know when it started. My point is that even in the study of world literature (and I mastered in literature), Canadian literature never featured prominently. Probably because there never was as much Canadian literature contributed to the corpus of World Literature. In fact, I had been familiar with Stephen Leacock, who seems to be the earliest writer of note on record who has been anthologized worldwide, but he had never been touted as Canadian. Alice Munro was another name that gained international prominence; ater on, I discovered Margaret Atwood, and much later, Michael Ondaatje. Determined to learn more about writers in my chosen new country, I found Guy Gavriel Kay, re-discovered L.M. Montgomery, and Mordecai Richtler, as well as a few others I am still getting acquainted with. I can’t say I know my Canadian authors well enough and I have a great deal of reading to catch up on.

On another note, I just learned tonight that, according to UNESCO*, Canada published 19,900 books, but also discovered the information is from 1996; but more recent data published by Canada Business** puts the number at over 10,000 books annually, mainly because of an increase in the number of publishers or publishing houses in Canada. I would consider that information skewed and not reflective of the actual number of books written by Canadians, because many Canadian writers are actually published in the US and the UK. The rise of self-publishing in the new millenium probably adds much more to that number. That said, we rank 20th in the UNESCO list, which listed total books published in different countries over a broad range of years, from 1990 to 2014. It’s certainly a long way from Oman’s 7 books published in 1996, but nowhere close to China’s 440,000 in 2013, the US’s 304,912 also in 2013, or the UK’s 184,000 in 2011. Taken viz the population, in 1996, Canada published a book for every 1491 people; which is much better than China’s 1 book for every 3084 people; surprisingly close to the US’s 1 book for every 1038 people; but nowhere near the UK’s 1 book for every 344 people, which I pretty much expected. (By books, I mean book titles and not physical copies.) I think that’s a pretty decent ratio, all things considered.

*Book publishing numbers from UNESCO were sourced from Wikipedia

**Jason McBride, “It’s Alive! Canadian Book Publishing Stirs.” August 30, 2013. From http://www.canadianbusiness.com/companies-and-industries/its-alive-canadian-book-publishing-stirs/

 

Character Types: Dynamic vs Static

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Plot is people. Human emotions and desires founded on the realities of life, working at cross purposes, getting hotter and fiercer as they strike against each other until finally there’s an explosion—that’s Plot.
~Leigh Brackett, WD

 

We’ve been discussing how to make characters more interesting in your writing. One of the best ways to guarantee interesting characters, besides making them ROUND is to make your characters DYNAMIC as opposed to STATIC. Granted, literature needs its share of static characters, because sometimes the stories just need the characters to be the same. People come back to certain writers because their characters are the same, predictable, reliable. Procedural stories, which would be the basis of procedural drama in television, often have static characters. As the term suggests, static characters do not change. They remain the same from beginning to end. They often don’t grow older and they don’t generally have life-shattering experiences. There are hundreds of highly popular static characters in serial books, and there are quite a few I remember and enjoyed reading: Nancy Drew, Perry Mason, James Bond, the Bobbsey Twins, the Dana girls, the Hardy Boys, Miss Marple, and Sherlock Holmes. More recent serial publications with static characters? To some extent, the Bourne series and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoos series. Sometimes, the static characters don’t age, sometimes they do, but in every book, they pretty much think, act, and speak the same way. They do not undergo deep transformations. That’s why they’re suited to adventure and action series. Don’t get me wrong, you can write static characters and they can be very successful, as you can see from the examples I’ve given. They serve a very good purpose, and that is, the series. When the characters grow up, change, achieve their goals and move on, the series either ends or changes. Best example? The Harry Potter series. That’s a limited series because Harry Potter has achieved his goal of seeking revenge on his parents’ killer. Anything else after that time will be a new story. Those characters are prime examples of DYNAMIC characters. You’ve probably surmised by now, that dynamic characters are the opposite of static characters. They develop, change, become different, grow into someone else. They have life-changing and eye-opening experiences that alter their characters so that the way they are when you first encounter them is not who they are by the end of the book. Sometimes, the change is almost indiscernible. It could be a change in attitude or values that show how a character matures. These changes are not always accompanied by life-shattering events or dramatic physical changes. It also depends on the time span of your work. A story that takes place over a longer time is more likely to affect the characters or show how characters change in many different ways. No matter what the situation, your story involves characters with human sentiments, human traits, human foibles. What makes humanity makes your story. What moves humanity will move your readers.