Monday, August 28, 2006

Tree-House Days and Talladega Nights

My grandsons have had a tree house in their back yard for about seven years. Their father built it for them and it was supported by two ornamental trees. It has a window box, a rope climb entrance and a slide for an exit. There's a sand box on the ground under the tree house. The tree house has been a magical place for the two boys, but that's about to end. The trees that support the structure are rotting and the boys favourite hide-out isn't safe anymore. Their special place, and the trees that hold it up are about to be removed. Now that the boys are twelve and fourteen, maybe they can live without it. But they talk of building a fort to replace it. I'm glad they're still innocent enough to think a fort isn't a silly idea.

Friday, I took both boys to the movies. We saw Talladega Nights, The Ballad of Billy Bobby, and we all enjoyed it. Some of the satire went un-noticed by the boys, but not all of it. And of course they liked the fast cars and the silly parts of the movie. Both grandsons covered their eyes when Billy Bobby kissed the villain. Kissing is yucky anyway, says the youngest and I don't think that my fourteen year old grandson has kissed anyone, of either sex, except family members, yet.

Their comparative innocence won't last, I know. Frankie's is bound to be challenged when he starts grade 9 in a September and Sam has to cope with a new school too. At least they can just be boys for a few more days.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Not in the 'Write' Mood

I wasn't in the mood to write anything last week. Of course, some folks say mood should have nothing to do with it. They may be correct. In any case, I had to write something about children and obesity for a client and so, I did. Sometimes the have-to factor rules. Then, I thought I'd work on getting into fiction-writing mode by editing an old short story that's been around the block a couple of times. I'm always surprised by how much I can find to change when I reread a story I haven't looked at for a few months. I don't suppose I should be surprised, but if I don't start out with some belief in what I'm doing, I'd never reach the third or fourth or tenth edit stage. Every time I finish an extensive edit, I think - boy! That's got to be it. I'd like to be right more often about that.

Speaking of writing, my dear friend and fellow writer, Lori Hahnel was on the short list for the PRISM International short story contest. If you search her name on the Internet, you'll see that link and links to many of her other fabulous fiction credits. Here's the kicker - PRISM didn't tell her she'd made the short list. She only found out when she checked Google to see which of her writing credits were still showing up on the World Wide Web (Bill Walsh insists those words should have capitals). Here's the link:

Early this morning, I noticed some pedestrians were wearing light jackets, the Canadian National Exhibition has opened and school starts in less than two weeks. I don't know about you, but for me those things are signs that summer will soon be over. I didn't do a lot of the things I had planned to do this summer. I was going to repaint my bathroom. I was going to visit friends in Toronto at least twice. I was going to stick to a writing schedule, but I never figured out what the schedule should be. Oh, and most important, I was going to be at least half way through a decent draft of my novel. Life is filled with unfinished business, but now I have a little list, a little list. Actually, it's a long list, but never mind, at least I've made the list. And, I'm going to tack it up somewhere very visible, then I can cross things off when they're done.

I've had an extraordinary summer in many respects. Much of this summer's joy came from time spent family and friends and with the man in my life. There's been some sorrow , but maybe that, and the joy too, will find its way into my fiction.

Monday, August 14, 2006

The Canadian Motor City Gets My Vote. Take Note, Toronto.

My trip to Windsor was almost everything I hoped it would be and I'm very glad I went back to my old home town.

Once upon a time, long, long, ago, local radio stations referred to Windsor and Detroit as the Motor Cities. I can't vouch for the condition of Detroit, but Windsor still retains the Canadian title. It's tied to the auto industry, much as it was in the past. Everyone should have a car, or a truck or a van, and preferably a Canadian-made one. In the less wealthy neighbourhoods, nearly everyone does. But in parts of Walkerville, one of the upscale neighbourhoods, I saw some expensive foreign cars. Oh, the shame of it!

I was most impressed by what Windsor has done with its waterfront. The city has gorgeous waterfront parks that stretch for kilometres. Riverside Drive hugs the shoreline of the Detroit river and absolutely no development is allowed on the side of the road closest to the river. The city also reclaimed the railway lands (the tracks used to run along beside the river). It's truly amazing that a city of 200,000 has the ability to resist the type of hideous but extremely profitable condominium development that ruined the central waterfront in Toronto. My old and still very politically active friend, Patsy, is one the people responsible for fending off the developers. Every five years or so, the no-development policy is challenged at City Council, and Patsy rallies the troops.

On the downside, Windsor is still a city that isn't much into the idea of public transit. There were about 7 bus routes 10 years ago and now, I think there are 10. The bus terminal is exactly the same as it was in my youth. If I'd ever taken psychedelic drugs, I'd have assumed I was having a flash-back when I saw it. At least the city has some newer buses, and yes I was on one.

Most of my exploration of the city took place on foot and, as my grandmother might say, my feet is plumb wore off at the knees. It was the best way to get a feel for the neighbourhoods I wanted to see. I walked all around the downtown area, the Wyandotte street strip, the Erie street area, Willistead and the street I grew up on and other areas. I spoke with several business owners, they were all friendly and took the time to give me their impressions of the city. The Casino is undergoing renovation but it was well-patronized. I couldn't get over the number of different slot machines. Did you know there are some that take $500 for a single chance? Egad! No one was trying their luck at one while I was there. No bloomin' wonder. I wasn't tempted to try anything, not even the nickel slot machines. And anyway, most of them were being used by seniors. I visited the poker rooms. One is not allowed to make casual conversation with the dealers, I discovered. The man who sold chips was not inclined to answer my questions. Maybe I started with the wrong question though. When I asked if seven card stud poker was available, he marked me down as a complete innocent, or an idiot.

On the "our girl makes good" side, that's how Patsy refers to it, another friend of mine from way back when I worked at the Windsor Women's Centre is now the head of the United Way. Patsy, who seems to know every other person in town decided we would drop in on Sheila and we did. A wave at the receptionist and off we went to the head honcho's office. She was glad to see us and we didn't over-stay our welcome.

The funniest thing that happened to me was an encounter with a memorable woman. There's a famous, or maybe infamous, jewellery store in downtown Windsor. It's one of those institutions you have to see to believe. It's been on the same corner for thirty years, or more. Not a thing has changed. The store sells a lot of figurines, plates and miscellaneous chochka's as well as jewellery and fine china. It has display cases so close together that even a thin person must be wary and the carpets are almost see-through. On one counter-top near the door, there is a picture of Mr and Mrs. S., the founders of the store. I naturally assumed that both of them had retired. They were 'old' when I was a young sprat. But I was wrong. The inimitable voice of Mrs. S. accosted me. Mrs. S. knows nothing about subtle sales tactics.

I said, "it's nice to see the store still looks the same after twenty years."
She said, "Where have you been? "
"Toronto," I replied.
"So," she said, "why haven't you come here? Lots of people come here from Toronto."

Oy vey! The conversation went on in this vein for a while. I agreed to look around and asked about Mr. S. He was away on a buying trip. Fortunately for me, Mrs. S. was distracted by the arrival of some Americans. I managed to get out without buying anything and without laughing until I was around the corner. Those Americans would not escape without buying something, or her name isn't Mrs. S. She was once famous for going into the street, stopping tourists and dragging them into her store. After seeing her in action, I suspect that when she is having a good day, she probably still does.

I have pages of notes from my trip and they may be useful, but the most important thing was renewing my acquaintance with the city.

It's still got a great heart and I'll miss it

Monday, August 07, 2006

Checking out The Ambassador Bridge and Other Adventures

On Thursday, I'm going to Windsor. I'ts been years since I visited my home town and I need to soak up its ambience, its flavours. I plan to take lots of notes and maybe some pictures, though a lot of places won't look the same as they did ten years ago. Maybe I'll met an old friend for coffee, if she isn't out protesting something. Patsy must be at least seventy, but she still has a radical heart that leads her in some interesting directions.

What's the first thing a travelling writer packs? Lined note pads, of the right size and shape to fit into a small purse. I found some and I've already stashed them in my suitcase. The other packing won't happen until the last minute.

I plan to visit some of my old haunts - the park under the Ambassador bridge (the best place to watch the submarine races) and a couple of other parks too, the Casino (for research purposes only), the Tunnel Barbeque, if it still exists, and the street where I lived as a child.

I really don't know if I can capture what I need, but I'm going to try.

Sometimes I have lucky days. Saturday was one. The man in my life had suggested earlier in the week that if the weather cooperated we would go to the Mill Race Folk Festival in Galt, if I was interested. I was delighted by the idea and I had the chance to mention I was going to the festival to a friend who lives in the big smoke. It turned out that she was going to be at the festival too. The day was clear with wispy clouds, little humidity or pollution and not too hot. We found a shady spot close to the main Mill Race stage and the river and enjoyed the singers. We weren't easy to see in the crowd, since we were tucked way in a corner, but my friend Dorothy, who can actually see people from more than 500 feet away, spotted us. So, Dorothy and I had a chance to talk between performances. I also enjoyed the music and singing along on the choruses. It was a perfect afternoon.

Maybe my trip will contain some unexpected delights too.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

An Encouraging Rejection

As all three or four, or maybe, sometimes five, reasonably regular readers of my blog know, I wrote a story about a man named Jesse. The story, Jesse's Gift, had been revised to a fare-thee-well. I sent it to PRISM International in April and hoped it would fare well.

Today, my SASE to PRISM came back to me. I could see that the piece of paper in the envelope wasn't even a letter size reply. Oh great, I thought, just one of those notes that says sorry and they've conserved paper by giving me toilet-tissue size response. Well, the editor does say no. But, below the - We receive many excellent submissions but due to space constraints we're unable to publish them all, etc. Please try us again in the future - he added a hand-written note.

"This story of full of detail. It is visceral and sensual and beautifully depicted. I like how this depiction relates to the characters and the worlds that they live in. Thanks so much for the strong submission."

According to other writers, getting a personal note from an editor of a first rank magazine like PRISM is a very good sign. So, I'll have to put on my market research hat and find another place to send it.