My writer’s non-writing weekend

I’m still recovering from this weekend.  It was a blast, but holy crap am I tired.  Let me explain.

My wife and i decided we didn’t have anywhere enough things to do in our life and no opportunity to travel (and yes, I’m being ridiculously sarcastic here), so we both joined the board of the newly formed Writers’ Community of Simcoe County, centred out of Barrie (a mere two hour drive away) (wow, I use a lot of parentheses at times don’t I?) (like right there?) (enough with the parentheses, already!).

Anyway, the WCSC‘s first luncheon meeting with the incomparable Ruth Walker ran at exactly the same time as me having to be at the Word on the Street event in Toronto.  So the founding board member missed the inaugural meeting.  Nice, huh?  Okay, well, that was so two weekends ago.

This past weekend, Barrie offered up Art Ce Soir, an all night event where a portion of Barrie would be devoted to artists, either selling their wares or performing or increasing awareness of art.  Being that the WCSC is still quite new, we decided it would be a great idea to get some space there.  A place to offer up some quick workshops and to promote the next luncheon meeting (with Terry Fallis, Oct 16, plug plug) and also to talk about the WCSC in general.

The first concern came when Deepam (another of the WCSC board members) sent out a “bundle up” email the Friday before.  The weather was promising to be a little frosty.  Did I mention we were going to be outside all night?

I arrived at 6:30 pm Saturday evening and the amazing ladies I work with, Noelle, Deepam and Elizabeth, had all beaten me there and gotten it all set up.  Yes, I’m the somewhat useless board member.  If this was Star Trek, I’d be the one wearing the red shirt and, once we’d beamed down to the planet, I’d be dispatched by the aliens before the opening credits rolled.  Noelle, Deepam and Elizabeth would be the Kirk, Spock and McCoy characters.

In this particular episode, my wife Karen (whom I’m thinking would be Scotty…always labouring in the depths ensuring everything is organized) was sidelined by a particularly nasty sinus infection.

Anyway, so everything was pretty much ready to go except for a minor altercation between myself and Kirk Noelle regarding an extension cord with a ground plug and another cord without and how the one wouldn’t go into the other.  I found talking slowly, loudly and with the use of single-syllable words helpful and we got past it.

As for the night…I’m going to just put this out here now.  I fully expected it to be a bust.  I had convinced myself no one would be interested and who in the heck would want to participate in writing workshops out in public…in the middle of the night…outside…in the freezing cold.

I was so wrong.

There was never a point where we were swamped with people, but it was a very steady flow from about 7:30 pm right through until about midnight.  We did a workshop every hour 8:00 pm until 1:00 am that were not only well-attended, but with active, engaged participants.  I did two of them, Noelle did two, as did Deepam.  I even got a story idea out of one of the ones I sat in.

In between then, we had a steady stream of people (as well as the odd superlatively inebriated soul who’d lost their way) and were able to talk up the WCSC.

We also had spontaneous fun every so often when one of our space-heaters would blow the power out and all the lights would shut off.  With them or without them, didn’t really matter.  What started off as a cool night soon progressing to knee-knocking cold to seep-into-your-bones, ball-less brass monkey, freeze-your-ass-off cold.

But it was still fun.

At 12:30, we did a reading from various members of the group.  Noelle read from her novel Life as a Teenage Mutant, Sarah read a couple of poetry pieces, I read from Vanishing Hope, Elizabeth read some of her poetry, and Deepam also read a couple of shorter prose works.  I’ll admit, the other readers likely made up the bulk of the audience at that point, and it was so cold it was hard to hold the pages steady to read from, but it was still a trip.

We finished off our last workshop at about 1:30 and then packed up as it was, for all intents and purposes, a ghost town by then.

Overall, if I could take another liberty with my fellow board members, here’s my overall impressions of the ladies I spent the night with (I’ll refrain from the obvious “ladies of the evening” gag).

Noelle – Always with a constant ear to ear grin, as passionate to jump into anything as a puppy-dog (Workshops!  My favourite thing!  Talking about luncheons!  My favourite thing!  Coffee!  My favourite thing!).  Constantly in motion and so busy that a hundred stories were started, but I don’t think we were able to completely get through one of them.

Elizabeth – Ever-gracious, always smiling, self-deprecating to a fault, but always generous (and accurate) with her praise of others.  And apparently, a night owl.  She seemed to be hitting her stride as the rest of us were flagging.

Deepam – The spiritual, calm, seemingly unflappable one.  A drunk comes up blathering incomprehensible mutterings?  No problem.  Someone complaining about some element of the WCSC and dropping f-bombs as punctuation?  No problem.  She seemed to let it all flow through and past her and somehow she comes away even stronger for it.  And laughing.

Overall, the night was a success as far as I’m concerned.  I’d do it again.  But with long underwear.

The trip back home was actually better than I thought.  I figured I was in for a trip with the rubberneck headbob based on how tired I was, but the first 45 minutes was me getting warmed up with the heater blasting and the last 45 minutes was me doing the pee-pee dance in the car.  Like alcohol, coffee is just a short-term rental.  But I did get to listen to a solid 90 minutes of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl Who Played With Fire.  Still not sure if I’m liking the series, but I’ll keep you posted.

Got home a little after 4:00 am.  Sprinted for the bathroom.  Was in bed in five minutes.  …And the coffee wouldn’t let me sleep until closer to 5:00.  Had the alarm set for 9:00.  Woke up at 7:00 instead.  I hate coffee.

Got up and got ready for Part Two of my writer’s non-writing weekend.  The inaugural luncheon meeting for the Writers’ Community of York Region.  This of course involved another hour-long drive out to Aurora.

They had Richard Scrimger as the guest speaker, someone I’ll admit I had absolutely never heard of and no expectations of.  But I kept hearing how engaging and funny he was.  Turns out the advance press didn’t hint at the half of it.

After a lovely first hour of meeting old friends and finding new ones (always one of the highlights of any of the Writers’ Community meetings), Scrimger took to the podium.  Briefly.  He basically pointed out that he saw there was some formality to the meetings and he didn’t particularly conform to formality.  With that, he forsook the mic and chose to wander the room, spewing hilarity and education in equal doses.  I took a lot from his lecture, but two things stood out above the rest.

The first was his accurate assessment that all the best stories come from a small piece of grit that turns into your pearl of story.  That grit is something that makes you feel bad.  So how to approach a story from what makes you feel bad?  Go with one of three emotions

  1. Loss
  2. Fear
  3. Anger

Then, make things go wrong.  Simple, yet brilliant advice.  Especially for a horror-writer-guy like myself.

The other thing that stood out for me was when Richard grabbed me by the front of the shirt and yelled at me.

Okay, perhaps I should go a little more in depth on that one.

Richard was, as I said, wandering the room as he talked.  At one point, when he was talking about anger, he talked about what a great thing it is for writers to be able to take revenge on people.  Then he told the story of himself and a Scottish writer friend attending a lecture by a “famous female Canadian author” that he, quite rightly, wouldn’t name.  Because…apparently she…talked quite…boringly and…at great length and…made them want…to die.

So there was a point where an intermission was called and Richard’s friend and he made a dash for the bar.  As did everyone else, resulting in a substantial line up.  As luck would have it, Richard and his friend got to the front of the line just as the intermission ended with a flickering of the lights and the bell tone.

“Sorry guys,” the bartender said.  “I have to close the bar.”

At this point in the story, Richard happened to be standing directly in front of me so I became the next prop in his play.  As he told of his friend reaching out and grabbing the bartender by the front of the shirt, he reached out and grabbed me by the front of the shirt.  And then, imitating his friend’s thick Scottish brogue, quoted him…which meant holding me by the front of the shirt and yelling at me.

“YEW!” he yelled.  “WHUT’S YER NAYME?”

To which the beleagured bartender timidly answered, “Noah.”

“NOAH!” he said.  “YEW SHALL DIE A HORRIBLE DEATH…IN MY NEXT NOVEL!”

And apparently he did.

Funny stuff.  And if anyone got a picture of that, I’d love to see it.

Overall, an amazing and productive two days (even though I didn’t write), and great fun and much learning was had by all.

And then I slept like the dead.

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9 thoughts on “My writer’s non-writing weekend

  1. Congratulations to WCSC and WCYR. Sorry you froze your butt off and didn’t get much sleep, but what a trooper to come to our WCYR meeting next day.

    I wish I had a picture of Richard grabbing your shirt too. I decided to video his talk, but he went on for 30 minutes over his allotted 30 minutes (and if anyone had stopped him, there would have been a riot of protest), and my camera died half way through. What a disappointment because as funny as he was in the first half, things got even crazier in the second half.

    Since we reunited at the Ontario Writers’ Conference in April, can you believe how involved you’ve become in the writing community? Writing is so much fun, even when you freeze your butt off.

    • Ah, that’s too bad. He did get even better in the second half. And yeah, it’s pretty crazy how much I’ve dived into the community. And to think at one point I was hesitating because I wondered if I’d know anyone or have anyone to talk to! But the WCYR meeting was amazing. Now I just have to figure out how I’m going to make three meetings a month (WCDR/SC/YR) and how I’m going to pay for them and the gas!

  2. You’re quite the ‘trooper’, Tobin. I wouldn’t have been able to walk on barely 2 hours sleep, let alone drive, sign books, mingle and network! Impressive. Your belief in all things writing shows through your involvement and commitment.

  3. It’s blog posts like this that make me sad that I live in Quebec. Still, it reminds me that I need to find a meeting to inspire me, and where, perhaps, someone will yell at me in a thick faux-Scottish accent, too. Glad you’re enjoying the life, my friend.

  4. Oh what a night it was. And I agree, you ARE a trooper, because even though my plans to attend the York region’s meeting were thwarted before we embarked on that frigid night, and I couldn’t go, part of me was grateful to drop into bed at 4 am and know that I could sleep until 10. It was great fun hanging out all night with such fine folks.. who knew? Thanks for your part in it!

  5. On behalf of Art ce Soir, we would like to thank everyone who participated that evening. I personally had a blast in one of the workshops where I wrote about getting salt in my eyes while snorkling on a family vacation. We are currently in the process of working on a grant to fund next year’s event, so if you have any pictures of the evening, it would be great if you could forward them to jp@jillpricestudios.ca so I can include them as documentation of this year’s event.

    Happy writing, Jill Price

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