Sunday, August 28, 2016

Book Review: State of Wonder by Ann Patchett (adventure)

I didn't simply walk into my local bookstore, buy State of Wonder and start reading. No, I was lead to this book through a series of coincidences.

How I found this book...

Multi-genre author Elizabeth Gilbert divided her book Big Magic:  Creative Living Beyond Fear into six sections:  Courage, Enchantment, Permission, Persistent, Trust and Divinity. In 'Enchantment', Gilbert relates a most intriguing tale. Elizabeth Gilbert and Ann Patchett are friends who frequently correspond by letter. During one of these exchanges they discovered that they were working on remarkably similar novels. 
"It was about this middle-aged spinster from Minnesota who's been quietly in love with her married boss for many years. He gets involved in a harebrained business scheme down in the Amazon jungle. A bunch of money and a person go missing, and my character gets sent down there to solve things, at which point her quiet life is completely turned into chaos. Also, it's a love story." (p. 53)
It was like their muses had been drinking from the same pool. 

Gilbert's interest in writing the story waned as Patchett's imagination was ignited. Gilbert goes on to say that she could have choosen to be very upset about this. But...
'Instead, I chose to regard this event as having been a terrific little miracle. I allowed myself to feel grateful and astonished to have played any part whatsoever in its strange unfolding....I saw this incident as a rare and glittering piece of evidence that all my most outlandish beliefs about creativity might actually be true--that ideas are alive, that ideas do seek the most available human collaborator, that ideas do have a conscious will, that ideas do move from soul to soul, that ideas will always try to seek the swiftest and most efficient conduit to the earth.' (p. 57)
For me, this story brings to mind the 'collective unconscious' -- a term coined by Carl Gustoav Jung. We think we are separate individuals. But the truth of the matter is that we connected. You are part of me; I am part of you. It's in my best interest to treat you well for in doing so I value myself.

After reading that intriguing story and the engaging plot, of course I wanted to read Ann Patchett's story. But, these days, I limit my book buying to an on-island church fair and library book sale. (I do prepare a long list for my husband's gift giving needs -- thoughtful wife that I am). And as parting with well-loved books is as painful as having a tooth extracted, I don't borrow them. So the chances of me reading State of Wonder were slim. I tried to push any thought of the book out of my head. Hmm, yeah, well, good luck. 

Thankfully, I did remember it because... What do you think I found at the church fair? You guessed it. 

My review...

I began to read--a book that had nearly been written by Elizabeth Gilbert but was written by Ann Patchett-- hoping that the right author had been charmed. (I'm a fan of Gilbert's writing, but I didn't know Patchett.)
'This single sheet had traveled from Brazil to Minnesota to mark the passing of a man, a breath of tissue so insubstantial that only the stamp seemed to anchor it to this world.' (p. 1)
'[T]he big chair took her in its arms, tilted her back, and told her repeatedly to rest.' (p. 51)
From page one, I was charmed by Patchett's finely crafted sentences.

The story trickled out drop-by-drop like water from a faucet.

I see similarities in setting and, at times, tone between State of Wonder and Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
'[O]n a boat...down a river into the beating heart of nowhere.' (p. 163)
'Mr. Fox stood on the dock and stared at Swenson and stared at the entire flaming tableau that spread behind her.' (p. 301)

As in Joseph Campbell's hero's journey, protagonist, Marina leaves Minnesota and travels to the Amazon and then returns home. While in the Amazon Marina battles a "dragon" but she is a selfless hero--the loved-one she saves belongs to another.

This book has remained with me long after I finished reading the last chapter. I have questions--so many questions.

-After being tested by the Amazon, did Marina gain a clearer understanding of herself and her wants?

-She seems to fit in better in the Amazon and yet chooses to return to the United States, why?

-She proved to be a devoted, capable caregiver. She ate the bark; she had sex. Is she pregnant?
Check out this Goodreads discussion.

-Will she continue to work at Vogel Pharmaceuticals? Will she continue her relationship with Mr. Fox (her boss)? Will her relationship with Ander (her co-worker) and Karen (his wife) be strained?

Favourite quote:  ' "Never be so focused on what you're looking for that you overlook the thing you actually find." ' (p. 246) 

Photo by Leanne Dyck

Picture Books in Canada

Telling Tales Festival
 Sunday, September 18
Westfjeld Heritage Village Rockton, Ontario
'Telling Tales is a free, one-day outdoor festival...showcas[ing] over 20 of Canada's leading children's authors, illustrators, storytellers and musicians.' -from the website

Photo by Leanne Dyck

Sharing my author journey...

After what feels like several months of silence, I finally received 

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Guest Post: Award winning author Maggie de Vries on being a multi-genre author

On June 17th, I attended a writing workshop given by Maggie de Vries. It was an information rich day. I came home with sharpened skills and renewed excitement for my writing. Incidentally, around the same time, I was preparing to write a blog article on being a multi-genre author. As I am new to publishing, I thought it wise to seek input from an established author. Maggie kindly agreed to answer my questions.

Leanne:  Do you think branding is an issue (problem) for multi-genre authors? Why or why not?

Maggie:  I expect that it can be an issue, but I don't worry about it myself. I write what feels most important at each stage of my life, and together what I've written makes up my body of work. I appreciate the learning opportunities each form and genre provides and the different kinds of engagement with readers of all ages. I also appreciate the fact that I have not become stuck in a particular rut. Readers may find connections among my books, but they do not expect me to keep writing a particular kind of fiction.

Leanne:  What do you say when people ask what genre you write?

Maggie:  I give a list. I say that I write mostly for children and teens and that I've written an adult memoir. Then I wait to see what seems most relevant to them and focus on that.

Leanne:  Do you think your writing has suffered due to lack of focus? Why or why not?

Maggie:  I think my writing has been strengthened by variety. I wouldn’t say I have a lack of focus. I am focussed on each project as I work on it. I believe that each kind of writing teaches me things that benefit all my writing. 

Leanne:  Romance, mystery and children's literature authors are able to support each other through associations, etc. Please provide tips or advice on how a multi-genre author can access this type of support.

Maggie:  A multi-genre author can join all the associations he or she wishes. I belong to several associations for children’s writers and I belong to the Writers’ Union. So far, I have not felt the need
to join any other associations, but if I wrote another historical novel, I might seek out an association for writers of historical fiction. 

Leanne:  Please supply additional information regarding being a multi-genre author

Maggie:  I find great richness in writing in a variety of forms for a variety of audiences. I encourage all writers to write what they want to write most at any given time. There is more satisfaction, joy and potential success in that strategy, I think, than there is in any attempts to write to the market, or to find a niche and stay firmly stuck in that spot. 

Leanne:  Thank you so much for being a guest on my blog, Maggie. I found your answers encouraging and helpful. Wishing you continued success with your writing.

Bio: Maggie de Vries is the author of eleven books including the Governor General Literary Award nominated Missing Sarah: A Memoir of Loss and teen novel, Rabbit Ears, winner of the 2015 Sheila A. Egoff Children’s Literature Prize. She is also the writer of A Voice for Change by Rinelle and Julie Harper, coming soon from HarperCollins. She has a picture book coming out with Orca in 2017 called Swimming with Seals. In November 2014, Maggie gave a TEDxSFU talk entitled The Red Umbrella: Sex Work, Stigma and the Law. In March 2016, she was part of a collaborative production called Hooker Monologues at the Firehall Arts Centre. Maggie was children’s book editor at Orca Book Publishers for seven years, and was a substitute teacher in Surrey for five. She currently lives in Vancouver and teaches writing for children and young adults in UBC’s Creative Writing Program. For more information see

Sunday, August 14, 2016

What's wrong with writing multi-genres? by Leanne Dyck

"Down that road, I go." by Leanne Dyck

My muse dances and I follow. I write picture books for children and short story collections for adults. I just gave my novel for young adults to my first reader. (Hurray!) To me, writing across genres is like trying all the flavours in a ice cream shop and not gaining weight. 


Oh, so now your writing in (new genre), Leanne
-literary agent

The emotion behind her words wasn't lost in her email. She was clearly frustrated. How could she package me when I didn't fit in any box? I wasn't surprised when she refused to represent me.


Everyone is mixing and mingling, the host steers someone in my direction. "This is Leanne. She writes."

"Oh, what genre do you write?" The someone asks.

"Fiction for adults and..." as I continue the list, "someone" has a weird look on her face. And I wonder am I boring, confusing or frustrating her. If I could simply say, "I write mysteries," she'd be able to walk away with a name and a genre. What can she do with the armful of information I've just unloaded on her? I fear the answer is nothing.

But I have to continue to dance with my muse.

I wonder, how do established multi-genre authors handle these situations?

Next post: Sunday, August 21 (around 5 PM PST) 
You've read about my experiences (and fears). What does an established multi-genre author think?
Please visit this blog next week when my special guest will be award winning multi-genre author Maggie de Vries.

Update:  Thanks to author such as Maggie de Vries, I've learned that it's okay to follow your heart. That it's okay to be a multi-genre author. And I've learned to say, "I write fiction for adults and children."

Photo by Leanne Dyck

Picture Books in Canada

Field of Children's Literature
Picture Books for Children
Canadian Children's Literature

A few years ago, I took a children's literature course at the University of Winnipeg and learned a lot and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Photo by Leanne Dyck

Sharing my author journey...

Last Tuesday, a Facebook post invited Mayne Island writers to

Sunday, August 7, 2016

What Matters (short story) by Leanne Dyck

Abled? Disabled? What do these words mean? Can they change depending on circumstances or...? These questions turned over and over in my mind as I wrote What Matters.

"Looking through the trees to the other shore"
Photo by Leanne Dyck

What Matters

We noticed her before him. It was her clothing, her figure, her hair, her face. She didn't look like a nurse. Her high heels made sharp click, click noises as she pushed the man in the wheelchair to the centre of the stage. The microphone stand had already been lowered so she turned to leave. But he grabbed her arm, pulled her down closer to him. Whatever he whispered made her blush and giggle. She blew him a kiss as she left the stage.

Tradition dictated the need for two speeches--one from the valedictorian. Our brain had even tried for humour. Failed, but tried. An alumnus--a lawyer, a doctor, a politician--usually delivered the other one. But this year someone had asked this guy in a wheelchair. 

"Ladies. Gentlemen. New graduates." His commanding voice filled the hall like he had a right to be here like he had something to say. "I'm honoured that you selected me to address you on one of the most important transitions of your life."

Of course, he couldn't read it on our faces, but we all thought it. Yeah, well, we didn't choose you, but we are judging you. So give us your best.

"In many ways, it seems like only yesterday that I was where you are now--unsure of the future. What would I accomplish? How would I make my mark? How would I contribute to society? These questions haunted me. And to be frank no one expected much--no one had ever expected much. Like a wadded up scrap of paper, my body has always been twisted and torn. I'll never be a bodybuilder. I have no body to build."

A suppressed laugh quickly became a cough.

"I thought my disability was my excuse. Then someone, maybe my guidance counsellor, told me about Steven Hawking--a brilliant scientist trapped in a body worse than mine. Heck, he couldn't even talk without his computer. But he'd overcome all excuses. If he could do that, what was stopping me? What everyone else thought? Who cares about that? No, what was stopping me was poor self-esteem.

"Once that mystery was solved I decided to go for it. I knew what I couldn't do. Now I needed to know what I was capable of. Steven Hawking had an amazing mind. What did I have?"

We waited in the palm of his hand.

"My voice--elocution. I worked very hard and obtained a good position on the corner of Harold Street between the Safeway and the Liquor Mart. It made people feel good to see me there. They'd drop a few cents into my hat and walk away feeling superior--feeling like they in their perfect body, in their perfect world had helped a poor, helpless cripple. And me? I let them. I smiled and wished them a good day. But I know they won't even have noticed me without my voice. 'Good day,' I'd say. 'Hello, there, how are you today?' or 'My what a pretty dress.' I knew exactly what to say to everyone.

"Sitting there, doing my thing, that's how I got my big break. I thought he was just a dude in a tie. I was wrong. Turns out he was much more than that. He was a producer with Disney. He heard my voice, noticed me, and gave me an opportunity. The rest I did on my own. The yacht, the mansion, the supermodel girlfriend--I earned all of that.

"If you learn nothing else from my example, learn this:  believe in yourself, discover your gift, and use it."

Next post:  To be published on Sunday, August 7th (around 5 PM PST) What's wrong with writing multi-genres?
When you hear the name Danielle Steel? What genre comes to mind? Romance? How about Stephen King? Horror? Thriller? What about Margaret Atwood? Poetry...Non-fiction...Novels...Children's books... Huh. And she didn't wait to get a name in one genre before moving on to another. (Margaret Atwood's publishing history.)
Why shouldn't you dance with your muse? Why shouldn't you write the stories you're excited by--regardless of the genre?
That's what I'm doing...but it's not all lollipops and unicorns. There's a problem. 
I'm planning to discuss this problem in my next post.

Picture Books in Canada

Photo by Leanne Dyck

courses at the University of Toronto
Writing for Children:  Introduction
Writing for Children:  Picture Books

Photo by B Dyck

This picture book conceived by a granddaughter and written by a grandma.
Picture Book book launch
on Mayne Island 
Friday, August 12th
at the library

Photo by Leanne Dyck

Sharing my author journey...

How do you feel after finishing a major writing project?