Wait ’til you see what I made!

One of the really lovely things about being an artist, whether you’re a visual artist, a musician, a writer or whatever, is that incredible excitement when you’ve finished something new. One of the truly bumming-out things about it is the inability to share what you’ve done.

Look, a few months ago I took one of my poems, The Goblin Baker, and did ten watercolours to illustrate it, then made it into a book. The original was a gift for my great-nephew, Sam. He’s not even going to be aware of it for quite a while, but his parents were happy with it, and that was great. Then, because that’s the kind of person I am, I made a facsimile with photographs of the original watercolours so I could have a copy.

And then, because I’m an artist, and because I was so excited about it, I wanted to show it to everyone, yes, I did. And, you know, there’s a limit to the number of times you can buttonhole somebody and say, “Wanna see what I made?” I mean, most people will take it once or twice, but after that, they start to duck around corners when they see you coming.

Now, some of the people who saw it were very encouraging, impressed, even. They said things like, “You need to get this published!” But I wasn’t sure how, or where. Most of the picture-book publishers I know of want a) more than ten pages and b) no unsolicited manuscripts, thank you. And I find the traditional publishing process wearing enough just dealing with The Swan Harp and my short fiction. I don’t know if I want to get started on trying to push a picture book, too.

Then I heard about Patreon, a site where I can publish what I do electronically. Patreon runs on the patron design, the idea that artists are supported by people who enjoy their work, and, in return, those people get to see some very cool stuff that wouldn’t necessarily make it through the standard gates. Things like – oh, I dunno, The Goblin Baker.

I checked the site out, and I’m going to give it a go, see how it works for me. With the support, both moral and financial, of people who like my work, I can see how I’d be able to undertake some projects that, right now, I just can’t figure out how to do.

For example, I’d like to do some really elaborate pop-up books. The thing about those is, what I’m thinking of will take a lot of time, and isn’t exactly a production item. I can’t make a hundred, or even a dozen, in the time I have to do art, and then there’s marketing and all, and, after all, there are only twelve, so only twelve people are going to see it. But if I can do a video in which I read the story and turn the pages, I can show it to anyone who wants to see it. I can do it without buttonholing them, at a time that suits them, and they can look at it again if they want, whenever they want.

The more I thought about this, the more excited I got about it. I love telling stories, and most people I know love to be read to. Stories in the North, the literary festival in Thessalon, ran on exactly that premise, that people love to be read to. I remember Captain Kangaroo reading William Pene du Bois’s lovely story “Lion”, and the beautiful pictures on the screen. I remember listening to CBC’s late-night bedtime-story segment “Between the Covers”, and the novels I was introduced to through having them read to me.

So I’ve decided to try it. What the hey. I’m going to start it up on Hallowe’en, because that seems like a really good time to put up a story about a Goblin Baker. It’s going to be up there for everyone to see and hear, so you know what kind of work I do. Stop by, Patreon.com, Elizabeth Creith.

Look at what I made!

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The healing power of art supplies

David and I took a vacation recently – yeah, I know, getting to be a habit. We wanted to spend a couple of days at the Metro Zoo and one at Ripley’s Aquarium. David has perhaps not the nth degree in camera equipment, but he’s not far off it. Me? I planned to draw and paint. On our last day in Toronto, the plan was to go book shopping on Queen Street.

With that in mind, I started looking some months ago for a portable easel, something lightweight with adjustable legs. I have a wooden folding stool and we bought a wheeled carrier that everything could be bungee-corded to for easy haulage.

I will spare you all the details, but eventually we found a lovely French box easel, exactly what I needed, on sale at Curry’s in Barrie. They agreed to put my name on one, without so much as taking my Visa number, and trusted me to come pick it up on the day appointed.

Now, the sale price of this easel was about $60 less than the best price I’d seen anywhere else. Theoretically I’d be saving money, especially as we driving by on the way down to Toronto. Theoretically. In fact, what happens when you put me into a real art supply store is the antithesis of saving money, and the pop into Curry’s to pick up a sale-priced easel was no exception. I bought more than enough to wipe out the savings on the easel, and those who know me will say, “Well, quel surprise!”

Of course I enjoyed every cent, and all the more because this was money I’d earned by writing. Art in, money out – money in, art supplies out. It’s a pleasant symmetry.

If that had been my sole time in a real art store this trip, I’d have been more than satisfied. But no – before we left home, I had, in a fit of nostalgia, looked up the art store I had frequented, and that is the correct word, during my university art student days, forty years ago now. I fully expected it to have gone the way of other beloved landmarks of my student days – Mother’s Sandwich Shop, Abelard Books, the repertory movie theatre I used to go to, the Old Fish Market. You know how it is. Things change, dammit. Shouldn’t be allowed, grumble, grouch, moan.

So imagine my delight when I found that Gwartzman’s still existed, yes it did. With all the bookstores we’d planned to visit on Queen having done a runner, we swapped a morning book-shopping for one on Spadina. I hoped to score some art stuff, and we planned to find somewhere to eat dim sum, and maybe even find some dragon-patterned plates to match one that we’d bought a mere thirty years ago. Look, hope springs eternal, and, besides, Gwartzman’s was there, so what’s three decades between dragon plates?

Well, we didn’t find the dragon pattern we were looking for, but we did have a delightful lunch at an all-day dim sum restaurant. And when I stepped into Gwartzman’s, I found that the store was not all that was still there.


There, behind the counter, was Mr Gwartzman himself. I’m not sure he has a first name – if he does, it’s probably “Mister”. Never mind – I stopped dead in my tracks and said, “You’re still here!”

“Yes, I am,” he replied. And after giving him a big hug – which I’m pretty sure doesn’t happen often in Gwartzman’s – I proceeded to spend the other half of my art money in a happy blitz.

Now, here’s the thing. I’d hurt my knee a couple of weeks before, and I was still in considerable pain, but for an hour or so after that instant when I stepped into Gwartzman’s and was catapulted back to my student days, I didn’t have a scrap of pain. There’s a lot to be said for the endorphin rush that accompanies the purchase of art supplies.

It may never be an economical alternative to more conventional analgesics, but I could be persuaded to try it again.

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Anticipation and anxiety

That’s what I felt before the critique session for The Last Black Swan, the second part of my YA fantasy trilogy.

I knew I had a good story, but I’d handed it out to members of my writers’ group and asked them to tell me what was working, what wasn’t, and what they thought I might do about it. Would they agree on what was good, or bad, or needed changing? Or would I find that in a room of six writers, there were seven different opinions on what to do? And if they didn’t agree, would I melt down right there, or wait until I got home?

At least, before the critique, there was food – a potluck lunch with quiche and salmon loaf, hedgehog meatballs (looking like, not made with!), salad and apple crisp. And wine and coffee. Writers in To the Point do not starve. Critique is hard enough to take without having to do it on an empty stomach!

I have to say that most of the writers I know aren’t reticent about offering an opinion – especially when they’ve been asked for it! – and this lot were no exception. I’d reread the novel myself to prepare for this, and some of the observations and suggestions echoed what I thought myself. The last time I worked on this novel was in 2014, and three years gave me some perspective on the story and the style.

Other opinions hadn’t crossed my mind, but there were some very solid suggestions that I’ll be taking that I believe will make the story better, and also improve some of the characters. I suppose my truly most awful fear was that my group would sit around the table and intone in unison, “This sucks, start over!” Okay, not really, but what I wondered was if I had another major rewrite to do. And I don’t. It will be substantial in effect, but moderate in terms of work. As soon as I get done trimming The Swan Harp, this is next.

I’ve said it before, and I’m sure I’ll say it hereafter. Writer, get yourself a group of people you can trust, who will read your writing seriously and give you their honest opinion. Oh, yes, and love you even if they have to tell you the child of your pen is not the perfect wonder you’d thought.


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A happy morning

That’s what I had yesterday at Central Algoma Secondary School (CASS), talking to Christina Foster’s grade eleven English class. Christina had asked me if I would come and read some Old English to the class, because they were studying Beowulf – in translation, of course. I did it once in Old English and it took a year because we had to translate everything before we could discuss it. In retrospect I don’t understand how my professor ended that year with all his hair!

I prepared a bit, because it had been many years since I’d read Old English aloud. I decided that in addition to part of the prologue to Beowulf, I’d read Caedmon’s Hymn, one of my favourite pieces of Anglo-Saxon poetry. I dug out my copy of “Seven Old English Poems” and my dictionary of Anglo-Saxon English and went at it for a few hours, and then felt confident I wouldn’t come off like a total goof.

And I didn’t, or at least, if I did, nobody told me. I had the most delightful time, being able to talk about the poetry, the manuscript itself (Cotton Vitellius A XV) and how close we came to losing one of the great hero stories in our literature. I got to tell stories around the periphery of Beowulf – why Beowulf, for example, inherited the throne from his uncle Hygelac, instead of one of his cousins getting it. I got to talk about language and how many words in Old English still exist in our modern tongue, very little changed.

Maybe these opportunities come too rarely for all of us, the chances to think and talk about a passion that has been shelved due to circumstances of our lives. As we drove home to sleep (because this class was at 9 a.m., after my night’s work), I burbled and fizzed at David about what an amazing time I’d had. I talked almost nonstop. And David, bless his heart, listened to me.

So I get to go back sometime soon for something similar when Christina and her class do Chaucer. Am I looking forward to it? Not hardly! Excuse me, I have to go find my copy of the Canterbury Tales!


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Tidying up

“You know you have an insane amount of data on that thing, don’t you?” is David’s periodic cry. He’s referring to my laptop, of course, the computer on which I do all my writing. He’s right. I do have a lot of stuff filed – or piled – on it. Multiple drafts of pieces, multiple copies of finished drafts, filed in different places for whatever arcane reason I had at the moment, bits and pieces I’ve cut, and half a dozen files labelled some variation of “ideafile”; the list goes on and on.

So last week I probably ten hours in all plodding through the various levels of storage and file-age, and spillage and ullage (slop in a ship from the water barrels), and tidying up. I deleted things, mostly second, third and fourth copies of stuff. I deleted old letters, and files that I can no longer read because they’re in some obsolete format. No loss there, as most of them have been copied at least into .rtf format.

It was a long, long job, and not a lot of fun, but I’m glad I did it. Except for one folder that I tossed a couple dozen files into because I was completely knackered, everything is in its proper place. I even opened every single iteration and variation of “ideafile” and put all the ideas into one file, of which I have one copy.

That last does make me a tad edgy – one copy. I was a printmaker in my first artistic life, and the wonderful thing about being a printmaker is the multiplicity of what you produce. I got used to it, and I think it somehow became ingrained into my artist brain. If there’s only one of anything, and something happens to it, well…..

I’m working with that, getting used to the idea that I no longer have multiple copies of everything I’ve written. Sort of.

Because, as David also pointed out, I have the desktop, onto which I often copy stuff. There is also a backup gadget which probably contains the entirety of what was on the desktop, and maybe a big chunk of the laptop, too. I never know precisely what David does when he gets into the arcana of computer geekery.

I think he’s probably going to want me to tidy up the desktop, and possibly the backup files as well. Maybe I’ll get around to it later. Tidying up one computer is enough for this decade.

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1 Title PagesmallOne of the little rewards of being a writer is the treat of seeing your name in print, or your work in a book. I’m a great believer in pre-empting the whole publishing process by making books with your own work in them just to celebrate completing that novel, short story or limerick. I learned to make books probably ten or fifteen years ago, and I still deeply enjoy both the process and the finished pieces.

About a month before my great-nephew was born, my niece’s friends-and-relations organized that ritual celebration of impending labour, the baby shower. It was a brilliant event, fuelled with estrogen and fabulous food.

I made Sam a book. I’d mentioned to my sister Carla that I wanted to do a hand-printed book of one of my poems, a little piece called “The Goblin Baker”, illustrated with lino cuts.

“That would be a great gift for the baby,” she said. But my printmaking skills need practice, and I decided instead to do one illustrated with original watercolours.

It was a delightful pursuit from start to finish. I was thrilled to find that – contrary to my expectations – my drawing was consistent enough to illustrate a (very) short book. My goblin baker was recognizable on every page. I enjoyed designing the illustrations, then hauling out the watercolours and painting them.

I enjoyed making the book, choosing the font for the text and the papers for the cover and endpapers, and figuring out how to bind it. My friend Pauline Clark made some invaluable suggestions; she makes albums and altered books, and if there’s something she doesn’t know about paper and adhesives and embellishment, I don’t know what it is.

So I made the book, and it was well-received. I also made a facsimile with photos of the paintings because my niece was concerned about little hands on original watercolours. And, of course, I made a facsimile for myself, as well.

Because, you know, it’s always nice to see your stuff in a book, right?

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250 words a day

That’s what I’m doing now. It’s not the 2000 words per day I did on my Stephen King summer, but it’s realistic, attainable and sustainable. It’s also much lower stress.

My job requires me to deal with angry and upset people while keeping my own cool and being nice to them. That creates stress. We also commute three hours a day, which is its own little chunk of stress, as is leaving the dog and cat on their own for – usually – thirteen hours at a time.

We had some added stresses this year, like a couple of weeks with no running water, and several months during which any use of water required repriming the pump, recharging the pressure tank and then turning the pump off so it wouldn’t suck air, overheat and melt important gaskety bits. I could do the dishes or take a shower, but not both on one prime. You get the idea.

I mentioned Gail Anderson-Dargatz last week, and her lovely no-sugar-coating look at the writer’s life. She said that 250 words a day was a good day’s work, and I felt my jaw drop. It took a minute to sink in. Here was a writer who had published more than ten books, telling me that perhaps I didn’t need to be quite so driven as I’ve usually been.

The more I thought about it, though, the more sense it made. Perhaps my recent burnout and reluctance to hit the page had more to do with my frenetic pace than I’d thought.

So my goal now is 250 words a day, when I’m writing something new. When I’m rewriting, as I am (again) with The Swan Harp, I like to get through three or four pages. And it’s working. I feel happy to get back to the page, whether it’s new words or rewriting previous ones. That’s a great feeling.

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