Category Archives: Literary Readings

Only child sees helping others come full circle

East End Writers' Group 10th anniversary readers. Teresa Petrie photo.

They (whoever “they” are) say that if you get off your rear end and help another person it will all come back to you. I saw that happen last Wednesday evening when my writers’ critique group, the East End Writers’ Group, celebrated its 10th anniversary. Group members came out of their personal writing zone to help me put it all together by brainstorming what the heck we were going to do, designing the PR flyer and distributing it, suggesting a pub to go to afterwards, bringing refreshments to the celebration, helping me set up at the venue, introducing me to read (after I introduced the other readers),  and driving me and all my stuff to and from the celebration (One member even showed up at my house without asking to take me, but I already had someone on her way). We caught up with her in the library-venue parking lot and the three of us marched in with all our stuff to find another person already there who had set up the chairs.

But the highlight for me was seeing and hearing some of the group reading their creations on the library auditorium stage. Some were new writers, recently published, some since they joined the group and benefited from the constructive criticism. Readings included a travel piece, an inward look at visiting India, a humorous but positive look at the neighbours, a novella excerpt, an essay on life expectations, an historical  novel excerpt, an op/ed piece on looking out for your children, and perhaps the most unique – an interview with a novelist’s main character about his situation. Some readings brought tears, some anger, and some laughter. Afterwards, eight of us walked or drove to a nearby pub and stuffed ourselves with food, drink, writing wisdom and stories. One writer even mentioned that the first story he wrote for his now published collection of short stories came from a freefall writing exercise at one of the monthly gatherings at my house. The incentive: a small straw witch which I had held up for everyone to write about for 10 minutes. It might be significant that this witch dangles front and centre in my Halloween decorations on my veranda railing.

The whole experience  has made me think that sometimes by doing something that you need you actually are helping others. I started this writers’ critique group because when I moved back to Toronto I couldn’t find one near me. Over the past 10 years I’ve learned as much as I’ve given – not just about writing, but about helping others. You don’t have to do something big like organize a walkathon or charity gala – just the little things can help. And choosing something your are interested in can motivate you.

I am also realizing that for me the helping could have started with my late Mom. One of her sisters had seven kids and her first husband died when the youngest was a baby. Until this aunt remarried, Mom regularly mailed them clothes that no longer fit me (and I suspect some new ones she bought). And this family of cousins and an aunt also received plenty of neighbourly help on their farm.

Does it all go back to family environment? Something you pick up as you go along in life? I think it’s a little of both. What do you think?

Cheers.

Sharon

Only Child Writes

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Filed under Consideration, Family, Gratitude, Karma, Life learning, Literary Readings, Only child, Uncategorized, Writing critique groups, Writing groups

Only child has two stories published in anthology

Two stories published in this CAA Toronto branch antholog July 2010

At first glance my two stories just published in an anthology have little to do with the memoir I’m writing except the theme – death. The death of my parents looms in my memoir as that is part of its focus – growing up an only child in the 50s and 60s when your dad is dying of cancer and when he’s gone, it’s mom’s turn. In Gathered Streams, the Canadian Authors Association Toronto branch  anthology hot off the press from Hidden Brook Press  there is something connected to death in each of my stories. As I said when reading at the Book Launch July 18 at Toronto’s Bar Italia, “Both my stories are about death. One is actually in a cemetery. I chose to read from the more serious one.”

And that’s where my stories steer somewhat away from the memoir’s theme. The title alone of the short story tells you that – “My Brother’s Keeper.” The story is about a twenty-something woman, Claire, dealing with her older brother, Danny’s suicide. I’m not going to go into a big discourse, this post, on suicide, except to say that a cousin committed suicide and I attempted suicide over 25 years ago. However, after someone from a distress centre helped bring me back,  I decided to train for and volunteer for that telephone distress centre, which I did for five and a half years. These facts put together gave me the story idea but it is not about me or my cousin. What I find interesting was getting into the head of a woman who isn’t an only child and who has a very dysfunctional mother. I don’t consider that my late mother was dysfunctional – but she certainly was an eccentric character. So was my dad and maybe more so.

My other story in the anthology is a personal essay – a humourous look at how I felt taking pictures in the dead of winter (any pun intended) in a cemetery. And this one is all true. I have the photos to prove it. But again it shows how things can evolve from a certain premise. I went to the cemetery with the intention of photographing unusual gravestones. I did some of that but also got mesmorized by the trees in the cemetery. And I had to overcome my feelings of  “I shouldn’t be here doing this; it’s disrespectful” as well as deal with deep snow (it was February) hardened by an ice storm a few days before.

So where does all this hook in with being an only child? I think it shows that as an only child you have to develop some resilence; you have to move yourself forward to do things, often without support from others, certainly no siblings or in my case as an adult – no parents. Not all only children do this.  However, having siblings doesn’t guarantee support or even making and keeping many friends. I know one woman with several siblings who isn’t really close to any of them – at least from what she’s told me. She also hasn’t developed a network of friends and other support in her life, whereas I have – not overnight, but over the years.

And that may be the bottom line – what you have inside you helps determine how you fare in this life. But that’s fodder for a future post.

Go check out Gathered Streams at http://www.canauthorstoronto.org/anthology.html

Cheers.

Sharon

Onlychildwites

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Filed under Book launch, Death and Dying, Hereditary, Literary Readings, Only child, Only child memoir, Suicide

Only Child recommends writing critique groups

Sharon reads excerpt from her memoir

I couldn’t have done it alone. I got help writing my memoir about growing up an only child of elderly parents in the ’50s and ’60s when your dad is dying of cancer.  The help came from my East End Writers’ Group – a writing group I started 10 years ago because I couldn’t fine one in my geographical area. I’m seeing my past and writing about it from my point of view. It’s subjective and often writers get too wrapped up in their own prose or poetry and literally can’t see the forest for the trees. Those leaves and branches can block what seems obvious to others listening to and/or reading your work.

For example, my memoir blends in some social and other history of the times. “Blend” is the key word, not go on and on about the history. One chapter I’ve quoted from in a previous post (“Time is Not on My Side,” 2009/11/20) “Riding the Rails with Dad” tells how Mom and I travelled with Dad on the CN railway my Dad worked for. I wanted to put some history of the CN in the chapter but got really carried away. The critique was “you have too much history.”  So, I cut, cut and re-blended. The idea was to keep in some parts that tie in with Dad’s time at the railway and our travels. Gone went a whole diatribe on steam engines, except what I experienced as a little girl. Stayed were some of my Dad’s peculiarities relating to working for CN. One was his obsession with being on time – after all he was a timekeeper.

Another chapter covers tales out of school. Some suggestions focused on rewording and some on verb tense. In and out of school I was bullied a lot by one girl whom I refer to as “the Bully.” One of my classmatess, Tom, sometimes came to my rescue, but sometimes he teased in the process.  Originally I wrote :

“Four times a day, including lunchtime, the Bully and I do the 15-minute walk to and from school, often accompanied by other classmates dawdling up Donlands. Some like……turn west along O’Connor, but Tom, the strawberry thief, continues on wih the Bully and I. The Bully teases me and I’m too timid to tell her off. Tom, disgusted by her behaviour, slashes back at her, telling her to ‘leave Sharon alone. ‘ And no, that doesn’t reward Tom with free strawberries. In class, Tom, who sits kitty -corner in front of me, listens as the Bully taunts me. I blink to stop the tears from sliding down my cheek. Tom swings around and stares mournfully at me with his baby blue eyes.

‘Don’t cry,’ he says.”

Excerpted from You Can Go Home. Copyright 2010 Sharon Crawford.

Comments on this passage included: “Tom disappears,” brackets around “I blink to stop the tears from sliding down my cheek,” (for a reword), a grammar correction for “the Bully and I” (with “I” crossed out and “me” substituted. And I call myself an editor? You can see the subjectiveness creeping in here).

Of course, I fixed the grammar error and reworded the business with the tears to “I blink to try to keep the tears inside.” But I didn’t do anything about Tom disappearing. The chapter focused on my grade school days – or tales of the most momentous occurrences – good and bad – not Tom, my friend and classmate;  he was only part of the whole.

So, you don’t have to change your writing just because a member of your critique group says so. What I find is that if a number of them agree on one point I better look at it and it probably needs at least some tweaking. Also any critique is worth examining because even if you don’t agree, it might trigger a better way of writing something.

Writing critique groups are good also to find flaws in point of view, verb tenses, the balance between dialogue and narration, setting and time problems. The list goes on. But the critique is not all about finding the baddies – it is also pointing out what is good in your writing and also keeping the critique constructive, not destructive. We can get enough of the latter in the form of rejection letters from literary agents or publishers <g>.

My East End Writers’ Group (www.samcraw.com> is an in-person group meeting once a month. But there are many online writing critique groups. Either can work – whichever you are comfortable with. But check into them carefully to find out what is required of you. If they are asking you to critique 10 stories for your one, you might want to give them a pass. It’s a given that you’ll have to do some critiquing of others’ work, but watch the ratio. Also watch the tone of the critique – if you can, ask others who belong to the group, what it’s like, or if it’s an in-person critique, you can sit in for one session and audit it. Some critique groups focus on one writing genre, others are mixed. Some focus on one writer’s work per session and require you to read and critique before the session. Some meet weekly; some monthly, and of course the online ones may also have submission number and time requirements as well.  So be aware of the group’s requirements and if you are comfortable with them.

I certainly have benefited from critiques received in my group and also from listening to and critiquing others’ work.

Cheers.

Sharon

onlychildwrites

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Filed under Literary Readings, Memoir writing, Only child, Only child memoir, Writing critique groups

Reading from a Memoir-in-progress

Last night I had the opportunity to read a chapter excerpt from my memoir at the Canadian Authors Association and Professional Writers Association of Canada (both Toronto branches) first annual literary night. I’m not new to reading my prose in public but it’s been awhile since the locale was a pub. The Madison is a lovely pub in central Toronto but pubs are noisy. We were situated in their VP Corner upstairs – outside of the main pub area but that corner has no door. So I had to use my “outside voice,” which is not a problem for me. In fact one of the audience (also a reader with no voice-projection difficulty) told me he liked my reading partly because I was loud and he could hear me.

But it was a great experience, not just reading, but listening very attentively to the others read. The variety of stories and poetry was inspiring…even though some  of the audience got up and left part way through – and not to be rude, but that’s the nature of readings. A few readers and friends also arrived late, but that was ok. If Mel Sarnese of the CAA hadn’t come at all, I wouldn’t have heard her read (and she has a good “outside voice,” too) part of her suspenseful short story. As we had 10 minutes each to read, Mel had to leave us dangling. Now I have to buy the anthology her book is in (Canadian Voices published by Bookland Press 2009, available at http://www.amazon.ca and http://www.chaptersindigo.ca). But isn’t that one purpose of public readings – get the audience interested in the book – to buy it if and when it is published?

Another purpose is to see how you actually fare at reading your writing out loud. Writers sit alone in front of their computers (even if at Tim Horton’s or Starbucks) and commiserate with their writing. What you write and when you speak it are  two different situations. Reading it out loud often points out what really works and what doesn’t. Every word repetition and grammar error shouts at you.

But you can iron out the grammar and word kinks before reading in public. You can read aloud on your own (preferably recording it and playing it back) and then you will see not only glaring grammar errors but where your voice sputters, waivers, or if you are reading-fast-like-a-racing-car.

You can also join a writing critique group – preferably in-person. Not only will you get the reading practice but you will get feedback from other writers. They come to your work fresh with an objective view while you have been wrapped up in the old subjective. I’ve been running a writing critique group in Toronto for almost 10 years – the in-person kind and I’ve learned a lot as well as helped other writers. And yes, here comes the plug – the group is The East End Writers’ Group and information about it is on my website at http://www.samcraw.com. Just click on “East End Writers.”

And what did I read? The beginning of my chapter, Riding the Rails with Dad. If you want to read some of it, you’ll have to go to my blog posting of November 20, 2009 for a snip of the chapter. Like Mel Sarnese I’m not giving all the goods away upfront.

Cheers.

Sharon

Onlychildwrites

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Filed under Literary Readings, Memoir writing, Only child, Teaching