Creative Ink Festival 2018

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Kevin Hearne laughed when he read my words.

He laughed right out loud at something I wrote. I was sitting nervously next to him when it happened, quietly waiting as he read through my pages for our blue pencil session. I felt the tension ease out of me with that chuckle. When we then went over the pages, he was exceptionally kind and praised my 'voice.' As someone who struggles greatly with calling themselves a 'writer,' this short 15-minute interaction with helped boost my confidence in my writing by leaps and bounds. 

This is the type of experience you get when you attend the Creative Ink Festival. An encouraging and positive feeling flows through the whole event. Whether it's in a session like the one I did, in one of the many panels or presentations, or in just stopping someone to chat in the hall. Everyone is there to learn and help and encourage. It sure is something in a world like ours that can, on occasion, be terrible, to find an event that has such a warm, inviting atmosphere.

On top of blue pencil sessions, there were also kaffeeklatches, red pencil sessions, pitch sessions, panels and presentations galore, plus a Master Class with the other guest of honour, C.C. Humphreys

I'm someone who's trying to become a better and more confident fiction writer, so I wanted to make the most of my festival this year. So, on top of my session with Kevin Hearne, and many many panels, I also attended the Master Class with the other guest of honour C.C. Humphreys on the opening day of the festival. On top of being an excellent speaker, Humphreys had terrific words of wisdom for the writers in the room (who were both newbies and pros alike): "Writing is writing." 

Now, for many of you, writers or not, this may seem like the most obvious thing in the world. However, when you're like me and struggle to call yourself a writer because you can never seem to get the right words out, (or blog very sporadically), it was a lovely reminder that any words that get put down on the page (or screen) are worth it. Throughout the weekend this was reinforced over and over again. During the Masterclass with Humphreys it was emphasized that getting the words out, no matter what was always the end goal, they don't have to be pretty or perfect. During his opening speech, Kevin Hearne spoke about his first manuscript that sits in a bottom drawer and will never see the light of day, but it helped him know that he could finish writing a book. 

A 'slogan' popped up over the course of the weekend, coined by someone, but I'm not sure who, "no word is wasted," it came up in several panels.  Humphrey's "writing is writing" means the same thing, get those dang words out already! 

I was also fortunate enough to be on a panel on podcasting, the one thing that I feel very confident talking about because I know how to do it. Why is that? I've had practice. An episode almost every week for just over three years worth of practice. I've 'gotten the words out' so to speak, (pun sort of intended) and as such feel like I know what I'm talking about enough to pass on advice to a curious audience (an audience that included C.C. Humphreys!). That was a light bulb moment for me for sure. Three years ago I had no idea how to podcast, but I've learned by doing, and now have a pretty successful, super-niche little podcast. If I can transfer that over to writing - well,  who knows really, but I bet I can finally finish writing a book. 

The Creative Ink Festival will be happening again next year. I'll be there, and if you're looking for a low-key but super positive (and affordable!) and creatively energizing event to attend, you should be too. 

Perfectly Inconsistent

So, two weeks ago, I started working on this blog post...and then never finished it. Which pretty much sums up what I was trying to get across. 

If there's anything I'm good at, it's starting things and not finishing them. I 100% get this trait from my father. I loved him dearly, but he was amazing at starting things and less-than amazing at finishing those things. I'm the same way. 

I start tons of things; this blog, several novels, workout programs, nutrition programs, etc, etc. You get the point. The thing all of those have in common is that I've consistently not followed through completely on any of them.

In all honesty, I just took an hour out of writing this to try and figure out how I want to redesign this whole site...see what I mean. 

I'd love to say something like, 'I'm going to post something every week!' I mean, I have a pretty busy life, and there's bound to be something worth writing about once every seven days. I'm also working on getting into better shape, so I could tell you about that. I'm trying to write more, so I could easily try and write something short to a prompt and post it. I consume a hell of a lot of pop culture content, and could easily jot a few reasons why X was good or bad. But I think we all know that even with all of those opportunities, me promising once a week is overly ambitious. 

Which disappoints me, 'cause there are a lot of things I'd love to accomplish, and to do those things I just need to be consistent. So, perhaps for now, I'm going to say, I'll try and keep you up to date on my efforts to be more consistent in my efforts to get things done. 

Now. How am I going to re-design this site?

The Great Race to Watch the Oscar Nominated Films

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Wowzers. I haven't written anything since I stated my goals back on January 3rd...That doesn't bode well! However, in my defence, I've been pretty busy. I've been watching Oscar-nominated movies (and the Olympics for two weeks in February). 

It seems like no matter my intention almost every blog that I've ever started ends up being about movies (and the first two I started were for that specific reason). The reason for that is very easy to explain - I love movies, a lot. I watch as many as I can, sometimes with a critical eye, sometimes without. And every year, I do my damnedest to see them all, and more often than not, I fail miserably. In checking my spreadsheet from last year (everyone has Awards spreadsheets right? That's super normal...) I only managed to watch 16 out of the 62 nominated films. SIXTEEN! That's just shy of a quarter of the nominated films. This year I was DETERMINED to succeed where I'd failed so miserably last year. I'm happy to report that with just over 48 hours until the ceremony starts I only have four movies left to watch. 

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How did I do this? Well, it started in December, when I had the most chill of Christmas holidays, staying in the Lower Mainland instead of heading up to Prince George to visit my family. I watched 12 movies, all of which save one are now nominated for a little gold man on Sunday, so that really helped. However, when we were still 40 days out from the ceremony I had 40 movies I still had to watch, so I went into movie-watching overdrive, trying track down every nominated film I possibly could. The four I now have left are two foreign language films and two 'mainstream' movies that have one acting nomination each. 

Despite only getting around to seeing 16 of the nominated films last year, I think this year's crop of nominees are more 'watchable'. I don't know if it's a sign that the Academy is finally getting with the times and nominating less snooty films, or that those films are becoming more 'mainstream', or what, but for the most part, my movie watching over the last 2 months has been a pleasure. Sure, there have been a few films that were a bit more intense than the fare I'd usually choose to watch, but overall, it's been a joy to really immerse myself in the nominees this year. Mostly, it reminds me of how much I enjoy film, be they big or small, epics or love stories, I love getting lost in the dark for a few hours, surrounded by strangers who are doing the same. 

There are a few categories where things seemed to be locked down (best director and actress) but apart from that I think this may be one of the tightest Oscar races in recent memory, all of the films are that good. My favourites of the nominated films are, in no particular order, The Shape of WaterCall Me By Your Name, Get Out, Faces Places, and Lady Bird. 

Check out the nominees here, and follow me on Twitter @awestaway on Sunday to see how I do with my picks! 

Here's to 2018!

Yes, I know, January 3rd is a little late to declare my intentions for 2018, but as always I say, better late than never! (Well, maybe I don't always say that, but I should)

I never really got around to setting out any goals for 2017, I mean, I'm sure I had some, but I didn't write them down, I didn't put them out there into the wide world to help keep me accountable. While 2017 was a pretty good year for me personally, I have a lot of things I'd like to do better in 2018, and I may as well start with making sure I have a record of those things so I can come back and check them next year to see how successful (or not) I have been. And since I have a record of being pretty terrible at this, I'm making these as broad as possible, you know, to help with succeeding (no one should set themselves up for failure!).

1. Write more

I always say I'm going to, I talk about the things I want to write with friends, I think about them. And that's it. Which, in all honesty, is a really terrible way to get anything written. Not actually writing it down. So this year I'm going to blog more, journal more, outline and re-write my novel, try my hand at short stories. More than anything I'm hoping to jumpstart a daily writing habit in any way possible. 

2. Make my house a home

In the autumn of 2017, I was lucky enough to buy my first home. While all my things are here, and I've purchased some important new pieces of furniture, it's still a place I live rather than my home. I have walls that still need to be painted, art that needs to be hung, a library that needs to be culled and organized, and a lot of stuff that still needs to have a home found for it. I think it might be time for yet another attempt at KonMari or maybe the Swedish Death Clean because even though I have more space than ever, I still feel that I have too much stuff. 

3. Take better care of myself

Even though I'm pretty healthy, and manage to care of myself pretty well, there are a lot of ways in which I could be doing this better. For a while there, my nutrition was pretty great (mostly 'cause I had a trainer helping me) and I was going to the gym regularly. And then, like many people, life got away from me, and the first things to suffer were eating well and working out. I'm going to re-embrace the habits my trainer had mostly instilled in me, and try and find the time (a three-hour daily commute makes this hard) to head to the gym again. One extra thing in here, I don't have a proper skincare regime, and I think I'd like one. I feel like it's something I probably should have locked down earlier in life, and just never did.

Only three things. That seems do-able. I mean, yes, there are more things rolled into each of those things, but let's pretend it's only three...

21 Damn Early Days

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Wake up at 4:30 am? For 21 days? Voluntarily?!

Does this sound like the type of thing that a self-avowed night owl like myself would do? Probably not, yet I did it nonetheless!

I received an email from a really neat group here in Vancouver, Chasing Sunrise, that’s best known for getting up pre-dawn to hike up a mountain and witness the sun come up from the summit. However, they ALSO have Damn Early Days (DED), which doesn’t require you to leave your house (unless you choose to) but you still need to get up at an ungodly hour. For 21 days. (non-consecutive, DED is weekdays only).

When I got the first email about DED, I was intrigued. Getting up in the mornings isn’t my forte, but then again, with my new extended commute and NaNoWriMo on the horizon, I thought it might be an interesting challenge. Get up extra early and be productive before leaving for work. After only a few weeks in my new place, I already knew that getting home at 6:30ish, and then making and eating dinner, certainly didn’t make for a terribly productive evening for me, sure a little TV and crafting, but that was about it. So, I decided to give it a go.

Guys. Getting up at 4:30 am is HARD.

I know that I need between 6 and 7hours of sleep, so reversing that and realizing I needed to be in bed and falling asleep for 9:30 pm AT THE LATEST was a whole new experience, that is very early for me. Prior to DED, I thought going to bed at 10 pm was early. I’d also read an article that said that setting an alarm for an odd time would help you get up, so I set that alarm for 4:32 am. On top of that, I knew the standard iPhone ringtones just weren’t going to cut it for this experiment, so I made the alarm ‘YOLO’ by The Lonely Island. Let me tell you, when those first two beats rang out, I was AWAKE.

Because I was working on my NaNo novel my early morning productivity was working on that. I’d get out of bed, make a cup of tea and then sit down to write. The first two weeks of DED were pretty good. I was fairly successful most days and was able to bang out 1,000+ words a day. The other thing I learned during DED is that I write WAY better with an outline. I’ve tried NaNo yearly and have never been a ‘winner’, including this year. When I got to the end of what I’d outlined, my writing productivity dried up.

Despite my writing faltering, I was still getting up early. Instead of staring at a blank page trying to force out words, I did some other chores: re-organizing my library, cleaning my kitchen, folding laundry, reading. I was still being productive, but not in the way I’d hoped.

After DED ended I went back to a more ‘regular’ waking schedule, mainly because I got sick and needed more sleep. It wasn’t just my brain, but my body that needed a bit of a break. However, DED really made me realize that I (and probably a lot of you as well) don’t make the most of my waking hours. All the time wasted getting stuck in YouTube loops (as entertaining as they may be), scrolling through social media, etc isn’t helping me do the kind of things I want to do with my life. With the new year fast approaching and the inevitable desire to map out what I want my 2018 to look like, I think it may be time to look back into early morning productivity.

But not at 4:30 am. That’s ridiculous. 5:30, that seems much saner to me now. Perspective folks, it comes from strange places sometimes.

Anyone else out there try DED? Or generally get up at ungodly hours just to get things done?

 

War for the Planet of the Apes: A Review

If you're looking for a way to escape the haze and the heat this weekend, I have a few tips:

  • Tip #1 DO NOT go see Valerian. It's a trap. While it is visually lovely, and has some nice moments, overall it's a bit of a mess, with a completely unbelievable relationship and some awful dialogue thrown in on the side. (If you really want some Luc Besson in your life, stay at home and watch The Fifth Element instead),
  • Tip #2 DO NOT see The Emoji Movie. I haven't seen this one, but if this tweet is anything to go by, I'm definitely better off. If your kids try to do the same, maybe convince them to stay home and watch Moana and Zootopia on Netflix instead.
  • Tip #3 definitely go see War for the Planet of the Apes, it's a completely satisfying ending to the new Apes trilogy. (and manages to neatly tie itself to the 1968 original)

If you haven't seen Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) or Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) I would highly recommend that you see them, not just because you'll understand more of what's going on in War for the Planet of the Apes, but also because they're genuinely good films. I was a little reticent when Rise came out in 2011, I still had the bad taste of the 2001 Tim Burton/Mark Wahlberg version in my mouth, so much so that I didn't see it in theatres. After having several friends (with respectable movie taste) mentioned how good it was, I watched it when it came out on DVD (remember DVDs?) and was pleasantly surprised.

One of the best things that these new films has done is shift the focus from the humans to the apes. It lets the films hold up a mirror to human society, and what it shows isn't reflection we should ever be proud of. The apes, trying to build a peaceful society away from the humans, continue to be hunted and feared by the human population. After a devastating attack on their home, Caesar (the absolutely amazing Andy Serkis, who should win all the awards for his motion capture work) sends the apes off to find a new home, while he heads off to launch a one-ape assault on the Colonel (Woody Harrelson) and the soldiers who killed so many of his people. While there is actual conflict in the film, a lot of the 'war' is internal, as Caesar's animal and rational sides battle for dominance. Let me reiterate here how amazing Andy Serkis is as Caesar here. This is a completely CGI character, but the performance that Serkis gives through all that technology is nuanced and oftentimes heartbreaking. This is a character who came to prominence through conflict, and wanted nothing more than to live out the rest of his life in peace with his family - instead he's pulled into conflict all over again. All of that comes across perfectly in the performance, a better performance than you get in a LOT of films these days.

Do yourself a favour and see War for the Planet of the Apes, and then if you really feel like you 'have to' (you don't) go ahead and re-watch (or watch for the first time) Planet of the Apes starring Charlton Heston from 1968 and see just how far science fiction films have come from the late 1960s. It's a long way folks, a long LONG way.

Me & The Boy Who Lived

I'd kind of been struggling as to what to post as my first post on my new site. Should it be a statement of intention? Maybe, but every time I do that, I feel like I fail to live up to that statement. Then I was reminded ('cause, the Internet) that it was the 20th Anniversary of the first publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (that's right, PHILOSOPHER, not Sorcerer, silly Americans), and figured that it was the perfect thing to reflect on, 'cause I have a kind of odd but (hopefully) charming story about becoming a Harry Potter fan. 

When I first heard about Harry Potter, it was from my friend Reen. We were 15 and having a sleepover at my house. Now, it's important to note that, at the time, I considered her love of Jane Austen books to be odd (how foolish young Andrea was) and therefore believed her taste in books to be slightly questionable.

She began to tell me about this book that she was reading, about this kid and the wizard school he goes to. The thing I remember most vividly was her trying to explain Quidditch to me. I don't know why she thought that sport would be the way to convince me to read these books, but I remember becoming more and more skeptical as words like 'quaffle,' 'snitch' and 'bludger' escaped her mouth. Sure, wizards who play sports on brooms, right Reen... *cue fifteen-year-old eyeroll*. I thought it all sounded so dumb and therefore resolutely declared I would never read 'those wizard books'.

Cut to a year later. My aunt and my two cousins from Victoria were visiting us up in the frozen north for Spring Break. My cousins are 10 and 12 years younger than me, and they were reading Harry Potter. I remembered the books from when Reen tried to convince me, and the fact that these little kids were reading them (or possibly having it read to them) was clear proof that these were dumb kids books I don't know why they brought all three of the books that were published with them, but they did. 

Thank god they did.

A few days into their stay, out of the kind of curiousity that you can't help when you see other people so excited about something, I picked up the first book and read the inside flap. And then the first chapter. J.K. Rowling had hooked me, like so many others, with her story of the neglected boy from under the stairs who discovered he was part of a great big invisible world. Before they went back to Victoria I'd finished not only Philosopher's Stone, but Chamber of Secrets and Prisoner of Azkaban as well.

By the summer that The Order of the Phoenix was released I was completely hooked. I was working at a summer camp in the Shuswap. I had my pre-ordered copy sent to the office. I lived in fear that it wouldn't arrive on the day it was supposed to, seeing as we were in a tiny little town in the middle of BC. Thankfully my copy DID arrive in time, 'cause my friend Shannon bought a copy and we were (for reasons I can't rightfully explain) going to have a 'race' and see who could finish first. We both were working long days in the smokin' hot heat of a Shuswap summer, but would race back to our little common room and read whenever we had a chance. I honestly can't remember who 'won', but having someone reading that book at the same time was great for the 'can you believe that?' and 'how do you think this?' kind of questions that would inevitably come up.

I was lucky enough to work at a Coles bookstore when I was in university and got to work the midnight launch for The Half-Blood Prince. We all dressed up, I knit house scarves for the whole staff, we had owls from a local bird sanctuary, crafts, games, the whole nine yards. I got my copy of book 6 at midnight like everyone else, but was one of the lucky ones that didn't have to work the next day, which meant I could stay up and read the book when I got home.

And I did.

By the time I got to Snape killing Dumbledore I'd been awake for more hours than I could remember and had consumed a fair amount of coffee. I was sure I'd hallucinated it. That couldn't possibly have happened could it? There was NO way that could have happened. I put the book down. I paced. I went outside into the early morning air and paced a little more, contemplating all the ways I could've misread what I thought I'd just read. Then I came back and sat down and re-read the passage, and then the tears began. I don't cry a lot when I read. But Rowling got me, I was overtired and over-caffeinated, so that may have contributed to it, but she got me nonetheless. 

When Deathly Hallows was released in 2007, I was 23, I was supposedly an adult. I'd graduated from university with my fancy film studies degree, and instead of launching myself into the world, I'd moved back home. Just as I was finishing up my degree, far away from home, my father was diagnosed with cancer and passed away a few months later. That first year was HARD. Anyone who's lost not only a parent, but any loved one, will tell you that all those 'firsts', Father's Day, birthday, Christmas, etc, after you lose them are the worst.

So to say that when I opened up my copy of Deathly Hallows on July 21, 2007 the sting of my his death was still sharp, is a bit of an understatement. The first 'anniversary' of his passing was only days away, and I was looking forward to escaping into the world of Harry Potter one last time. Unsurprisingly, Rowling got me again.

Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic. Capable of both inflicting injury and remedying it.
— -Albus Dumbledore, The Deathly Hallows

This book, and it's themes of death, grief, power and strength hit right to the core of me, 'remedying' me in ways that I don't think I quite understood at the time. Harry fearing and confronting death, and his talk with Dumbledore at King's Cross are things that still resonate with me almost 10 years later. 

It's been a long, wonderful journey from refusing to read those 'dumb wizard books' to eagerly anticipating each release and proudly wearing my Gryffindor colours, and I wouldn't have it any other way. 

Thank you J.K. Rowling, and happy anniversary Harry.