Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Inspiration Out of Thin Air

This week I decided I want to be a writer.

Or, at the very least, that I’d like to be a writer.

On Sept. 20 I had the privilege of hearing Canadian author Lynn Coady speak at Thin Air, the Winnipeg International Writers Festival. She read from her new book The Antagonist and I not only fell in love with it and Coady, but also the idea of becoming a writer.

Writing a novel is something that everyone says they want to do at one point or another. 
Kind of like getting a tattoo. Or backpacking across Europe.

Maybe some people end up getting inked while others get around to buying a plane ticket, but it’s my guess few ever take the plunge and add author to their list of accomplishments.

I’m not sure what it was, but there was something about seeing and hearing Coady read from her book that made me wonder: could I write one, too?

I haven’t read The Antagonist (yet) but I’m glad I got the chance to hear some of it. Here’s a short synopsis from

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"Against his will and his nature, the hulking Gordon Rankin ('Rank') is cast as an enforcer, a goon -- by his classmates, his hockey coaches, and especially his own 'tiny, angry' father, Gordon Senior. Rank gamely lives up to his role -- until tragedy strikes, using Rank as its blunt instrument. Escaping the only way he can, Rank disappears. But almost twenty years later he discovers that an old, trusted friend -- the only person to whom he has ever confessed his sins -- has published a novel mirroring Rank's life. The betrayal cuts to the deepest heart of him, and Rank will finally have to confront the tragic true story from which he's spent his whole life running away."

Coady’s writing is inspiring. Much of what she read from The Antagonist made an impression on me and I managed to scribble a few lines down during the reading. One of them went something like:

“The smirk spread across his face like syrup over pancakes.”


Another was, “The word ‘punk’ leapt like a salmon from the stream of words…”


In class we talked about the appeal of a book reading and how it’s the closest you can get to meeting the “real” characters, that is, hearing from or about them in the way they exist in their creator’s head.

Part of the fun of reading a book is adding your own spin on the characters but getting this “behind the scenes” look was exciting. For example, take another sentence from Coady’s book: “I was only 15 f*@king years old, Adam”.

If you had read that sentence to yourself, maybe Rank would have said it in a fit of rage. Or perhaps with a hint of sadness or self-pity. But the way Coady said the words charged them, adding an almost frustrated emphasis on “only” and “Adam”. It changed the entire meaning of the sentence and I suppose it could have even changed who Rank is for the reader after hearing how Coady delivered that line.

I recently gave a presentation about whether or not you should write what you know. Even though I came to the conclusion that writing from a truthful place is definitely the way to go, it is advice that can be surprisingly easy to forget. Coady reminded me to go with my instincts. To go with my gut.

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I was inspired at the reading. Perhaps even to the point of writing a novella for my IPP (year-end project) next year. It’s something I didn’t think was possible, but now, who knows…. I’m tattoo-free and have never lugged a backpack around Europe, so maybe writing a book is in the cards for me after all.

I’ve thought a lot about what the festival’s director, Charlene Diehl, said at the CreComm seminar last week. First she asked if our parents read to us as kids. Many of us nodded. Then she added something along the lines of, “And didn’t that feel great?” Everyone nodded again.

There’s something about being read to that puts me in a trance. It’s along the same line as what a cat must feel when you pet it behind its ears. I feel that same “ahhhhhhhhh” feeling, the only difference being that I don’t purr. At least not that I’m aware of.

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I’ve read to my daughter since she was itty bitty, but I’ve noticed that recently I’m much more aware that when I read to her I’m forming her memories and developing her love for books with every turn of the page.
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Cheers to Thin Air and all the authors who inspire us wannabes… you never know, maybe some day it’ll be me up there doing the reading.

So, in keeping with the theme of my blog, if I had four extra hours/day this week, they'd be devoted to writing up a storm.


  1. So good to hear about what inspires students!

  2. Is this the genesis of an IPP proposal?

  3. I thought the same thing! Reading this post reminded me of what I used to hear (and still hear!) from Amanda Hope, whose novel you heard about when she came to talk to your class about the work she does publicizing the writers' festival. Great post!

  4. You need to read the book "Mortification" about the downside of being a writer. Hilarious!