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Thank You, Dorothy Shoemaker

Thank You, Dorothy Shoemaker

I returned home from running errands to an unexpected but very welcome email:

“On behalf of Kitchener Public Library & the KW Community Foundation, I am pleased to inform you that Tasneem Jamal, prose judge has selected your entry Excerpts from the novel Life By Fire as a winner in the Dorothy Shoemaker Literary Awards Contest. You have won 1st prize in the Adult Division and publication in The Changing Image!”

I had submitted my work to the contest last November and then promptly forgot about it. So, I felt surprised and…humbled when I read and reread the message. I didn’t dance for joy. I cried a little: Someone who had never met me had read a small piece of my work and found it worthy—in fact, more worthy than many others submitted.

How do these contests add value?
They encourage writers, who may otherwise give up, to continue to write.

I admit, I’d lost faith in this work—the novel I’ve been calling “Life By Fire”. Although I definitely hadn’t given up on it completely, I had put it aside and started other projects. Writing is lonely work. Engulfing yourself in a fictitious world with fictitious characters, completely detached from the “real” world and people around you, can feel alienating. I write based on a deep desire to connect with people through words, yet the practice of it isolates me. Combine that with repeated reminders from practical, well-meaning people that “even best-selling authors don’t make any money” and “it’s almost impossible to get a publisher” and “everybody’s writing a book”…and one begins to see writing as a guilty pleasure, a “hobby” at best and, at worst, a complete waste of time—time that should be spent making a reliable, steady income like everybody else.

But, Tasneem Jamal, an experienced editor and published novelist (who did give up making a reliable, steady income to pursue her writing and publish it successfully), had read my small excerpt (only 1,500 words) and deemed it worthy of an award—1st prize, even.

I Googled Tasneem and enjoyed reading her blog, particularly the post entitled We Packed Up the Kids and Moved to Tanzania. Then Things Fell Apart, which appeared in Chatelaine magazine’s April 2015 issue. In a way, she and I are completely opposite—she writes about having taken too many risks and I lament having taken too few. But a common thread appears to connect our writing: like so many women, we have both expressed guilt associated with “not doing ‘it’ well enough”. ‘It’ being life in general, parenting specifically…and, for me anyway, pursuing my writing goals.

So, perhaps, above all, receiving this small award has reminded me that doing it badly is better than not doing it at all. I will continue to work on Life By Fire in addition to my other writing projects, I will publish them, and I will experience success.

Thank You

I feel a deep sense of gratitude and appreciation—and for that, I wish to say a very heart-felt thank-you…

Tasneem, thank you for reading my work and recognizing my efforts. Also, thank you also for your words and your honesty.

Ms. Shoemaker, thank you for establishing this literary award, ensuring its continuance, and, through it, connecting with me across time to encourage me to continue to write.

Kitchener Public Library & the KW Community Foundation, thank you for your ongoing dedication to administering the awards on Ms. Shoemaker’s behalf.

And thank YOU if you read down this far.

About the Dorothy Shoemaker Literary Awards

The Dorothy Shoemaker Literary Awards began in 1967 as a Centennial project, created by Dorothy Shoemaker, Kitchener Public Library’s Chief Librarian from 1944 to 1971.

In 1996, government funding for the Literary Awards was eliminated. To ensure the Awards could continue, Dorothy Shoemaker made a significant personal donation. In 2000, Dorothy Shoemaker died at the age of 94. However, her legacy of support for aspiring writers continues today through her ongoing endowment.

2016 Contest Winners

Youth Poetry

1st Place: Growth by Candice Rubie
2nd Place: Where I’m From by Ellia Bishop
3rd Place: The Lady of Badakhshan by Farzam Karimi
Honourable Mention: The Colour Brown by Devshi Perera

Adult Poetry

1st Place: Bearborne by Dylan Siebert
2nd Place: An Incomplete List of Animals, Extinct: 1985-2015 by Graeme Ruck
3rd Place: Ancestors by Leslie Bamford
Honourable Mention: Her Name is Nurse by Jenna Hazzard
Honourable Mention: The Diner: A Sestina by Jenna Hazzard

Youth Prose

1st Place: Vultures by Rachel Garritsen
2nd Place: How I Wish it Went by Cynthia Wekesa
3rd Place: Wolf Boy by Mackayla Werstine

Adult Prose

1st Place: Life By Fire by Deborah Jones
2nd Place: A Gentle Flutter of Feathers by Cheryl Rosbak
3rd Place: How Do You Do? by Ryan Boggs
Honourable Mention: Between, Amongst, On Top Of by Tiffany Irwin
Honourable Mention: No Man’s Land by Jennifer Sloan Walker

About Tasneem Jamal

Tasneem’s novel: Where The Air Is Sweet
Purchase her novel on Amazon:
Tasneem’s Blog:

Bold Experiment

To see the world…

This novel conglomerates and focuses several fascinations of mine:

Multi-dimensionality: Our physical lives unfold linearly through time and space (like pages in a paper book to be read from front to back). Birth, life, death. Preface, chapters, epilogue. But, our minds think in multiple dimensions (like applications on a computer or posts on a website, to be accessed at random). Present experience, past memories, future aspirations. Reality, perception, imagination. The lines blur.

Truth in the eyes of the writer and reader: All writing is biased because it is written from one individual’s perspective and read from another’s. What experiences did the writer choose to include, to omit, to spin? How did the reader choose to interpret them, based on their own experiences? Autobiographical fiction; fictional autobiography. In life, as in a work of fiction, where does reality end and the story begin?

Intertextuality: Any written work reflects and culminates every story, every word, the writer has ever read. We cannot separate our own experiences from those we have experienced through the words and images of others. Subtle references to other works of literature or popular culture add layers of meaning.

The Internet as a new multimodal compositional medium: As a compositional medium, a website enables the addition of images, music and video to enhance the reader’s experience. It also allows for the inclusion of contextual details in an ever-expanding web of information.

The novel, and this website, explores these concepts.


The sub-title of this post “To see the world…” references the poem “Auguries of Innocence” by William Blake, which speaks to multi-dimensionality. It begins:

To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.

New Medium, New World

The Internet as a New Multimodal Compositional Medium

In 1998, as a culmination to earning a Master’s Degree in “English, Language & Professional Writing” from the University of Waterloo, I completed an online essay entitled “New Medium, New World: A Discussion of the Internet as a New Compositional Medium”. (I found it in an old backup file, and uploaded it here. It still works: the beauty of static html.)

In the essay, I forecast that “The Internet promises to revolutionize document storage and access. And hypertext, the kind of text within online documents, promises to revolutionize the way we write and read them.” I envisioned entire libraries of fully searchable electronic documents existing “unobtrusively in a small server room in a university building” to be read using an electronic “slate”. The essay discussed the advent of self-publishing and serial-publishing.

This novel website (pun intended) tests my vision for the Internet as a new compositional medium in several ways:

  • Departure from Linearity—a web, not a Line: A book unfolds linearly from chapter to chapter, page to page; a website expands outwardly link by link, creating a web of content.
  • Self-Publishing—no authoritarian overseer: In traditional publishing, an authoritative publisher judges a literary work, dictates changes, and deems it worthy of publication. Self-publishing removes the overseer and depends on individual readers to judge a work worthy of their time.
  • Serial-Publishing—a work in progress: Most novels today are published upon completion, not in serial form as the story progresses. In this forum, quickly must the story unfold to maintain attention?
  • Contextuality Revealed—an archive of contextual elements: On the About the Book section of this website, I will write about the process of writing the book as I write it, including research associated with historical details, creating a web of information associated with the novel itself.
  • Feedback Welcome—a collaborative environment: The Comments section associated with each post or book segment empowers you, the reader, to become critic, editor, or even contributor.

Stay with me as it unfolds and please use the comments sections to let me know what you think about it!

Every Word Counts

Write once. Edit repeatedly.

Lance Armstrong’s Motto: Every second counts.
My Motto: Every word counts.

Accuracy—choosing every word carefully and omitting unnecessary embellishment—creates good non-fiction and fiction. Today, enthrall or be deleted. Every word counts.

As part of the protocol surrounding my first full-time job offer out of university, the president of a local high-tech company interviewed me for a technical writing position. He asked me: “What is most important aspect of technical writing?” I answered: “Saying as much as possible in as few words as possible.” He replied pointedly, “No. Accuracy!” I sat silently.

In hindsight, I disagreed. In technical writing, accurate information buried deeply in too many poorly presented words helps no one. Architecting accurate information for optimal ease of use requires understanding and accommodating the user’s needs and preferences. Presentation counts too.

Can a novel, presented in short clips over time like a mini-series, on a website like a blog, in multiple dimensions like one’s thoughts, accommodate and enthrall today’s reader?

Let’s see.


Since the writers’ website now calculates post length based on average “reading time” rather than “word count”, Lance’s motto also applies: Every second counts.

“The Second Coming” William Butler Yeats

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?


*Taken from “The Norton Anthology of English Literature: Fifth Edition, Volume 2”.

For me, the word “slouching” took on a more devious connotation after reading this poem. I reference the word “slouching” and the quote “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold….” in the novel section below. You can read the section by following the Related Posts link below.


Work in Progress

Deadlines. Lifelines. Storylines.

The truth is this story started to form in my mind several years ago and I have been attempting to work on it in the closet. But it is dark and lonely in there. And, if I continue to progress at this rate, it will be published posthumously (maybe).

I need momentum, encouragement, accountability. And deadlines. I really need deadlines.

I commit to working on the progressive realization of this novel daily and publishing something (of the book, about the book, or about my experience with the book) on this website regularly in 2015. I hope you will hold me accountable to doing it.

It’s Magic. Really.

The book post entitled “Phoenix Slouching” introduces the novel’s first reference to an extraordinary event, occurring in an otherwise mundane existence and places it within the genre of Magic Realism.

From Wikipedia: “Magic realism or magical realism is a genre where magical or unreal elements play a natural part in an otherwise realistic (often mundane) environment. Although it is most commonly used as a literary genre, magic realism also applies to film and the visual arts.”

I became fascinated with the genre of magic realism after living in Brazil for a year as an exchange student, in 1990-1991. In university, I completed a course in Latin American Writer’s and delved further into the intricacies of this writing style. Highly politically motivated, modern magic realism often focuses upon the marginalization of various groups, due to race, religion, or gender.

The magic realism took root in the 1940’s – 1950’s in visual arts and then literature—an era that will be explored later in the novel, Life By Fire.


Read a short story example of writing typical to the genre of magic realism in the related post below, entitled “Homecoming”.


And So It Began

And So It Began

The post “Forethought” marks the beginning of the story “Death by Water”, within the story “Life by Drowning”, to which I alluded when I called this a “multi-dimensional novel”. Although Gisa Catarina Gärtner and the Gärtner family is fictional, the setting is real and the historical details are accurate to the best of my knowledge.

Between 1865-1939, about 30,000 Austrians from the province of Tirol emigrated to Brazil. After World War I, rising unemployment and other political factors further stimulated emigration to various parts of the world, including Canada and Brazil. In 1919, Austria’s former Minister of Agriculture, Andreas Thaler, traveled to the state of Santa Catarina, Brazil, in search of land on which to establish a closed Catholic-Austrian settlement. The region’s temperate climate with four seasons and possible snow in winter, and its geography in the west of the Brazilian highlands, resembled Austria’s. He purchased 52km2 of land and returned to Austria to form a colonization plan.

In 1933, an Austrian Foreign Settlement Society was established to raise funds to build closed Austrian settlements overseas. On September 28, 1933, Andreas Thaler and 82 immigrants departed Tirol, Austria, for Santa Catarina, Brazil. On October 13, 1933, they arrived and officially founded the settlement of Dreizehnlinden (in English: Thirteen Lindens; in Portuguese: Treze Tílias). I have inserted the fictitious Gärtner family into this group of immigrants, raising the number of immigrants by 9 (Gisa, her parents, and 6 of her 7 siblings), from 82 to 91.
Today, the municipality of Treze Tílias, known for its alpine architecture, dairies and its artisans, still maintains strong cultural ties to Austria.

In the following excellent documentary, immigrants relate the hardships they encountered upon arriving in Treze Tílias. Unfortunately, I could not find an English translation.


My Life: The Short of It

Chapter 1: I sit in a small, cold cell, facing the door. I feel paralyzed and alone. I do not know where I am or why I am here so I am afraid. I don’t know what is on the other side of the door so I fear it too.

Chapter 2: I sit in a small, cold cell facing the door. I want to get out but I don’t know how. I ask God for help and suddenly a large metal key appears in front of me.

Chapter 3: I sit in a small, cold cell facing the door. I see the key but fear that it will not work. Instead of trying it, I search all around to my left and my right for another key but I do not find one.

Chapter 4: I sit in a small, cold cell facing the door. I finally decide to try the key in front of me in the lock. When I get up and insert the key in the keyhole, the door swings easily open before I turn it—I realize the door was never locked.

Chapter 5: I step out of the small, cold cell and turn around to close the door behind me. As I do, I see that the cell only has three sides rather than four—I realize there was never a wall behind me.

Chapter 6: As I walk away from the cell, I turn around to look at it one last time. But, it has disappeared—I realize it never actually existed in the first place.


Credit to Portia Nelson for this format. In 1993, she wrote her “Autobiography in Five Short Chapters”, which you can read here.

I needed six chapters to complete mine—I’m more verbose.


It’s Not ‘Historical Reality’, It’s ‘Historical Fiction’

My esteemed colleagues at the marketing firm I contract with have taught me many important lessons about life, work, and the intricacies of good design and sound programming. I’d like to think I have enriched their lives and work in return. For instance, I elevated their lunch-break distractions by rescuing them from the horror of bad science fiction soap opera and into Battlestar Galactica. Despite the superior quality of the series, my colleague had some hang-ups—particularly with regard to gravity where there shouldn’t have been any. Eventually, he resigned himself to the realization that it’s not ‘Science Reality’, it’s ‘Science Fiction’.

I’ve recently experienced some of my own hang-ups, with regard to “how it really happened”. I’ve entered into the “real” story within my story, which begins in Brazil circa 1933. The Perfectionist in me demands telling it as it really happened—with accurate historical details. I’ve diligently Googled, Wikipedia-ed and YouTubed, in English, Brazilian Portuguese (which I can mostly read), and German (which I cannot read, but can translate thanks to Google Chrome’s excellent translation feature). These resources have rewarded me with general information I need to start the story. However, they lack the specific details I want to proceed. I’ve emailed officials in Treze Tílias (the town in which my story takes place, formerly called Dreizehnlinden) asking for assistance but have not yet received a response.

So, what now? Allow my current inability to check historical facts to bring my story to a screeching halt just as it was starting to pick up momentum? Or plough ahead, imaginatively filling in the gaps as best I can, with the intention of adding additional detail and editing for accuracy later? Well, the Pragmatist in me has won: I choose the latter. After all, it’s not ‘Historical Reality’, it’s ‘Historical Fiction’.

The Devil & The Details

The Devil & The Details

(Or “The Distractions & The Research”)

Someone once said, “the devil is in the detail”. Ever wondered who? I did. Apparently, it derives from “God is in the detail”, expressing the idea that whatever one does should be done thoroughly. For me, it refers to the time I’m having gathering all the historical details I desire to proceed confidently with the next sections of my book.

A. The Devil: Distractions Not Avoided

I recently read (and reread) an alternative translation for this line, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” from the Lord’s Prayer. It states that the original Aramaic, in which Jesus would have spoken it, would translate more accurately to something like “Lead us not onto the path of distraction but deliver us from useless diversions.”

For me, distractions filled the last month, including March Break fun and stomach flu suffering. I have proclaimed April the Month of Focus!

B. The Details: Research Required

Have I made any progress on my book in the last month, you ask? Yes, despite the distractions, I have! Life By Fire will soon branch out into a couple of directions that require accurate historical details. To that end, I have been diligently Googling, emailing, calling and haunting various libraries and universities. Here are some highlights:


Life in Dreizehnlinden (aka Papuan or Treze Tílias): 1942 – 1954

I discovered a book called Dreizehnlinden: Osterreicher im Urwald on the Internet, which documents the history of the first location of my novel. I have managed to borrow a copy of the book from the University of Toronto library and have use of it until May 12th. Unfortunately, I do not speak or read German…the book is in German. So, how to most efficiently translate it?

Plan A: I have discovered one of the authors of the book on Facebook (Yup, Facebook comes through again, much to my amazement!). I am in the process of contacting him to inquire after an English translation or an electronic copy of the book, which I can paste into Google Translate to achieve a rough translation.

Plan B: Scan the entire 203 pages into a text scanner to convert the text into electronic form myself. The Kitchener Library comes through again with a text scanner in their Accessibility Centre. The question is, can I get a useable rough translation if the text scanning software cannot recognize German characters?


Life in Kitchener: 1942 – 1945

Gisa’s eldest sister did not immigrate to Brazil with the rest of her family; instead, she immigrated to Kitchener, Ontario, Canada with her husband, joining his relatives there. What was life like for a German-speaking woman living in Kitchener during World War II? I’ve spent some enjoyable hours in the Kitchener Public Library’s Grace Schmidt Room of Local History. The Local History Librarian, Ms. Karen Ball-Pyatt, has been very helpful, guiding me to the information I desire. In addition to the books I’ve shown here, my reading has included a 1973 Thesis written by a History student at the University of Waterloo, photo documentation, and various newspaper clippings.

Voyage between Santa Catarina, Brazil, and Kitchener, Ontario, Canada: February 1954

Ship-Uruguay-first-Aliens-List 9-with Canadian_NYT715_8420-1087
In February 1954, one of my characters will travel between Papuan, Santa Catarina, Brazil, and Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. How will/did she travel? What route will/did she take? My investigation led me to email Pier 21 in Halifax. This Canadian port has historically received the majority of immigrants to and from this country. However, Mr. Colin, the very kind and helpful Curator of the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, informed me that someone traveling from South America by sea in 1954 would likely have ported at New York and then traveled by train to Kitchener via Toronto.

At his direction, I ventured onto the New York Times online shipping pages, then ended up searching on and opening an account. Through it, I gained access to passenger lists for various ships with passengers who embarked in Brazil and disembarked in the port of New York in February 1954. I now know that my character will travel/ed from Brazil to New York on a steamship named The Uruguay, a boat with a colourful history, which I will outline in a separate post.

Ship name: The Uruguay
Embarked: February 1, 1954, Santos, Brazil
Disembarked: February 15, 1954, New York, N.Y.


Life in Kitchener: 1954 – 1964

What was life in Kitchener, 1954, like? Where would a German-speaking person go to dinner or to dance? Where would she buy groceries or post a letter? The desire to accurately relate these details has led me into further inquires, including correspondence with the German Department at the University of Waterloo about their Oral History Project and browsing the history of the Concordia Club.

My search to understand the lay of the land in downtown Kitchener during this time period has led me to correspond with the City of Kitchener Archives and the University of Waterloo’s Geospatial Centre.

So much to learn! See how it all plays out in my upcoming chapters…they’re coming soon, I promise!

What’s in a Name

What’s in a Name

Names have symbolic power—personally and politically. Here are some interesting details about names as they play out in history and in the novel:

The Political

Politically, names symbolize alliance. Both Dreizehnlinden (Treze Tílias, Santa Catarina, Brazil) and Berlin (Kitchener, Ontario, Canada) suffered the ramifications of changing alliances.

Dreizehnlinden – Papuan – Treze Tílias

  • 1933: Austrian settlement named Dreizehnlinden.

Dreizehn: 13
Linden: a kind of tree, popular in Europe, which blooms with white flowers in spring.

Upon the Poem-Book-Cover-Originalausgabe-Dreizehnlinden-1878Austrian immigrants’ arrival in the state of Santa Catarina, Brazil, their leader, Andreas Thaler, officially named their settlement Dreizehnlinden. He chose the name based on an epic poem he found in a library in Porto Alegre on an earlier reconnaissance visit to Brazil. The poem’s author, Friedrich Wilhelm Weber (December 25, 1813 – April 5, 1894), was a German doctor, politician of the Prussian House of Deputies, and a poet.

The epic poem ends with the lines:

Help us God to find the way to our homeland,
Out of the land we came from;
Pray for the poor writer,
And thus closes the song to the thirteen linden trees.

  • 1942: Dreizehnlinden renamed to Papuan.

In 1942, midway through WWII, Brazil aligned with the Allies and entered the war against Germany. In a show of patriotism, the Brazilian president expropriated all of the lands that had been purchased by the Austrian and German immigrants in Santa Catarina and renamed their settlements to Brazilian names. “Papuan” was a native name from a tribe in that region.

  • 1963: Papuan renamed to Treze Tílias (meaning Dreizehnlinden in Portuguese).

Between 1959 – 1961, the German-speaking residents of Santa Catarina were finally refunded their expropriated land. In 1963, Papuan was changed back to its original name, Dreizehnlinden, but in Portuguese, making it Treze Tílias, representing a fundamental shift in identity for the people of the region from Austrian to Brazilian. The government declared the area an independent municipality.

Berlin – Kitchener

  • 1820’s – 1833: Settlement named Berlin

From Rych Mills’ Kitchener (Berlin) 1880 – 1960: “After a reluctant beginning in the early 1800s, at a crossroads between the pioneer farmsteads of Joseph Schneider and Benjamin Eby, a tiny hamlet gradually attracted more and more newcomer through the 1820s. Harness shop, smithy, tavern, sawmill, and church—these ingredients slid into place. At some point in time, not then considered noteworthy, a name was given to the hamlet. In the mid-1820s, perhaps as late as 1833, this place was named Berlin. Local historians have long claimed, without evidence, that this was to honour the Prussian city of Berlin. However very few 1820s immigrants of Germanic origin came from northern German states, such as Prussia. At this time, Berlin, Prussia, was not a city of great importance. Recent studies offer a second possibility. Many original settlers came here from Pennsylvania, moving north for various reasons. Pennsylvania had communities named Berlin, and it is reasonable to consider that newcomers may have brought that name with them, as they had numerous others. This nebulous beginning of Berlin’s name is ironic in light of what was to happen in 1916.”

  • 1854 – 1912: Town of Berlin
  • 1912 – 1916: City of Berlin
  • 1916: Berlin renamed to Kitchener

earl-kitchenerFrom Wikipedia, Kitchener, Ontario: “On June 9, 1912, Berlin was officially designated a city. Anti-German sentiment during the First World War led to the abandonment of much of this [its German] heritage. For example, churches switched to English-language services. In 1916, following much debate and controversy, the name of the city was changed to Kitchener; named after the late British Field Marshal The 1st Earl Kitchener. After the war, local historians and civic groups promoted a new heritage that emphasized the county’s Pennsylvania Dutch roots.”

The Personal

Gisa Catarina Gärtner

My character, Gisa Catarina Gärtner, became real to me long before I chose a name for her. When the time came that I could no longer put off naming her, I struggled much as we had struggled to choose names for our children.

Gisa: I required a name that balanced strength, even harshness, with beauty. Gisa is actually the name of one of my Austrian cousins-in-law; I hope she won’t mind me using it.

Catarina: As the name of the state of Santa Catarina (Saint Catherine), Catarina seemed appropriate as a middle name for a Catholic girl-child.

Gärtner: I needed to find a suitably Austrian sir name that sounded like it could possibly have been on the list of settlers arriving in Santa Catarina, Brazil, but definitely was not on that list. I wanted to ensure that my fictional family would not be mistaken for a real family of settlers in the group that arrived in 1933. Gärtner means “gardener” in German—as a family with a farming background, this name seemed appropriate.

Life By Fire

I believe I revealed the the meaning of the title of the novel Life By Fire as it relates to the narrator at the beginning of the book. The meaning of the title to Gisa will reveal itself later in the novel. The entire story has played out already in my imagination—I just need to get it out! Stay tuned!


Romantic Evenings Circa 1954

Romantic Evenings Circa 1954

My writing focus has flitted from scene to scene, era to era, based on my mood and interest at any given moment, as well as the accessibility of information required for historical accuracy. I’m currently focusing on a section that takes place in Kitchener in the spring of 1954. Here, I’ve outlined some of the legwork that has gone into defining it.

Suggested listening while reading this post: “I Need You Now” by Eddie Fisher:


For reasons that will be revealed in due course, my beloved character, Gisa, leaves her home in Santa Catarina, Brazil, in early 1954. On February 1, 1954, she embarks on a steamship called The Uruguay; on February 15, 1954, she disembarks in New York. From there, she makes her way to her eldest sister’s home on Ahrens Street, in Kitchener, Ontario.

A few months after her arrival, Gisa’s sister and brother-in-law treat her to a night out with dinner and dancing. Where did this special evening take place and what would Gisa have worn? Good questions!


Gisa’s Dress

For the special evening out, Gisa borrows a dress from her sister’s friend. To create a clear vision of the dress, I ventured to Auburn Vintage Clothiers in Conestogo, Ontario, and consulted vintage clothing expert Rachel Belhing. I found the perfect dress in this Lavender 1950’s Party Dress with Ruching. I did hesitate on the colour and Rachel suggested a “sea-foam green with deep turquoise underlining” for Gisa. Oooouuuuu, perfect!

Dance Hall Options

The Concordia Club at the Golden Lion Inn

Considering their German-Austrian roots, Gisa’s sister and brother-in-law may well have taken Gisa to the Concordia Club that fated Saturday evening, particularly since Gisa did not speak any English upon arrival in Canada.

From it’s beginnings in 1873, The Concordia Club congregated in a number of locations, leading up purchasing its permanent residence on 8-acres of land at 429 Ottawa Street South in Kitchener, where you can currently enjoy Germanic events, food, and camaraderie year-round.

At the outbreak of WWII, the Concordia Club terminated all activities. When the war ended, they quickly rebuilt their organization.

From the Souvenir book: Concordia Club 100 Years Centennial Issue No. 57, August, 1973, pages 91-92:

“From 1949 on, Concodia held its Saturday night dances at different locations. Not until 1951 was the club in the position to find a permanent location. “The Golden Lion”, opposite the K-W Hospital, the site of the present day CKCO Television station….

…In the early 1950’s, Concordia Club experienced unprecedented growing pains resulting fro the arrival of many new German-Canadians in Kitchener. Successive presidents…and their executive boards were overworked in their attempts to accommodate the wishes of the newly formed sub-groups such as the Tennis Club, Chess Club, Soccer Club, Choir and other groups. Concordia Club had become the focal point for the new German-Canadians who flocked there for sports, cultural and social activities….

Former President E. Bretschneider fondly reminisces about the 1952-53 period. “Besides the weekly dances we had other diversions. The club premises consisting of a large hall, a small office, and a small kitchen, were open daily to its members. Nick Schroeder had formed a chess group, which outnumbered the choir. A table tennis team under my direction consisted of 18 players and H. Kraushaar had become the manager of a successful soccer team. The usually boring Sundays were thus turned into a festive occasion for young and old alike. The membership fee of 50 cents could be afforded by all… The biggest drawback in the whole question of immigrating to Canada presented itself undoubtedly in the scarcity of eligible young ladies, who enjoyed a ratio of 8 to 1 and thus could be quite selective of the company of young men of their age. Young and old bachelors alike formed into a stag line waiting for a few turns on the dance floor. In sheer desperation, we frequently drowned our sorrows in soothing barley water.”

The Walper Terrace Hotel

Established in 1893, complete with an interior courtyard, on the corner of King and Queen Streets in in the centre of downtown Kitchener’s historic district, this Victorian hotel has hosted many famous guests, including former politician and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Lennox Lewis and Al Capone. Unfortunately, I don’t think Gisa’s sister and brother-in-law could have afforded to spend the evening there.

The Victoria Park Pavilion

The Victoria Park Pavilion would have offered another venue for dinner and dancing in 1954.

From Wikipedia:

“Victoria Park is the oldest park in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada.… First opened in 1896, the park was built mostly on swampy farm land. A man-made lake fed by Schneider Creek surrounds three small islands, and is crossed by multiple bridges, one dating to the creation of the park. The park also contains the Victoria Park pavilion, the Victoria Park Gallery and Archives, a bandstand, and a historic boathouse, now a pub and music venue.”

From The Record Living Story Articles:

“[The Original Victoria Park Pavilion] was an attraction in Berlin, Ont., from 1902 until 1916….

…Special excursion trains on the electric railway connecting Waterloo, Berlin, Preston, Galt, Brantford and Port Dover often brought 1,000 or more people to a platform stop at the edge of Victoria Park.

In order to foil nature, the park board engaged Berlin architect Charles Knechtel to design a structure that would function as a picnic shelter and serve as a meeting hall, restaurant and dance hall….

…Like many things in Berlin, the pavilion came to an end during the troubled First World War era. On March 24, 1916, flames engulfed part of the building but Berlin’s fire department was able to save a substantial portion of the all-wood structure….

…The site stood empty for eight years until the second pavilion (now more than 90 years old) was erected to a design that honoured the original Knechtel drawings. A historical plaque is mounted on the west end of that “new” 1924 pavilion.”

As noted in a Victoria Park Historical Walking Tour brochure, “The gray quarry stone, enameled and terrazzo floors, and pressed metal ceilings [of the rebuilt pavilion] were meant to last.”


The original Victoria Park Pavilion.

lets-dance-book-cover-peter-youngMy quest to learn more about the Victoria Park Pavilion led me to request this book from my local library, which I eagerly await: Let’s Dance: A Celebration of Ontario’s Dance Halls and Summer Dance Pavilions by Peter Young.

Restaurant Options

Before the dance, the group eats out at a restaurant. Which restaurant?

Two Goblets

Since I have lived in the Kitchener-Waterloo area, the Two Goblets restaurant has been located at the corner of Weber & College Streets in Kitchener. Since Gisa resides at the corner of Ahrens and College Streets at the time, the Two Goblets would provide a great choice for this scene. Alas, my research revealed that the Two Goblets restaurant has “only” been serving their delicious Middle European food for 28 years.

Golden Lion Inn

The Concordia Club hall was located in the basement of the Golden Lion Inn so they may have eaten upstairs beforehand.

Victoria Park Pavilion Restaurant

More research will reveal if there was a restaurant at the pavilion in 1954!

Creative Insomnia

In the chapter, Phoenix Rising, I describe paranormal inspiration. The character awakens from a dream and instantly starts writing without hesitation, like she had described herself doing in Phoenix Dreaming: “I picture myself seated comfortably, long after midnight, a cat asleep beside me, my fingers effortlessly tapping out word after beautiful word onto the glowing screen. My mind fearlessly opening to the page, revealing my deepest thoughts faster than I can type them.”

I have experienced this kind of inspirational writing, during which I felt more like I were channeling the story than creating it, once in my life. (I’ll save what I wrote during that experience for a different post.) The experience exhilarated, humbled, and perplexed me. It also eluded me: I have never succeeded in repeating it.

Frankly, my typical experience writing feels more like my two experiences giving birth than creative channeling: tediously prolonged, exhaustingly labourious, and intensely uncomfortable—hence the preface to my novel, Birth of a Story.

Occasionally, I half-awaken around 3am and toss-and-turn as my mind churns over creative solutions to my next chapter’s dilemma. Sometimes, the solutions still sound inspired in the morning and other times they fall flat.

For me, writing requires persistent patience and stoic determination. Will it become easier with practice? I bloody-well hope so. I’ll let you know. In the meantime, onward…one word at a time.


Interval Writing

Interval Writing

Aside from novel-writing, I’m obsessed with nutrition and healthy lifestyle information. I read nutrition and exercise articles almost daily. I put much of the nutritional advice I read consistently into practice; I put almost none of the exercise advice I read consistently into practice.

I binge exercise. I cycle between short periods of dedicated, intense exercise—until I burn out, get into shape, or get bored—and long periods of doing absolutely nothing—until my body starts to atrophy and I finally declare “I must do something…drastic” and I eventually embark on another round of getting back into shape.

(Note 1: After an entire winter of doing absolutely nothing, I’m currently at the “I must do something drastic…soon” phase in the cycle.
Note 2: Okay, “dedicated, intense exercise” may be an exaggeration…it’s not that intense nor that dedicated. Moving on.)

To the point, I’ve read a great deal about the value of Interval Training in exercise and highly recommend it (despite rarely doing it). For instance, if one runs (which I don’t, if I can help it), interval training would involve alternating between short, intense, full-out sprints, and slow, steady recovery jogs in one training session. I’ve realized that the same habits that I’ve applied (or haven’t but should) to exercise also apply to writing:

In school, I practiced binge-writing as a sprinter, typically only writing when assignments required it, and sitting down at the keyboard to start writing an essay twelve-to-twenty-four hours before the deadline. Full-on sprint to submission (no time for warm-up or cool-down) and then collapse and recover until the next deadline looms. It had it’s advantages. (Otherwise, why did I do it that way through eight years of university?)

In business, I prefer a marathon approach, working on a copywriting project methodically and steadily from start to finish with as few disruptions as possible. The more times interruptions take my eyes from the screen, or other projects divert my attention, the more time required to figure out where I left off and what I need to pick up again.

In novel-writing, I’m still discovering my stride but I think I would call it “interval writing”. I complete a number of days of research—slowly, steadily accumulating the facts I need. Then, with all the required details before me, and driven by the stress of not having posted an update for several days, I pick up the pace, pounding out and posting several new sections as quickly as possible. Feeling a sense of accomplishment at having posted new content, I rest and recover (aka focus on all the other work I’ve neglected) for a few days. During that time, I tend to go back to leisurely re-read and further tweak the new sections (regardless of the fact that I’ve already posted them). Then, eventually, I realize that I haven’t yet won the race, its only just begun. Adrenalin rises and I head back to the computer for another lap around the World Wide Web.

Write on.

Building Bridges

Building Bridges

For weeks (months, actually, if I dare to admit it), I have been contemplating a bridge for my novel. I need to write a chapter that unites the narrator with Gisa in the 1990’s. Bridges are structurally complicated—a good bridge combines elegance with strength and structural integrity. I believe I have formulated the bridge in my mind, I just need to get it onto paper.

Have you ever constructed a bridge? I constructed a popsicle stick bridge once with surprising ease and success. Grade 10 Physics class. Every year our enthusiastic physics teacher ran a bridge-building contest. The person or team who constructed the popsicle stick bridge, within the regulations, that held the most weight would win a coveted prize (I have no idea of what that prize consisted since I had no aspirations of winning it). As part of our physics class, he required us to participate.

Based on my complete lack of interest in the project, I procrastinated until the day before the deadline. Then, I very unenthusiastically collected my popsicle sticks and Elmer’s glue. As I watched TV, I sat cross-legged on our apartment’s parquet wood floor and began to lackadaisically glue together sticks with the goal of accomplishing no more than meeting the bare minimum criteria of producing a bridge…a bridge that I assumed would break when the first brick was carefully placed upon it. I didn’t care. I believed that I was “not good at physics”.

Have you ever completed a task automatically, with unconscious ease, as if on auto-pilot—as if the information is being fed to you rather than formulated by you? Without hesitation, I glued together a bridge—not a jumble of half-hazard sticks but a bridge. A flat, sturdy bridge with geometrically organized cross-crossed supports and popsicle beams. I briefly examined it and then put it aside to dry. Assignment accomplished—I put it out of my mind. Until….

Until I arrived at physics class the next day and observed a number of extraordinarily complex popsicle-stick bridges with ornate trusses and felt ashamed of my own simple, flat bridge. I anticipated embarrassment. But, as the class drew to a close and my bridge had not yet been chosen for the big test, I internally rejoiced at having postponed my shame. Until my teacher approached me and my bridge. He picked it up from the desk behind me and examined it, which was far easier with my simple contraption than most of the other bridges in the room. He looked slightly perplexed. He said, “let’s finish with this one.”

Ugh. Really? When I had almost managed to get through the entire class…. And so, he set my simple bridge across the supporting pillars and the students began carefully loading it with bricks. And bricks. And more bricks. And it didn’t break. More bricks. It didn’t break. Finally, with more bricks than any other bridges had held, it gave way—not because it snapped in half, but because I had neglected to bother to measure it to ensure it was actually long enough! As it bent slightly under the weight of the bricks, it eventually became too short for the expanse between the pillars and one end fell off.

My teacher lamented that it was too short, declaring that if it had been constructed one popsicle-stick-length longer, it would have won the contest. He asked me what I referenced to construct it. I stuttered meekly that I had just looked at a few pictures—I don’t lie well and I imagine he knew it. In reality, I hadn’t looked at a single picture. (Besides, this was pre-Internet—I would have had to go to the library for that.) I just made it. How? I don’t know. Where did that knowledge come from? I don’t know. Was I a bridge engineer in a past life? (You’d think I would have had more propensity and enthusiasm for physics if that were the case.) Had I somehow channeled the spirit of an accomplished engineer eager for the opportunity to build something physical again? Had I tapped into the universal database of knowing that we all have access to but don’t know it? I wonder.

The latest science indicates that what we think far more influences what we observe than what we observe influences what we think. I suspect that extraordinary phenomena like that I experienced building a bridge occur regularly in life but most people simply ignore or even “rewrite” those experiences in their minds in order to fit them into their preconceived notions of the world. Had I had the awareness to consciously analyze my experience and attempt to repeat it, goodness knows what I could have accomplished! But, instead, I simply ignored it, defying analysis completely and subverting the extraordinary experience entirely.

Perhaps I should try building a popsicle-stick bridge again. Perhaps I should consciously attempt to tap into that universal database of knowing on a regular basis. Who knows what’s waiting for me and all of us when we awaken to the infinite possibilities!

Have you ever experienced the sensation that information is being streamed to you through your subconscious? Tell us about it by leaving a comment!