Friday, December 31, 2010

Old Yellowknife Christmas tradition

I was going through some old photos and came across this one. I took it in 1986, the first year I lived in Yellowknife.

To get everyone into the holiday spirit, the City used to set up a Christmas tree smack dab in the middle of 50th Avenue and 50th Street - the main intersection in downtown Yellowknife. They hadn't covered this contingency when I took driver training in Saskatchewan, so I was never sure if one makes a left turn by cutting in front of the tree, or swinging wide around it. If you look closely at the photo, you'll see that there are no traffic lights, so whatever we did, we had to use the honour system that goes with an unmarked (and usually treeless) intersection.

I forget when they stopped putting up the tree. That tradition probably ended by the close of the '80s, about the same time they put up traffic lights in the downtown. I sometimes pine for the old tree, but given that Yellowknife is almost twice as big as it was in 1986, and drivers aren't nearly as patient as they used to be, it's unlikely to be resurrected.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Watching the solstice eclipse from the Dettah ice road

Even though it was minus 20, plus wind chill, there was an impressive turnout on the Dettah ice road on December 20 for the super special solstice eclipse. Cars, trucks, snowmobiles, parasailors – even a lone cyclist pedalling past in the dark. The ice road between Yellowknife and Dettah – a First Nations community across Yellowknife Bay – is the ideal observation spot because it is close to town, but there’s little light pollution.

We watched from the relative comfort of our little SUV – sun roof (moon roof?) cranked open so we could see the Earth’s shadow slowly move across the face of the moon. The visibility was excellent, and the moon seemed to pop right out of the sky when we looked through the binoculars. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a red moon before, so was pretty impressed when the eclipse reached totality.

We had Christmas choirs playing on the satellite radio, which added to the sense of grandeur. When we felt chilled, we turned on the vehicle for a bit. Between fumbling with cameras and binoculars in the cold, and our heated car seats, we had a unique northern experience of getting frostbite on our fingers at the same time we got first degree burns on our butts!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Great workshop!

Thanks to everyone who participated in my Creating Northern Characters workshop this past Sunday. A bit of brainstorming and some small group work, and there they were: an army wife looking for some fun; a crack addict who sold his friend's booster cables for some quick cash; a man who likes boats and snowmobiles more than the company of women; a Somali cab driver making a go of it on the streets of Yellowknife. Good work, everyone!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

I'm leading a workshop this Sunday

Northern writing often focuses on landscape and weather, but what of the people who roam those wild locales? How does a story’s setting affect the development of its characters? How do we create characters that truly reflect the northern experience? Join me for an interactive workshop of writing exercises, discussion and ideas.

Sunday, December 5, 2010
1:30 to 4 p.m.
Aurora College, Room 127, Yellowknife, NWT
Fee: $30, Register in advance at the Yellowknife Book Cellar

Many thanks to the NorthWords Writers Festival for sponsoring the workshop!

Great time at the book signing

Last weekend's book signing, organized by the NorthWords Writers Festival and the Yellowknife Book Cellar was a great opportunity to sell some books, do some Christmas shopping, and connect with my Yellowknife writer friends. I shared a table with Bren Kolson, author of Myth of the Barrens.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Book signing at the Yellowknife Book Cellar this Sunday

I will be joining a bunch of Yellowknife authors at a holiday book signing this Sunday, November 28, at the Yellowknife Book Cellar, 2 to 4 p.m. Tessa Macintosh and Mindy Willett will be launching the latest installment of the "Storybook from the Land" series. There will be cookies, good times and lots of opportunity to get your holiday books signed by local writers!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

On the board of the NorthWords Writers Festival

I'm pleased to say that I am back on the board of directors of the NorthWords Writers Festival. I was one of the original organizers when the festival started in 2006, but have been on hiatus for the past three or four years. We have a full board this year, with 12 members plus an executive director.

In addition to an annual summer festival for readers and writers in Yellowknife, the group is now organizing events throughout the year. Upcoming events include a holiday book signing with local authors at the Yellowknife Book Cellar on Nov. 28, and a workshop on creating northern characters by yours truly on Dec. 5. For updates and details on Northwords events, please keep an eye on the festival website.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

I've gone pro

I'm pleased to advise that the Canadian Authors Association (CAA) has accepted me as a professional member. My main qualification for pro status is my book, The Ugly Truck and Dog Contest and Other Tales of Northern Life. The CAA's professional members include not only writers, but also teachers, cartoonists and photographers, among others.

Speaking of the CAA, I'm off to Victoria tomorrow for the annual CanWrite! conference. I attended CanWrite! in Edmonton two years ago, and was impressed by the quality of the workshops and the panels, and the non-stop access to incredible food. This year, I'm particularly looking forward to the CAA Literary Awards, which are presented during the conference. Annabel Lyon, one of my former writing instructors, has been nominated for MOSAID Technologies, Inc. Award for Fiction. The nomination is for her much-celebrated novel, The Golden Mean. Yay, Annabel!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The beer barge cometh

Who cares about the summer solstice? In Yellowknife, beginning of summer is marked by the arrival of the beer barge!

What is the beer barge, you ask? Well, back in the olden days (before the highway reached all the way to Yellowknife), most goods were barged across Great Slave Lake. The lake, of course, freezes during the winter. Prospecting and mining being thirsty work, liquor supplies usually ran out by late winter or early spring. So Yellowknifers waited for spring break up . . . and that first barge across the lake carried a much-anticipated shipment of beer.

Last year, the NWT Mining Heritage Society resurrected the tradition by re-enacting the arrival of the barge and holding a fab barbecue with live music . . . and beer! Members of the society - and others - wear costumes, and a good time is had by all.

Yesterday marked the 2010 arrival of the beer barge (photo above). Below is a shot of some "authentic Yellowknifers" stepping off the boat, with the contestants for best costume in the bottom photo.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

NorthWords highlights

Quite the whirlwind last weekend, with all that was happening with the Northwords Writers Festival.


Writing a new work and reading it at the ghost story open mic . . . Nice compliment from a member of the audience . . . Sharing a mic with Saskatchewan writer Sharon Butala, storyteller James Pokiak of Tuktoyaktuk, local writer Jamie Bastedo . . . Meeting Deborah Webster, children's author, anthropologist and sister of my old friend, Linda . . . Annabel Lyons's fabulous shoes . . . Launch of Annelies Pool's book, iceberg tea . . . Launch of Mindy Willet/James Pokiak/Tessa Macintosh's new book, Proud to be Inuvialuit . . . Ivan Coyote's funny and compassionate stories . . . Bob Barton's children's tales, always told with flair . . . Hearing why Steve Sanderson decided to tackle the topic of suicide in his graphic novels . . . Novelist Cathleen With's gentle handling of characters on the edge . . . The ever-present Richard Van Camp, untiring booster of the northern writing community . . . Judith Drinnan, owner of the Yellowknife Book Cellar, making sure everyone had a chance to buy our books . . . busy . . . fun . . . looking forward to next year.

Monday, May 31, 2010

NorthWords this week

The fine folks who organize the NorthWords Writers Festival have a full line-up, starting this Thursday. Visiting authors include Giller Finalist Annabel Lyon, Novelist and Memoirist Sharon Butala, Storyteller Ivan E. Coyote, Children’s Author and Storyteller Bob Barton, Comic Book Writer/Artist Steve Sanderson and Novelist Cathleen With. Local authors include Richard Van Camp, Jamie Bastedo, Bren Kolson, Annelies Pool, Deborah Webster, Mindy Willett and James Pokiak . . . and me!

On Thursday evening I'll be reading a shiny, brand-new ghost story called "Haunted Hill Mine" at the "Woooooo, scary!" open mike at Javaroma, starting at 8 p.m. Free dessert and coffee, so come on down. If you have a ghost story you'd like to read, bring it along - we'd like to hear it.

Saturday morning I'm moderating a panel during which we will answer that perpetual and perplexing question: why short stories? ("Why the heck not?" is the short answer.) Panelists include Annabel Lyon, Ivan E. Coyote and Cathleen With.

Sunday morning I am on another panel that looks at what's new hot in the world of northern books.

Be sure to check out the full schedule on the NorthWords website. There are workshops with the visiting authors, lunch with the literary ladies, family barbecue and more, more, more!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Suddenly . . . it's summer

Or almost. I was out of town for a couple of weeks in mid-April, and returned home to find the snow melted, the winter gravel swept from the streets, and people riding their bicycles. My bike's all ready to go, so I'll be cycling to work as of tomorrow.

One thing though. Kayaks and canoes are sprouting from the roofs of cars and trucks all over town. I live next to the water, and I can tell you that no one's going boating any time soon. Even my little yellow kayak won't be able to make it through the narrow stretch of water along the thick winter ice. Our boating season is so short that hope springs eternal, I guess.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Just another spring weekend in Yellowknife

Gotta love Yellowknife - there's always so much to do. Yesterday morning I attended a workshop by award-winning poet Randall Maggs. This afternoon Pierre and I climbed to the top of Bush Pilots' Monument . . . watched a dog team return to town . . . saw a bush plane land . . . visited the Snow King's Castle, last day before closing . . . went for a walk around the Old Town. Why live any place else?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Reading at the public library on Thursday

I will be reading at the Yellowknife Public Library this Thursday with visiting poet Randall Maggs, and local writers Jamie Bastedo and Bren Kolson.

Thursday, March 25, 2010
Yellowknife Public Library Meeting Room
7:00 p.m.

In anticipation of spring (spring is on its way, isn't it?) I will be reading an excerpt from my short story "Fireweed."

The event is organized by the NorthWords Writers Festival.

See you there!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Caribou Carnival = cold, cold, cold!

Caribou Carnival weekend is now over, and Yellowknife is back in the deep-freeze.

There's a bizarre phenomenon in this town - it doesn't matter how nice the weather may be in early March (and it was great this year), the temperature always drops for Caribou Carnival. I went out to Frame Lake on Saturday and Sunday to take photos of the start of the Diavik 150 Canadian Championship Dog Derby, and the cold temperatures combined with a sharp little wind meant frosty fingers and toes. Many years ago, I was working a fund-raising bingo in a tent at Caribou Carnival and the dabbers froze - had to warm them up in front of the Herman Nelson heater before play could continue. Had the chills for days after that episode. I swear, if they held Caribou Carnival in June, the temperature would still drop to minus 30.

The carnival seemed a bit subdued this year. The two main attractions were the dog race and the French association's much-loved cabane à sucre (nothing like gooey maple toffee to keep you warm). No Ugly Truck and Dog Contest this year, which was a disappointment for me. Maybe next year.

Here's a photo I took during yesterday's race - one of the dog teams took a detour off the course, right in front of us. Oddly, another dog team did same thing in pretty much the same place a couple of minutes later. Wonder what they were after.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Now a member of The Writers Union of Canada

I am pleased to advise that I have recently been accepted as a member of The Writers Union of Canada. The union is a national organization that represents people who write books. And that's the key to membership - you have to have had a book published by a trade or university press to join. The publication of my short story collection The Ugly Truck and Dog Contest and Other Tales of Northern Life by Borealis Press means that I am now eligible. The union offers a variety of support services and information to its members. Needless to say, I'm happy to be accepted into an organization that will help me develop as a writer.

You can access my TWUC member page here.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Weird weather

We've had strange weather here in Yellowknife over the past few days. The mercury's been spending a lot of time around the -10C mark. While walking to the gym last week, I noticed the sign outside the YK Centre was showing -4C. Normal temperatures at this time of year range from -18C to -28C.

We've also had a lot of humidity - yes, the damp winter cold dreaded in so many parts of Canada. One of the consolations of living in Yellowknife is that we supposedly have a dry climate - our payback for putting up with -40.

All that humidity, however, means that the trees are coated in frost and look fabulous. Here are a couple of shots I took today.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Weekend workshop with Steven Galloway

We're really lucky here in Yellowknife, with all the high-quality writers who travel through town, sharing what they know.

This weekend we had a workshop with Steven Galloway, whose most recent novel is The Cellist of Sarajevo. Steven teaches writing at the University of British Columbia, so gave us a well-though-out presentation on writing techniques. With any luck his concept of action in story will free me of my fear of plotting. I'm currently revising a story, so we'll see how that goes. He also walked us through the technique of narrative positioning, which takes things well past the basic decisions authors have to make about point of vew. Interesting ideas.

Many thanks to the NorthWords Writers Festival for organizing the event.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Ugly Truck and Dog Contest at the Olympics

Just to clarify - that's The Ugly Truck and Dog Contest (the book) that will be at the Vancouver Olympics, not the Ugly Truck and Dog Contest (the real thing).

I'm pleased to advise that my book will be available through the store at Canada's Northern House until the end of April 2010. Canada's Northern House, located at 100-602 West Hastings, is a visitors' centre that showcases Canada's three northern territories. It officially opened on January 14.

If you're in Vancouver for the Olympic or Paralympic Games, please stop by. Films will be shown at the centre, and there will be investment and tourism events. The northern territories will also be offering special entertainment during the weekend of February 19 to 21.

The only thing left to consider is whether the Ugly Truck and Dog Contest (the real thing) should become an Olympic event. I've certainly seen some world-class creations in the 20-plus years that I've been following the contest. In any case, spring is coming and we can all look forward to this year's ugly trucks and dogs at Caribou Carnival.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

CanWrite! here I come

Just received confirmation that my registration for the Canadian Authors Association CanWrite! 2010 Conference has been processed, and all is in order. The conference will take place in Victoria, B.C., June 24 to 27. I can't believe I actually committed something so far ahead of time. I went to the CanWrite 2008 conference in Edmonton, though, and was extremely impressed. Well-organized, great sessions, wonderful networking opportunities, and the food was fabulous. Spent many hours at the gym afterwards to work off the excess calories. Looking forward to another great one.