Helga’s Post # 89: We Vancouverites complain a lot about the weather, mostly to people who don’t live here. The truth is, we want to keep it a secret that Vancouver has some of the most awesome summers anywhere. Let me count the ways:
Two or three months of almost uninterrupted blue skies, balmy temperature hovering around 25C, (77F for non-metric readers), no humidity, no mosquitoes, tons of swimming beaches, perfect sailing waters, barbecues by the ocean, and so much, much more. There is nothing better than biking or walking the scenic Seawall or hiking the 27km of forest trails at Stanley Park ringed by the Pacific Ocean.
In other words, when the sun shines on Vancouver, there are few prettier places on earth. (I should add a qualifier: two of the 5 writers live elsewhere; my comments do extend to Salt Spring Island and the Sunshine Coast, both accessible via a scenic ferry ride from Vancouver). To make the most of it, Vancouverites organize festivals, parties and outdoor adventures throughout the season. They are mostly free and sure to delight, no matter what your hobbies and interests are. You are a music or performing arts lover? Head out to the Vancouver Folk Festival, or the International Jazz Festival. If Shakespeare is your thing, catch ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ at ‘Bard on the Beach’ (this one isn’t free).
If there is one event that defines summer in Vancouver, it’s the international Celebration of Lights fireworks competition: three nights of the best fireworks displays you’ve ever seen. Lighting up the sky over English Bay in incredible colour compositions, the annual event has become one of the most prestigious fireworks competitions in the world. Afterwards, head to one of the summer night markets, immensely popular with Vancouver’s legions of foodies and visitors alike.
What has this got to do with writing? In case you are wondering: I have not changed my genre to travel writing or joined Tourism British Columbia. It’s just that I do love my adopted city, having emigrated from land-locked Austria to this west coast jewel many years ago. I still recall my first summer here. I almost instantly turned into a ‘beach bum’, spending time every day of the week at Second Beach, making friends and playing volleyball all summer long.
But there is a link to writing too. One of the events I wrote about in my last blog post is the Harmony Arts Festival at the Millennium Park right at the ocean in West Vancouver. Now in its 24th year, the event is a must visit for artists and art lovers of all stripes and types.
After a quick browse through the dozens of stalls offering paintings and innovative handmade jewelry, I made a beeline to the large open-air tent announcing the site of the North Shore Writers Association. About fifty or more people were seated inside, listening intently to authors and workshop leaders. Here, finally, I was face to face with so many other writers in my community as well as local authors.
A special moment.
I did not sit down, as all chairs were taken, but more so because I wanted the chance to talk to the dozen or more authors seated at tables on the periphery, promoting and selling their books. They were eager to talk to me in hushed tones, so as not to disrupt the speakers. This was a golden opportunity to learn about their different publishing experiences.
As you may guess, most were self-published. I had heard only one or two names before, let alone seen title pages of their books. But they had their books out on the table, neatly stacked, displaying decent, attractive covers. They handed out the usual trinkets; bookmarks mostly, and occasionally pretty fridge magnets once they sensed your interest in their books. I chatted at length with most of them. A sociable bunch, eager to tell me about their writing career, their success, and yes, frustrations. As I made my rounds, I picked up some common themes:
Uphill battle (their words), little or no money made yet (and even having spent some of their own to get ‘published’). But all seemed optimistic that their breakthrough would come sooner or later. Their love for the craft came through loud and clear. Would they give up writing even in the face of no financial (or negative) rewards? Of course not! The idea seemed preposterous. I went on to the next issue important to me: What was their support system?
Most of them belong to a writers’ group! That’s what keeps them going when things get a little tough; when motivation is on the wane; when friends ask them how their ‘hobby’ is going, and perhaps it’s time for a change; when they may not be as fit as some of their friends who go to the gym every day.
It defines them as writers. As members of a clan.
There was one traditionally published author present, Cea Sunrise Person, whose bestselling memoir, North of Normal, was released three months ago by HarperCollins – a huge success. Her hardcover book shows her as a child, growing up in the north of British Columbia. Daughter of an unwed 16-year old hippie mom, this is a heart-wrenching story of the eccentric free-spirited life of the sixties and how she survived it. I interviewed her about her efforts of getting published. It took her several years from when she first submitted her manuscript until she found an agent. This agent, based in New York, did nothing much to sell her book, so after a considerable time (I forgot how long, it may have been years), she switched to another, also New York based agent. This one managed to sell her book to HarperCollins in no time at all. At this point she has about 5,000 hardcover copies in print, as well paperback and a Kindle edition. Judging from reviews, she will have many more sold in no time.
So, yes, she said, it seemed to take forever to get published. After the first agent, she doubted herself, almost giving up. As it turned out, the book was simply too good.
I love a writer’s success story, even if it takes time to get there. And talking to Cea and the other authors, I felt a true kinship. I was proud to be part of the clan. And happy to have my writers’ group.