Wanderings

Aloha Wanderwell Fink-Jensen

The Adventure Begins

I mentioned several months back that a new book was in the offing. Well, the offing has turned on. Aloha Wanderwell: The Border-Smashing, Record-Setting Life of the World’s Youngest Explorer (in-breath) was released on October 11th. Published by Goose Lane Editions, the book is a biography of a Canadian woman who led such an adventurous, swashbuckling life that, were it a novel, you would hurl it at the wall because of its sheer unbelievability: trans-continental adventures, spies, sex, murder, conspiracies, parking on the back of the Sphinx, movie stars… all in one little book. Thankfully, research backs up the story and made it fun to write. Opportunities to tell a tale like this don’t come along very often, so I count myself one lucky writer.

Since this blog is largely about writing craft, I have some blog posts coming up describing the book from a “writing of” perspective – and trust me, that itself was a madcap adventure. In the meantime, my writing partner has created a super website about all things Aloha. You can check that out at:

www.wanderwellexpedition.com

I was interviewed on CBC this morning. You can check that out here.

speakgraphic

Stand and Deliver: How to talk without speaking.

It’s been a tumultuous few months – new writing, new projects, a novel underway, protests on the mountain where I live, interviews with media worldwide, kooky criticism from the Premier, Christmas, and even signing with a new agent. A new agent for me, that is. Carolyn herself isn’t new. But she’s not old either. I mean she’s old enough to be an agent but not so old that she reminisces about the days of huge advances and rock star authors. Which were, I must admit, interesting times…

Okay, that’s enough.

Even though there was a point to that, which I’ll return to in a moment. What I was saying before I indulged my “right parenthesis deficit disorder” is that part of the reason I haven’t been blogging is that I’ve been writing other things. Crazy, interesting, and exciting things that I bet you’d love to get your filthy mitts on. And you will. I’ll keep you posted on when, where, and how. For now, just know that my Twitter hashtag is for reals: #amwriting.

Well, except for last weekend.

Because last weekend I was taking a public speaking workshop called Stand, Speak, Soar! That’s right, I actually volunteered to spend two days with knocking knees and a papery mouth. I expected an intensive course on the usual technique-focused stuff: how to engage your audience without hemming and hawing, how to handle distractions, how to avoid looking like a vapid idiot should you completely forget what you’re saying, how to avoid rambling on so long that your audience forgets what it was you were talking about in the first place. (See above mentioned disorder). But this workshop was different because it wasn’t just about technique.

It was about personal power.

Stand, Speak, Soar is a two day active workshop where each participant makes more than thirty speeches to a room full of strangers. Thirty plus speeches, and only a topic to guide you. Sounds like hell, right? That’s because it was. But only the first couple of times. Before long, and to my great surprise, I found that standing up and bullshitting improvising was a rush. I could get up there and actually think up stuff to say – entertaining and insightful stuff. From quantum physics to psychology to hockey to fermenting. People listened. They even laughed and clapped and cheered. Talk about a boost to the self-confidence!

And yes, I lost my train of thought many times over, but that ended up being a good thing because I learned that I can relax and recover. I can rely on my brain to concoct interesting stories and insights on the fly. Even if I’m clueless about the subject I’m supposed to be speaking on, I am able to present my ignorance in a fun and engaging way. How cool is that?

The implications for writing are obvious.

If I can trust myself to address total strangers with poise, awareness, humor, and a modicum of intelligence, surely I can sit down to a computer screen (or notebook) and start talking. This goes back to something I was saying last year: it doesn’t need to be perfect at first. In fact, it shouldn’t be. This is even more true in writing than in public speaking.

In writing, the important thing is to put a bunch of words on the page. Perhaps it’s an adventure story, or a description of breakfast with Aunt Betty. Perhaps it’s a blog post. (Chris!) Whatever you’re writing, the important thing is to get the words tumbling.

Flow is more important than polish.

(Tweet that!)

A friend of mine likens this first draft to a lump of clay. Ugly, misshapen, and nothing like an ashtray. BUT AT LEAST YOU HAVE THE CLAY. You’ve got something to work with.

Think about that for a second.

What would happen if you tried to make a sculpture bit by perfect bit?

Here’s a perfect hand. Just excellent. You can even see the veins and fingernails! And these ears – golly, they’re perfect! Same with these shoulders – every supple muscle vigorous with life!

But paste these masterworks together and you don’t end up with a masterpiece.

You end up with Frankenstein.

Or not even that – because at least Frankenstein was alive. What you’d have is more like a museum of exquisite body parts. Ew.

So yes, public speaking (and writing) can be about personal empowerment. About learning to trust that our efforts don’t always have to be perfect in order for us to succeed. It’s a great lesson for a writer – especially one prone to putting off his blogging efforts because he thinks he doesn’t have time to make it perfect. And I don’t. So here’s my clay. Misshapen perhaps, but whole and living.

Faerieworlds

It’s called, um, Faerieworlds.

The border guard can barely hide his smirk. “You’re going to fairy what?”

“Faerieworlds,” I say, deepening my voice a little. “It’s a three day festival down in Eugene, Oregon.”

“And what happens there?”

“Well, there’s music and craft vendors and performers. And people dress up in costumes.”

Now the guard is just plain smiling. “So you’re gonna dress up as a fairy for three days?”

“Um, no. I’m going as a steampunk tinker.” My voice is now so deep I’m veering into Barry White territory.

“So those aren’t your wings, then?” He points at some black, lacy dragonfly shaped wings on the seat behind me.

“No, those are mine,” my partner says. “Made ‘em myself.”

To my relief, the guard hands back our passports. “Ok. Have a nice time.”

I say thank you and hit the gas. In my side view mirror I can see him doubled over, laughing.

I don’t blame him. The first time I heard about Faerieworlds I had my own misgivings. Why would I want to go traipsing around with people in Faerie costumes for three days? It didn’t take long for me to change my mind though. Faerieworlds is not about fairies (the Disney sort of winged nymphs with no waist and big tits) but about Faerie: an imaginary and enchanted land.

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dec1932

Long Beach, 1932

On a stormy afternoon in December 1932, a ship leaves the port of Long Beach, California and disappears into a curtain of rain and fog. The boat, a ramshackle 100 foot yacht, veers and pitches over rough seas while a small group of people gather on her port side. They hold tight to railings and listen while a man shouts through the squalls, delivering a eulogy for the dead man at their feet.

At the centre of the little group is a tall, blonde woman dressed in a military style uniform. Behind her black veil she wears an expression that is hard to read: part grief, part anger, part defiance. A few hundred yards away, men aboard another ship watch through binoculars, supposedly monitoring activities, but in fact looking at the statuesque blond whose name and face are on the front page of newspapers around the world. Despite her fame, however, no one knows much about her. How old she is, where she comes from, her relationship to the dead man. Some say she’s driven around the world and has discovered tribes in the Amazon. Others claim she’s a communist revolutionary, or a Hollywood insider, or that she crossed Africa, scaled mountains, survived jail and kidnapping, escaped civil wars and works as a spy. In fact, she is more than all of this. Her name is Aloha Wanderwell. She is one of the greatest explorers of her age.

During her twenty-odd years Aloha has tackled more change and faced more peril than all of Hollywood’s swashbucklers combined. Adventure has been her way of life, her driving passion. Even now, in the cold wet grey, she understands that a larger world is out there: Brazil’s buzzing jungles, India’s colour-sick streets, the sultry cabarets of Paris, the wild dances of African tribes, the cathedral forests of Vancouver Island. These are real places and they live inside her like friends.

Captain Farris’s voice is booming. He reads a passage from Joseph Conrad and then a bugle rings out the taps. Someone is sobbing. The flag is lifted and the sea grass coffin slides down the plank and into the dark waters. There’s a splash, a wash of bubbles, and then nothing. Just a heavy sea and a life vanished. Aloha chokes down her emotions and wonders about what’s next. She could quit, could just go home – except that she has no home. For the last decade at least, home has been the open road, the idea of what might be just over the horizon. Home as a fixed place has not existed for a very long time, perhaps not since her childhood, 1,100 miles north on Vancouver Island. It was eighteen years earlier, before she’d circled the world. Before she’d become famous. Before the US Government started tracking her. Those carefree days before another man’s death had changed her life forever…

aloha-china

[For more information on this story, please  Contact me.]

By Dave Read

African Dreaming

Lake Manyara, Tanzania:

The forest canopy is a lazy tangle of green. Bright splashes of sunlight play against the leaves and branches of African olives, fig trees, wild mangoes, giant junipers. The roof on our vehicle has been raised and everyone is standing, listening to the rustle of branches coming from somewhere in the jumbled underbrush. Our Rover creeps forward, its wheels almost noiseless on the forest track while the scurrying sounds become louder, more emphatic. My eyes search the ground for the animal—perhaps a mongoose or a wild boar. Then, as we round a corner, the animal’s feet appear. Looking up, I find myself face to face with a colossal African elephant, not more than two metres away. He’s sluggishly munching the leaves of a tree that he’s pulled over and doesn’t look particularly surprised to see us. I, on the other hand, am shaking so thoroughly that I can hardly raise my camera to take a picture.

We’ve come to Tanzania’s Lake Manyara National Park as part of a five day safari that will take us to several of the country’s wild places, including the Ngorongoro-Serengeti, Lake Manyara and Tarangire—three of the best game viewing parks in Tanzania. This is not, perhaps, what most people would consider a budget holiday (over $1500 US per person), but the Tanzanian government has made a concerted effort to protect its wilds by keeping prices high and, consequently, traffic low. The result is a less crowded, higher quality experience for visitors. And I reckon the animals appreciate it too.

Our Rover crawls through the Ground Water Forest, so named because of the underground springs and plentiful streams that create this oasis in an otherwise arid landscape. The greenery is so dense it seems vengeful, as if the flowering ginger and hibiscus, the towering Quinine and Antiaris trees were making a point: with enough water this area could explode into elaborate jungle. As it is, the forest ends abruptly at the roadside on our left. To the right is a broad expanse, peopled with bushes, Baobab trees, and a sea of waving grasses. We are five people in one large 4×4, whose raised roof allows us to stand and watch the scenery without leaving the vehicle. During our first 15 minutes skirting the Ground Water Forest, we spot elephant, black colobus monkeys, mongoose, a monitor lizard, dik dik, baboons and numerous species of bird, including the fantastically colourful lilac-breasted roller.

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