Thursday, September 23, 2010

WritersFest Kingston, Judy Fong Bates, The Year of Finding Memory

"Nice shoes," said the passerby as I walked down the windowed hallway, distracted by the water views outside wondering if I should be out paddling instead, as I made my way to my first Master Class, The Shape of Memory, with Judy Fong Bates at this year's Kingston WritersFest, from September 22-26. That's the second time someone has said that to me in a month, and only when I wear these shoes. They are a comfortable soft brown suede. Naturalizer. Now if only I could get Blogger to get the orientation of the photo right! The shoes are supposed to be at the bottom of the pic.

"What's a Master Class?"

A class given by a master or is it for master writers? What's the definition of a master? Is it age related, experience related, how many books you've published or all of the above?

It didn't seem to matter, they let me in anyway. I'm a blogger. Does that count for anything . . . yet?

Judy asked the same question, as she still considers herself a novice writer with "only" three published books to her name . . . so far. I think one great book makes a master faster than how many books you publish.

Judy spent about an hour telling us the story of her book, "The Year of Finding Memory". As I was listening, I was thinking, "She is a master storyteller. And this is really interesting, but now I won't need to buy her book. Is it wise to tell us so much of your story?"

I guess so. I bought her book afterwards, and I hadn't planned to. This is not a book review. I'm here with a host of people who can do that way better than myself. This post is about surprise. It is about sudden feeling and emotion that you can feel from the author and the people in the room as she speaks.

The sudden surprise and emotion that overcame me, and was not entirely my own, occurred when Judy offered to answer people's questions about her experience in writing a memoir about her family.

One writer asked her, "What did you learn about yourself?" Judy responded that the more she learned about her parent's lives in China, the more removed she felt from them as the people she thought she knew, the people who brought her to Canada as a five year old in 1955. After her father's suicide, she went back to China to learn more about her parents and her roots. The people she discovered there were so different from the ones she knew in Canada.

It was a terrible loss.

You could feel it from the author and you could relate. Everyone could. You could hear a sniffle or two and my eyes went red and burned too. As a teenager, Judy wanted to write the story of her mother's interesting life, and her memoirs of her Chinese family. It wasn't until 40 years later that she published "her own" story, the one that evolved into a very different story than she thought she would write.

So how do you find a book?

Everyone has their own technique. I try to bump into them. I don't go looking for them. I let them find me. When they do, I stop and wonder why. I open random pages and quickly read a sentence or two from random paragraphs. Not in order. If I make it through most of the book and still want to know more, I buy it.

And how do you move on and clear your palette for the next thing you will discover?

There were about 25 writers in the room, (Do I count? Make that about 26.), spread out across three large round tables. Writers are interesting people and I couldn't help but wonder, "Do they paddle? What an interesting paddle crew they'd make!" This blogger is also the Baffin Paddler. It surprises me how the two are so different and yet so connected. But, we don't wear the same types of shoes!

Happy reading and writing!
Peggy Varner
Publisher of WritersBlogque

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