Shawn L. Bird

Original poetry, commentary, and fiction. All copyrights reserved.

poem-inaccurate January 31, 2017

Filed under: Poetry — Shawn L. Bird @ 11:37 am
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You hear a story

and cling to this narrative,

gripping each element as deep truth

fundamental reality

excuse for your frailty

But it’s fiction

and no matter how loudly you shout

your warped interpretation

insist that white is black,

it won’t transform into fact.

It will only dance to a rhythm of jack boots,

and the sounds of breaking glass.


poem-bangles August 20, 2015

Filed under: Poetry — Shawn L. Bird @ 2:44 pm
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Three brass bangles

Two copper bangles

Artisan wrought

a mature gift to a teenaged babysitter

who couldn’t quite pull them off,

but they stayed in the jewelry box a fond memory

of adorable little boys, a polished professional couple, and a spotless, earthy home.

Enter small daughter to whom the jewelry box

was full of magic, and bangles were magic rings set for a journey.

Journey they did!

What mystical adventure were the copper bangles on for a decade or two?

Four houses later they re-appear in my jewelry box.

If only they could talk.


quote- loud stories October 20, 2014

Filed under: Quotations,Writing — Shawn L. Bird @ 11:16 pm
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The more she wrote, the louder the stories seemed to grow, swirling in her mind, pressing against her head, anxious for release.  She didn’t know whether they were any good and in truth she didn’t care.  They were hers, and writing them made them real somehow.  Characters who’d danced around inside her mind grew bolder on the page.  They took on new mannerisms she hadn’t imagined for them, said things she didn’t know they thought, began to behave unpredictably.

Kate Morton The Forgotten Garden p. 326


the fundamental fiction July 13, 2013

In love with a fictional character?


Don’t you know that


objects of our desire

are fundamentally fictional?


is a time of great performance,

convincing the other,

showing the best face,

doing things you’ve never done

(and won’t do again)

pretending you love each moment

to impress the object of your desire.

Love is always


We love what we wish

it to be.

If we’re lucky,

when rose lenses are lost,

what we created in dream

bears enough

resemblance to reality

that truth

becomes better

than fiction.



In response to a Tweet about all the wild Outlander fans in a tizzy about Jamie Fraser coming to life.  I was thinking how we fictionalize real people all the time.


sensory sex writing: tips from Diana Gabaldon May 18, 2013

Filed under: OUTLANDERishness,Writing — Shawn L. Bird @ 7:22 pm
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Diana Gabaldon posted on Facebook today that she’s writing an ebook about writing sex scenes.  As an example, she posted a selection that appeared to contain most of the “How to Write Sex Scenes” article she wrote for Chatelaine that she has posted on her website .  If the title of this post drew you here, and you just want to hear how to write sex scenes, head right to that article.

Her  basic premise is that sex scenes are about emotional connectiveness, not the sexual act, so a sex scene isn’t about the sex, it’s about something else, and there are ways to amp up the emotional quotient of a scene to show that.  She advocates the Rule of Three: include three senses in the descriptions and the scene will be rich and evocative.

In the ensuing comments, Diana made some interesting observations that I’ve been pondering.  Teacher Patricia Davis said she coaches her students to follow the methods Diana espouses and Diana responded,

Diana on writing emotion

 “the key to writing strong emotion is restraint.  You actually don’t write “about” emotion, you just show it happening.  You don’t want to get between the reader and the emotion, is what it comes down to, so the writing can’t show.”

It’s the old adage about showing not telling.  Show the emotion, don’t tell about it, but don’t show it in such a way that the writing is apparent.  Like cameras and microphones appearing  in the frame in your t.v. shows, if the writing technique is obvious, it kills the magic of the illusion.

I have to confess, the more workshops I take on writing, and the more authors I interact with, the pickier I become as a reader.  I know what should be done and whether I manage to do it in my own work (fingers crossed!) I want excellence in what I read now.  Like an amateur magician, I’m harder to fool and less tolerant of incompetence.

There are tricks and tips out there like the Rule of 3 that she outlines in the article.  Writing isn’t magic.  You don’t put things on the page and have them perfect immediately.  Writing is a craft, and you must practise it in order to be good at it.  To a compliment about her writing and observations by Magsasakang Pinoy, who said if he wrote, he’d follow her suggestions, she responded,

Diana on writing

“There are really two parts to writing fiction: finding the story, and then getting it from your head onto the page, in such as  way that it arrives more or less intact in the reader’s head <g>  I don’t know that you can teach anyone how to tell stories, but you can certainly teach them the craft of putting words on a page.”

It’s a little like Oz requesting we “pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.”  But even if we know ‘how’ we can still be manipulated by a master hand wielding the craft to create the magic.   A weak writer will have us stalking up to pull back the curtain and shout, “Ah ha!  I knew it!” but a strong writer will leave us happily suspending our disbelief as the magic unfolds.  When the scene is over we blink happily back to real life, and savour the mastery we’ve just experienced, even more impacted than the non-writer reader, because writers know just how skillfully we’ve been manipulated (and we LOVE it when it happens!).

We are so lucky to live in a time when writers can use social media to interact with their readers, and when it is so easy to give and to receive coaching and encouragement!  I am thankful and awed on a daily basis.

(Thanks for staying with me.  Now go read Diana’s article if you haven’t already, and I’ll get back to editing Grace Awakening Myth.  I need to use that Rule of Three in a few places!).  🙂



poetry or prose? April 2, 2013

Filed under: Commentary — Shawn L. Bird @ 12:38 am
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So what’s your preference?

The last few weeks I’ve had a focus on poetry on the blog, as a bit of an experiment.

Now that it’s National Poetry Month, in my typical contrary fashion, I will be switching to prose.

This is because I am participating in Camp NaNoWriMo this month.  Instead of the punishing 50,000 word goal of November’s event, Camp allows us to pick our own goals, and I’m going for 25k, which should be much more easily accomplished.  I will count blogs, articles, and fiction in one jumble of word count, and separate them out later.

My question is, what do you like to read here?  Do you prefer poetic ramblings, or commentary?  Do you like fiction samples or pings of other people’s amazing work?

I’m eclectic, but in the blog world, niches are good.  It’s easy for your audience if you’re consistent in your offerings.  It’s hard for me, because niches bore me.

Help me decide my direction and give me your opinon.  What is your favourite thing on


Fictional truths March 3, 2013

March is Literacy Month in the world of Rotary, and there is an interesting article in this month’s  The Rotarian magazine.  It quotes cognitive psychologist Keith Oatley saying,

…reading more fiction enables you to understand other people better.  Fiction is about exploring a range of circumstances and interactions and characters you’re likely to meet.  Fiction is not a description of ordinary life; it’s a simulation.

Well, duh.  Any writer could tell you that.  My husband, who has a psychology degree, vets my characters and makes sure I am keeping consistent psychological profiles and responses.  I write teen fantasy, mind you.  Even those of us crafting fictional worlds do so with care.

Our worlds are crafted to give our readers an opportunity to explore another life, other responses, other realities.

I find it vaguely amusing that the professional business world may not have realised that there is a reason literature is in the curriculum.  It would behove more of our leaders to pay close attention to the lessons of Orwell’s 1984, for example.  A more well-read population should also be quicker to recognise the danger signs they’ve seen in literature.  That’s why I’m a high school English teacher.  Along side the history teachers, I aim to provide warnings and inspiration.  To raise the next generation to see with clear eyes and communicate their vision with well-chosen words.

Later in the article they quote Oatley quoting Aristotle, “History…tells us only what has happened, whereas fiction tells us what can happen, which can stretch our moral imaginations and give us insights into ourselves and other people.”  He adds that fiction “measurably enhances our abilities to empathize with other people and connect with something larger than ourselves.”

Hear. Hear.


Work cited:

Bures, Frank.  “The Truth about Fiction.” The Rotarian.  Vol 191 No. 9  March 2013.  pp.29-30.

PS. It behoves me to mention that ‘behove’ is the British spelling of ‘behoove.’


So, whatcha writin’ in that NaNoWriMo thing, anyway? November 6, 2012

Thought you might like to see what’s coming along.  Ben is now at University of Calgary with his friends Paul and Ryan.  (Craigie Hall is the music building). Grace is living in the Shuswap with her Auntie Bright.  If you’re new to the story, you should know that Grace and Ben are connected telepathically.  Ben is the earthly realm form of the demi-god Orpheus.  He’s narrating.


I was walking down a corridor in Craigie Hall when a stab of pain crashed into my head.  I staggered into the wall, and grabbed for support.

A girl rushed over to me, “Are you okay?”

I shook my head, gasping, and she guided me to a bench.  I dropped my head between my knees.  “I’ll be okay.  It’s fine.”  The pain wasn’t mine, it was reverberating from Grace.  She didn’t know yet how to completely control her side of our connection.  Her calls to me were generally hesitant and gentle.  I had to be fully open to catch her tentative yearnings in my direction.  This time, her anguish exploded with her full power.  Without any guards up against it, she had blown me over with the image that was filling her head: a girl with brightly coloured hair, twisted into dreadlocks in the hallway of her school.

“Grace!”  I shouted back into her mind.

“Everything is okay, Ben,” she thought in reply.

“Who was that?” or what was that?  It was something from the Other Realm, that was clear enough, but what was it doing in Grace’s new school?  Had they followed her and sent something evil to attack her there?  It was supposed to be safe there!

“I don’t know.  What are you worried about, Ben?”

“Nothing,” I spit out. I needed help.  Grace needed help.  Right now.  I’ll talk to you later.”

I pushed into the men’s washroom.  Thankfully it was empty.  I spun into the Other Realm igniting the room with light as I vanished.  In the flashing glow, I didn’t notice that someone had pushed through the door.

“Mars!” I shouted into the Other Realm.  “Where are you!” 

Alexandros sauntered out from the foggy gloom.  “He’s busy.”

“What do you mean busy?  He’s needed.  Something is wrong in the Shuswap.  Grace is in trouble.”

Xandros nodded, pursing his lips.  “Ah yes.  We figured that would happen.”

“What do you mean?” I snarled at him, nostrils flaring.  “You knew?”

“Calm down.  This is exactly why you make such a terrible guardian.  You lose all sense when there’s danger.   You have to be cool and cautious when there’s trouble.  You can’t go all wild and hysterical.”  He shook his head at me.

“Well, I’m not a guardian anymore, am I?  Mars is.  And he’s missing!”

Xandros punched me, hard in the bicep. 

I raised my fist to return a shot, but his guard was up, and he caught it easily in his fist.  “You’re such an idiot,” he said, holding my fist tightly in his.  “Where do you think Mars is?”

“What?”  I loosened the tension in my arm, and he let my fist go.  “Is he at Grace’s school?”

Xandros rolled his eyes.  “He’s doing his job, O.  Now it’s time for you to leave Grace in our hands.  You go back to Earth and do your job.  Go back to your nest of musicians and make pretty melodies.

I narrowed my eyes at him.

“He’s guarding her?”

He nodded.  “She’s in good hands.”

“Better than mine, you mean?”

He smirked.  “You said it, I didn’t.  Go on.  It’s under control.”

I studied his face.  He was an irritating, obnoxious ass, but he was reliable in a fight.  Between Mars and Alexandros, Grace was in better hands than she’d been when I was her guardian.  It just wasn’t easy to trust the girl I loved out of my sight, though.  Not when either of them would happily take her from me for themselves.

I nodded.  “All right then.  Thank you.”

I spun back into the washroom, narrowly missing landing with my foot in an unflushed toilet.  As I  stepped off the rim a voice greeted me.

“Are you going to tell me what the hell that’s about?”

I snapped my head to the speaker and sighed, “Hi, Paul.”

He raised an eyebrow.  “Hello.  Don’t change the subject.”

“Is there a subject?”

“Well, apparently my best friend can vanish in flashes of light and reappear in toilets like some kind of janitorial Superman.  I’d say that’s a pretty interesting subject.”

I swallowed.  “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain…” I intoned in a hypnotic voice, “You didn’t see anything…”

“Bullshit,” he said conversationally.


“We’ve been friends for what?  Four years?  We’ve been there for each other.  You help me out.  I help you out.  Never once did you ever mention that you had magical powers.”

“You believe in magical powers?  I could have sworn you were more sensible than that.  Do you believe in fairies, too?”

“Nope.  But I saw you come into this room.  When I opened the door, I saw that weird light.  You were glowing and then it…swallowed you.  You were no longer in the room.  I looked.  I even lifted up the lid on the damned toilet tank, Ben!  You were not here.  Then there’s another flash, and there you are, pulling your foot out of a toilet bowl like you were visiting the Ministry of Magic or something .  I know what I saw, bro.”  He crossed his arms across his chest and watched me.   His face showed confusion, irritation, and just a little bit of fear.  “You weren’t at the Ministry of Magic, were you?”

I sighed.  “I can’t explain, Paul.”

“Is it something to do with Grace?”

Wasn’t everything to do with Grace?  I took a deep breath.  “You have to trust me, Paul.  I can’t tell you anything about this.  It’s not safe for you to know anything.”

“So Ryan was right?  We are in danger around you?”

I shrugged my shoulders.  “I don’t know what the hell is going on here.  It makes no sense.  No one should be after me.  They’re still after Grace, that’s for certain.  You should be safe with me, but you might not be if you know everything.  Like who I am.”

He studied me, reading my eyes to see if I was lying to him.  “Who you are or what you are?”

I raised my hands is silent appeal.

Finally, he nodded, and unfolded his arms.  “We’re late for [ subject ] class.  Come on.”  He pushed open the door.


He nodded.  “We’ve been friends for four years, after all.  That’s got to be worth something.”

I smiled.  “It is.  I’ve never lied to you Paul.  I’m not starting now.”



NaNoWriMo total for day 6: 589  words (November total: 9013)


Historical Fiction- Riding the Wave by CC Humphreys workshop notes October 30, 2012

This post is based on my notes from  CC Humphreys’ workshop “Historical Fiction- Riding the Wave” at Surrey International Writers’ Conference, October 21, 2012.  If you were at this workshop, and think I’ve misrepresented anything, please let me know in the comments below!  In places my notes were cryptic!

C.C. (Chris) Humphreys has written several styles of historical fiction:

epic: A Place Called Armageddon

biography: Vlad

swashbuckler: Jack Absolute series

Writing is about character.  Fit them into historical context.  What’s important is people in a situation, whether the time is 500 years ago or 5000.  They’re still people.

Tell yourself, “I’m a modern novelist I write for today I address today’s issues.”  Whatever the theme is emerges sometimes years after.  You see the thematic threads later.  What you’re writing is set in a previous context, but it reflects today’s concerns

Research- how why what

Look up stuff .  Anything you use is as a tool for telling a story.  Diana Gabaldon describes a  master who seemed to believe for history books, “I’ve suffered for my research, now it’s your turn.”  The research Chris does gets him going, but in the end research has to be a tool of the characters.  You can’t appreciate the character’s journey without their context.

No tangents and sidebars! If the history needs to be there to make sense of the character’s experience, then make an active choice around it.  For example, in A Place Called Armageddon, he had to address the schism between the branches of Christianity.  Orthodox and Roman churches governed people’s lives in Constantinople, Constantine. said he’d covert to Roman Catholicism if Europe would support him in war.  So the information must be given.  Another character needs to tell the information.  In Vlad– the Balkan history was complex and necessary.  He had to use structural device to oscillate between fact and story.  In his case the device was either friend, lover, or confessor gathered in a basement talking about their experiences.

There are stakes involved in the research.  It’s all about being active in historical research.  In his case, he would bring the reader back to the dungeon to discuss needed information.  People need the info, you tell it very actively through conversation, etc

With his first novel The French Executioner, he spent 6 years researching.  He was scared of writing it.  He felt he had to research until he knew everything, but it’s not necessary!  It’s just procrastination!    Do enough to get going, but then start writing, and fill holes as you need to.  Julian Barnes said, “History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation.”  Facts are loose.  Our history has been selected as fact by people who wanted to tell a story.

Write the best book you can write.  The excitement is rearranging the facts to suit the story.  If someone writes you later and says, “This is wrong,” so what?  You wrote a book!  Don’t do anything egregious, but it’s not your prime concern.  Your concern is telling a good story.

There is so much that you don’t have control over, simplify to what you can control.  Your attitude is controllable.  Dismiss as absurd that there is a panel of experts ready to shred your book.  They don’t exist. They’re not relevant.  Ignore them.

Do the research.  It doesn’t open telling details.  It’s a springboard to the imagination

Some tips:

For the rhythm and vocabulary of the time, read the plays written in the time period to see how people speak  buzz words, ways of talking.

For the emotional life of the period, read the poetry of the period

To the reader- dramatic reading, to give the context.  it’s the compact with  the reader, if you have a obscure time period, give an active explanation to tell them what they need to know.

Put your character in peril!


When handling all the different elements, break down the process, simply because it’s easy to be overwhelmed.  Novel writing is like mountain climbing. First ascent should be as free form as possible.  Writing the novel will give you more ideas for the novel.

Psychology of time-

Different psychology is evident in different periods.  People’s beliefs and attitudes of the time aren’t necessarily the same.  Don’t put anachronistic things into period character’s mouths, but your readers are modern.  Shakespeare still relevant because at their core the stories are about people.  People don’t change.

Plausible for the time and the people.  Address details in subsequent drafts if they seem anachronistic.  Balance it out: take the character on a journey so a modern change happens logically.  Emotions don’t change.  We still have primal emotions.

Should you go visit the place where your story is set?

How you arrive there is tricky.  Even if you visit the place where your story is set, it won’t be the same.  Go if you can, though.  If you go, there are very different atmospheres to absorb.  There are sounds and scents.  Engage your senses.  If you can’t go, it’s trickier, but we have a modern world with amazing things on the internet.

Use an Aide memoire while you’re there, or heck, write a whole scene.  Make notes, record your feelings, and then months later you’ll be able to pull it out and put it into the story.

Readers who love historical fiction are after characters, but also time and place.  Pay attention to how time and place has changed.   Consider what is the same?

The goal is an intimate epic.

If you feel you want to abandon the book you’re writing for another project, are you being distracted by something shiny bright and new- or just stuck?  If you can’t go on, that’s fair, but don’t be distracted just to avoid doing the hard work.  You will get to places when you just need to plough through.

Writing dialogue- balance ye olde English with clearly understandable writing.  Personally, you’ve got to be a little careful with it, but not so much that you restrict your character’s voice.  Let them say whatever you want in the first draft.  Slang is just ways we’ve come to get the point across.  Find something they can say in 1692.  Cussing can be a problem – soldiers need a certain saltiness – something analogous to the act of sex, but do the terms bring you out of the time period?  Make a choice for your reader.

Recommended reading for finding vocabularly: Shakespeare’s  Glossary of words by David Crystal

The further back you go in time, the easier it is, especially if it’s a foreign tongue.  Find an equivalent phrase to create a reasonably easy way for your characters to speak.  Make them more articulate than normal people on the street, though many were well educated.  In novels- it’s about style, right.  Find the truth in the character and then the character will speak truthfully.  Be sure you offer readability for the modern reader, while honouring the age you’re writing about.

Consider the marketing line in one sentence: e.g.  “Elizabethan spy novel.”   They expect your character to be unexpected.  It’s all about exploration, pushing the boundaries!

e.g. Jack Absolute:- Double O 7 of the 1770s

The reader can figure out the words you use.  They’re not stupid.

Audience member: Or you can do what Diana Gabaldon did and write a book that explains the first 4 books.

Chris: But that’s Diana you see.  She doesn’t sleep.


July 18, 2012

Filed under: Literature — Shawn L. Bird @ 12:24 pm
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“Writing is not like painting where you add. It is not what you put on the canvas that the reader sees. Writing is more like a sculpture where you remove, you eliminate in order to make the work visible. Even those pages you remove somehow remain” – Elie Wiesel

I have have read Wiesel’s book Night, which is thin, and yet packs a far more powerful punch than many fat works.  For non-fiction, his quote is clearly true:  what you leave out is as significant as what’s left in.  For fiction, however, when everything has to be put in from the author’s imagination, a whole world must be created.  There is no rock to take away from.  There is only dirt, which must be formed into being, like men formed from clay.


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