Prize winner

Not only can Lee Henderson sing well — see my previous posting about the laptop sing-along — but he also writes well. Lee, a first time novelist, has just been named the winner of the $2,000 Ethel Wilson Prize for excellence in fiction at the annual B.C. Book Prizes. Lee’s book, The Man Game, prevailed over such heavy-duty entries as The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway and Red Dog, Red Dog by Patrick Lane. The other finalists in the fiction category — all deservedly recognized for their work — were Andreas Schroeder for Renovating Heaven and Paul Headrick for That Tune Clutches My Heart. Congrats to Lee for joining the pantheon.

Laptop sing-along

Banff is on my mind again. In a few days, I will be heading up there to chat about nonfiction with a group of fellow writers.

We call ourselves the Creative Nonfiction Collective. Can’t say I’m a big fan of that unwieldy term, creative nonfiction. We are all widely published, in periodicals, newspaper columns and books. What is our kind of writing if not creative? As J.C. Hallman says, whoever has heard of creative painting? Or creative sculpting? Or the creative play of an instrument? But that’s the name chosen for this branch of the clan, so I’ll live with it until something better comes along. I refer to my kind of writing as narrative nonfiction, but that’s a rather cumbersome term as well. Suggestions, anyone?

I don’t know if we’ll come up with a new name for our group during our forthcoming get-together. We’ve been living with Creative Nonfiction now for five years. But there may be other discoveries in store for us. Last time I was in Banff with a group of writers, all of us recently featured at the WordFest international writers festival, I discovered the joys of the laptop sing-along.

It happened after an evening of socializing and exchanging of trade gossip. I had retired to my room when the phone rang. “You absolutely can’t go bed now,” said the voice at the other end. “You’ve got to come back to the Borgeau Lounge. We’ve just found a piano.” Of course, this was the Banff Centre. There had to be a piano around every corner. The hills are alive with the sound of music, don’t you know. And if there’s one thing writers like to do almost as much as they like to dance, it’s to sing.

We had the talent, the enthusiasm, and the piano we needed to get a sing-along happening. But we didn’t have song sheets. What were we to do for lyrics? How could we have a sing-along without words at our disposal? Enter Google, the search engine without which we would all be spending less time at the computer and more time in the library.

“Let’s do Elvis,” said someone. “Can you play ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love with You’?” Yes, I can play it, but who’s got the lyrics. Lee Henderson had the lyrics. He had his laptop with him, taking advantage of the fact that Wi-Fi abounds throughout this campus in the clouds. As soon as someone yelled out the title of a song, Lee had the lyrics up on the screen in front of him. Others went to their rooms and brought back laptops. “I thought it might seem a bit nerdy at first, but then I thought why not?” said one singer. Five more laptops soon appeared, and now the chorus was in full voice. “Can you sing Leonard Cohen’s ‘Famous Blue Raincoat?’” Nobody can sing Leonard Cohen’s “Famous Blue Raincoat.” But we gave it a try anyhow.

We sang until the sleepy residents of Lloyd Hall complained to security. The man came and asked us, politely, to shut down the music. I have since conducted some research and discovered that this was the first ever laptop sing-along in the recorded history of Canadian writers’ festivals. At least, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. For all the entertainment distractions now available, from flat-screen TVs to iPods, writers still love to do sing-along. Who knew?

WordPress vs Blogger?

Members of a writers’ group I belong to have been touting the benefits of WordPress recently, saying it’s the best blogging software on the market. I get the sense, though, that they haven’t done much experimenting with other blogging applications. I happen to like Blogger because it links to Google, is user friendly, and has easily customizable templates. Has anyone tried both applications? How do they compare? Are there other, even better, applications that one might try?