Archive for the Category Thoughts


Blog #10 You Can Go Home Again

And love every moment of it!

Here I was at a podium in my hometown of Saint John, N.B. last week. At the back of the Saint John Free Public Library’s main room was my brother Mike (my best fan), my niece Carolyn (who got me into the writing kick in the first place), “cousins” Fred and Anita, schoolmates from elementary and high school, my roommate from first year university, friends I see most years when I return home for a visit, and friends I had not seen for half a century. There were friends of my brothers and sister and parents. There were members of my extended family who once lived in my family home. There were complete strangers from a cruise ship stopping by to see a book launch for a local author’s book called Indian River.

Because I developed my working career out of town, no one had really seen me speak in public nor had they read a word I had written. But they were there. Waiting for me to introduce myself to them as a writer. I was so emotionally lifted by their presence, so grateful that they took the time to come out on such short notice. The friends I asked to round up supporters came through. I had an impressive audience.

The reading selections drew their attention, made them remember their own experiences, made them laugh, and made them curious. Just what I wanted. Then they came up to buy my signed copies. What more could one ask for? The book launch went well.

That was not all. I went to my first high school reunion, fifty years after I graduated with a class of fine fellows from Saint Malachy’s High School in 1960. About one week before returning to my hometown, Canada 411 helped me connect for the first time in over forty years with the one classmate I spent the most time with in my high school days. We chatted on the phone, but he would not be at the reunion he thought. At least we had reconnected. At the Alumni dinner, however, he turned up. We sat together, caught up as much as we could, and chatted with five of our classmates from the past. The next night, we went to The Inn at Shadow Lawn for a reception and dinner party for twenty-five classmates and some of their partners and some friends of our class. Conversation flowed easily, noisily, and happily. For the most part, we felt at home with one another. The cement of good friendships still held. And at least two of the people at the book launch two days before had finished reading my book already and loved it.

Earlier that day, my brother hosted a party of family and friends and neighbours that was thoroughly pleasant and I felt at home again.

When I first arrived in the city earlier in the week, I spent four days with my brother. We chatted, he prepared seafood chowder and a superb breakfast, we did some errands, we watched some World Cup Soccer, we visited the cemetery. We laughed, teased one another, and enjoyed each other’s company. Quality family time. Felt like home.

Blog #8 Ted Kennedy Came to My Grad

In May 1964, Commencement Day at Saint Dunstan’s University, a small Catholic institution in Charlottetown, PEI, Canada, became a little more exciting as the procession of grads, staff, and honorees climbed the steps to enter the hall for the ceremonies. A glance over the shoulders of the seventy plus graduates caught the gleaming smiles of young Senator Ted Kennedy as he responded to the adoring crowds. He was there to receive an honorary doctorate and to address the graduates.

His address highlighted why he was so willing to join the Class of ’64 in its celebrations. First, he outlined the historic connection between PEI and New England that went back to 1900. As a Senator with political blood in his veins, he knew his constituents well. The Speaker of the House of Representatives was John McCormack, born in Souris, PEI. He knew also of the migration of Maritimers for generations to the Boston States, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, or simply Massachusetts. He commented on his delight to learn that nearly 25% of SDU’s enrollment that year was American. (Primarily students from Maine but some from Massachusetts and other states as well.) Second, Senator Kennedy reminded his audience that President Kennedy had been unable to accept his invitation to come to SDU when he had been Senator. Ted Kennedy was there to fulfil a wish his brother had before higher office called him to serve as President of United States. Third, he welcomed the opportunity to speak to Canadian audiences to thank them in a public way for the condolences and prayers they had extended when the Kennedy family and the American people attempted to cope with the assassination of the President a few months before.

History has shown that Ted Kennedy was a remarkably engaging public speaker throughout his career from his time as a thirty-year-old new Senator to his final year as the third longest-serving Senator in American history.

Meeting Senator Kennedy offered insight into why he became such a successful politician in his forty-seven years as a Senator. In time, we learned that he had vision, communication skills, determination, wit and humour, a passion to serve, and an understanding of the power of compromise. He had human frailties and endless charm. But what I learned personally, from my encounter with Ted Kennedy in May 1964, was that he possessed a compelling quality to be a careful listener with a caring way with others he had just met.

After the commencement, the honorees met with senior staff and the senior class executive in a small reception. The Senator was introduced to about fifteen people. I was one. As photographs were being taken, he said, “What are your plans for next year, John?” I responded that I was accepted at graduate school for an MA in English.” As I was answering, I could see my mother (on crutches and recovering from a broken ankle) was now in the room and I gave a subtle wave to a beaming, proud mother. Senator Kennedy turned to me and said, “Is that your mother?” I replied that it was. The careful listener and caring person spoke above the chattering crowd, “Mrs. Dunphy, would you join us for the next photo.” Now how could any person listen to names when introduced to numerous people and recall them at will within minutes without prompting? Only a special politician.

All of you would recognize the handsome young Senator and the woman in crutches in the photograph in my office. I am the one in the cap and gown.

Blog #7 My new old Hero!

Just finished reading David Hackett Fisher’s Champlain’s Dream. For the first time in years, I have a new hero–Samuel de Champlain.   I knew Champlain explored the Maritimes and the Saint Lawrence River and gave many place names to Canadian locations. He was the superb explorer he gets credit for, and so much more. His achievements and the person he proved to become makes him a hero for all times.

His start in the region of Saintonge along the western coast of France helped him develop personal qualities that helped him throughout his life and career. Love of camaraderie, joie de vivre,  and sense of humour characterized the personality that took him through successful encounters with people in the courts of France and Britain as well as on the shores of the St. Lawrence in New France. His experience as a soldier in the civil wars in France at the turn of the 16th century taught him that although courage and skill with tactics, strategies, and weaponry will get you through warfare, it is facing the reality of the futility of war and destruction that will get you through life. So his positive personal qualities along with wisdom made Champlain effective in human interactions throughout his whole life.

As a child and adolescent, he learned navigational and leadership skills in seafaring that saw him survive numerous trans-Atlantic voyages without ever losing a ship. His intelligent loyalty to King Henry IV of France and subsequent rulers and courtiers (like the formidable Richelieu) taught him diplomatic skills he needed in exploring, settling, building, maintaining, and governing New France.

Any lesser person could have the skills and personality of Champlain, but his consistent strengths as a visionary, communicator, and humanitarian transcend so many famous leaders.  For example, when he started to develop New France, it became clear to him that the tribal warfare among the Indians was destructive for human society.  He consistently negotiated with native leaders honestly and nobly until trust became the foundation for peaceful settlement along the St. Lawrence.  Despite the numerous setbacks, Champlain would go back to the basics: tell the truth, govern by law, fight, when necessary,and negotiate for peace.  As chief magistrate in New France, he was judge and jury for murder cases between rogue Frenchmen and native people.  He successfully turned the native people away from a principle of revenge toward some semblance of Christian justice.

Champlain never lost sight of his vision of New France based on respect for individuals, caring for his charges on land and sea, peaceful sharing of land and resources, tolerance and respect for religious practice, responsibility in honest negotiation for the welfare of all. New England, New Spain, New Netherlands demonstrated smaller visions in their interactions with the native people and early settlers in the New World. Even France may have lost the vision at times, but not Samuel de Champlain. Persistence and determination as an explorer and leader paid off in the end. Settlement in New France did prosper and grow, while other European attempts failed and went badly askew. In his early years in New France, his efforts at achieving goals were tempered by a strong scientific attitude regarding agriculture and horticulture and map drawing. In later years, his flexibility and respectful approach to the native people won him great affection and support needed for successful settlement to match his vision for New France.

If one were to Google Samuel de Champlain, one would find six million pages. Over four hundred years, sixteen generations have had their say about Champlain. Fischer’s account benefits from all the books and words written about Champlain in the past. What impresses me is the combination of traits and skills that were tested throughout Champlain’s life in Europe and the New World.   The humanity of Champlain becomes clear as we discover that he was a person who loved and lost and loved again, who sought justice with insight and good heart, who led wisely whether or not he was morally supported or understood by his European superiors, who lived out his dream with imagination, dignity, and intelligence along with the virtues of faith, hope, and charity.

Champlain rises to heroic status in my mind because he was able to lead with integrity without falling for the temptations of greed and ambition and pride when most of his contemporaries did fall. He becomes heroic in his humane treatment of others who were vulnerable or weak. Perhaps he proves most heroic to those who knew and loved him and those who are just getting to know him in modern times by demonstrating how one uses persistence to do good by being good at everything one does.

Blog #6 New Book Launch

My first book launch went very well.  I sold all the books I had.  About 60-70 guests came to Patty’s Pub, formed social groups, ordered food and drinks to entertain themselves for a half-hour while I sold and signed books.

First good decision was choosing a space that is conducive to conversation and listening.  The friendly atmosphere and service by the pub staff made for a pleasant gathering.

Second good decision was to have my son, his wife, my two grandchildren involved and responsible for the sale of books.  They handled money, record of sales, signings to the correct purchaser, delivery to the tables of the signed books.  That meant that the author was free to prepare the oral presentation, mix with guests to welcome them, and to explain how to purchase the books.  It also left my wife free to host people, introduce guests to one another, and to enhance the friendly atmosphere.

The third good decision was to rent a standup microphone, two speakers, and an amplifier for the sample readings  which could be heard in the room by all guests seated.  The rest of the bar (two other rooms) still had access to the washrooms, food and drink service, and lively conversation without the author’s guests straining to hear above the voices of the other patrons.

Fourth decision that helped the presentation was practice on the author’s part and a dress rehearsal.  In the dress rehearsal I dropped my notes and lost my place more than once.  So I typed the selected passages I intended to read on a space smaller than the page of the book and attached the typed passages and introductory comments on the top of pages in the book.  I placed the typed notes on every right page and made the notes stop at natural breaks.

Finally, in my rehearsal someone suggested I use a map to help guests unfamiliar with the setting written about in the book.  I used a travel map and yellow post it notes to identify the changing places of the setting.

I limited the readings to twenty minutes which left ten minutes for questions.  They were solid questions which I was happy to address.  That half hour created lots of lively conversation for the remaining hour and enough time for me to sell and sign the rest of the books.  In the end, the reviews of the book launch were positive.

Blog #5 New Book Release

Interesting how childlike the feelings are when your first book is published.  You smell the ink as you flip the pages, touch the cover, and look at the cover up close and from a distance.  I admit the book seems to be a long-sought treasure to be cherished and enjoyed again and again.

Hope my readers of Indian River see, hear, and smell what my words hoped to create,  feel the changing emotions of the people in the stories, become involved in the conflicts as they intensify and become resolved, and think about the various  issues as they appear in the lives of believable people.

Blog #4 Alice Munro wins Booker

How wonderful that Alice Munro has won the Man Booker International prize.  Her life’s work is being honoured among writers in the British Commonwealth.  What is interesting to me, a writer who is about to publish a short story collection,  is how much interest the short-story is getting recently.  Why does the short story form appeal to me  more than the novel form?

As a first-time writer  preparing to publish, I balked at reading Munro’s  Castle Rock collection as it is a series of linked stories similar to what I was attempting in my  modest collection of stories and reflections in Indian River.  I did read Munro’s stories after I finished writing my book.  I took confidence not in competing with a master like Munro, but in quickly realizing that my people, their life paths, my writing were so different.  I also began to accept that my stories tell different truths which others should know about too.

Blog #3 Where is publishing going?

Submitted a major creative writing document to a publisher today. My submission was in good order: well-edited and presumably well-written. One is never sure. Will see what publisher thinks about the submission in three or more months. For $400.00, the document will be printed with related book markers, cover included and simple photos or illustrations. When proof completed, reread by writer, and returned to publisher, 100 copies will be printed. Publisher only prints what is needed. Publisher takes different amounts at different times. Book signings managed by the publisher 100% for writer; reading at Chapters 60% for writer. Other publishers take more and charge shipping on top of that. Stockpiling and shipping is how the commercial interests such as and Chapters make their money. Many publishers are not taking MSS unless certain that the market will be lucrative. They survive on grants and need to make money. My publisher is independently owned. Looks as if selling books from one’s website is the best way NOT to waste money with overprinting, stockpiling, and shipping. I registered today. Could not get .com because an American writer John J. Dunphy has registered for .

Blog #2 Google says a blog is…

What is a blog? I entered on Google. Google concisely noted what I wanted: Define blog. A series of similar definitions or descriptions were listed. Best definitions appeared near the end. First, a blog is short for web log. So blogs, brief web pages, appear on websites. They may be casual (like this) or formal as in Full (for National Post writers).

They are public so that visitors can interact with the writer. Visitors can get hooked on a writer’s personality as revealed in the writing. Writers can win fans through blogging. Visitors also can get interesting information or at least the writer’s digest of information or take/slant on information. Visitors expect personalized handling of information. Visitors know the message is being massaged by a real, thinking being.

#1 What is a blog?

I am not a Luddite, but I really am not certain what a blog is. Of course, I turned to my trusty 1997 Nelson Canadian Dictionary (completely encyclopedic and helpful usually) and there is no such word.

From listening to others who almost froth at the mouth with enthusiasm about this new style of writing, I can offer some notion of what a blog is. I gather blogs should be short excursions of the mind on any topic. The purpose is to expose one’s thinking process about topics which might interest others who in turn may find the writer interesting. The style is personal, casual, informal. Best blogs are short and lively. The benefit for the writer is that one writes daily (not in a diary or journal) and therefore keeps intellectually alert, constantly seeking words to express an idea or feeling or judgment. When visitors are aware that you blog, they visit your website to see what is going on in your head at the moment and comment briefly if s/he wishes. Facebook relies on visuals; blog relies on words. What I should have done to be formally accurate about the notion of blogs, no doubt, is simply google “blog”–I may tell you later what more I learned.