A Tribute to Cpl. Nathan Cirillo

Sad Christmas Tree
Alone at Christmas

In light of the recent shootings in Canada, Australia, and Pakistan, I am left feeling solemn this Holiday Season.

Many of us are busy preparing to receive friends and family over the Holidays. We shop, we bake, we clean, we tie fancy ribbons upon dozens of boxes, filled with things that we are told to want. Our children dream of shiny toys and stockings filled with surprises.

Unfortunately, for some, the greatest surprise this year is the unexpected loss of a loved one. The seat of a father, mother, or child, left empty at the table. The whiff of a person’s life, floating on the remnants of their cologne, still clinging to the fabric of their families lives. There is little solace when a loved one is stolen. There is no justification.

 

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Cpl. Nathan Cirillo on sentry duty at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

 

Cpl. Nathan Cirillo was slain while guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Ottawa on October 22, 2014. He was shot twice in the back while holding an unloaded firearm. An extreme act of cowardice by a lone gunman.

I am an eleventh-generation Canadian. Prior to Michael Zehaf-Bibeau‘s assault on Parliament Hill, I definitely took the security and peace that Canada offers for granted. I naïvely felt that no one would ever attack us ­– after all, we’re Canadian, eh? The United States’ meek and unobtrusive cousin. We tow the line, mostly unnoticed in our politics. I mean, we’re talking about a country whose citizens are known for apologizing when bumped or pushed. There’s no reason to attack us. How horribly wrong I was. Wrong, that we are exempt from terrorism. Wrong, that there is no reason to attack us. Hate will always find a ‘reason’ to propagate – no matter how deranged. This is tragically exemplified in the nonsensical acts that took place in Sydney (the routine act of having a quiet morning coffee, shattered with violence) and in Pakistan (the unfathomable massacre of over 130 innocent children).

Zehaf-Bibeau had his ‘reasons’ and acted on them. He found a reason to terrorize the innocent, to murder a father, a son, a brother; a Canadian soldier who guards the memory of the Unknown Soldier, and now we will protect his.

Marcus Cirillo
Nathan Cirillo’s son, Marcus, at his father’s funeral.

 

I am not a poet, but I offer this tribute to Cpl. Cirillo, whose birthday is on December 23rd. He would have been 25.

 

The Tomb of the Known Soldier

 

I am a boy who became a man

I guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

 

I am a man who fathered a son

I guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

 

I sacrifice my life for my child, to guide him as he grows

I guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

 

I sacrifice my life for my country, to keep it strong and free

I guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

 

I protect the memory of the fallen

I guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

 

I represent peace and am attacked by hate

I guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

 

I lose my life for my sacrifice

I lay upon the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

 

I have become the Soldier That Is Known

Editorial Cartoon depicting war memorial soldier reaching a hand out in aid of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo
Editorial Cartoon by Bruce Mackinnon

 

Nathan Cirillo with his dog
Cpl. Nathan Cirillo

 

Wishing everyone a safe and happy holiday season filled with peace, love, and joy. May you find yourselves with those you hold dear.

So Why No Novels With Speech Therapist Protagonists?

As I had mentioned in my post on How I Came To Write Unspeakable, the seed of the idea for my novel was inspired by a comment made by my esteemed colleague, CBW (or as I like to say, CB-Dub). CBW astutely observed that there were no speech-language pathologists (SLP) as protagonists in novels. In fact, she wished that someone out there, for once, would portray us as the sexy creatures that we are (or would like to think we are). Hence, the seed was planted and I began writing Unspeakable (click here for my post on how it went from the seed of an idea to a full-length manuscript).

Part way through the writing process, I did a Google search on speech-language pathologists as protagonists and came across this post by the Speech Dudes. It’s a bit dated, but I like the humor and they too have noticed the same thing. We can be sexy and exciting! Just give us a chance!

So, I hope to heed the call with Unspeakable. Hanna is a bit naïve at the outset (as most of us are) and overwhelmed with the demands of the job and the diverse clientele that many of us are expected to serve. (You wouldn’t ask a Neurologist to be an expert in Gynecology, yet the same SLP may see a child with autism, an adult with Aphasia, a person with feeding issues, and person who stutters all in the same day.) She flounders at first, but her heart is in the right place – she wants to ‘save’ all of her patients, but as any seasoned professional knows, that just isn’t possible.

And so, I leave you with this. The Speech Dudes contributed some scenes of the SLP as the protagonist and I thought I would contribute my own, tongue-in-cheek version, for CBW. She has often teased me that there should be a sexy scene with ‘a dangling uvula’. We’ve had several fits of laughter in the clinic cafeteria about this, but I still refuse to put such a scene in my novel. But here’s one, just for fun (and yes, it’s meant to be cheesy and ridiculous!) Enjoy!

“Come closer,” she said, leaning towards him.

He inched closer, but the small distance between them seemed like a giant chasm. She needed him to be near her. She placed her latex gloved hand firmly on his cheek and urged him toward her.

He couldn’t deny her. If this is what she wanted, he had to comply.

“Good,” she whispered. She could feel his breath flutter against her skin. “Now open for me.”

He parted his soft lips, revealing the moist expanse of his mouth. Finally, she had what she wanted. An unobstructed view of his supple tongue, and there, nestled in the back, between the perfectly rounded orbs of his tonsils, their presence simply highlighting the immense size of the long and ample rod-like structure dangling there. That which gives a special vibration to our words, our sounds; the epicenter of the mouth: his glorious uvula.

The Speech Dudes

In a recent press release from The Association of American Publishers, it’s clear that digital downloads of books to mass market reading devices continues apace. From February 2010 to 2011, there has been a 202.3% increase in sales of eBooks. Not only that, eBooks are now ranked as the number one format for all categories of trade publishing, which includes adult hardcover, adult paperbacks, adult mass market, children’s/young adult hardcover, and children’s/young adult paperbacks. For those who like their number to be preceded by a $ symbol, eBooks raked in over $90 million in cold, hard cash over the year.

e-book imahe

Yet amongst the plethora of vampires, werewolves, wimpy kids, celebrity chefs, management gurus, and impossible heroines, there doesn’t appear to be ONE protagonist who is a Speech Therapist. Not one. Now, if a Whitehouse chef can be the main character in a story (e.g. “Eggsecutive Orders”) why not a…

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The Process of Writing: Part Two

 

WRITING YOUR UNIQUE STORY AND DEFEATING WRITER’S BLOCK

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Last time, I discussed the importance of writing because you love it and understanding your characters. This time, I will be adding two more important strategies that worked for me in getting the first draft of my manuscript completed.

 

  1. Write What You Know.

I know, I know, we’ve all heard this one before, but it’s true, but not always in the way we might think. When I was at When Words Collide, a writer’s convention in Calgary, D. J. McIntosh (author of The Witch of Babylon), posed the question: Why is this story one that only you could tell?

 

When I wrote Unspeakable, I was motivated to tell a story about something I live every day; speech pathology. I challenged myself to make it sexy and interesting. In order for my plot to work, it needed to take place in a small town. Starting out in my profession, I was very much like Hanna (my main character); young, naïve, and in over my head. So I decided to place my story in the same town where I had found my first job as a speech-language pathologist (SLP) – Dryden, Ontario. It was the perfect setting for my story and writing about a place (and experience) I already knew helped add authenticity to my writing.

 

In addition to the things that I understand about Hanna, there are a lot of things that I understand about Hank, because of some of my unique life experiences. One is Hank is French Canadian; a language minority in his part of Canada. This plays an important role in his journey in Unspeakable.

 

Unspeakable is a story only I, the French-Canadian SLP who worked in a small mill town and grew up in Western Canada, could tell, because my life lens colors my story. HOWEVER, there are a lot of things in the story that I don’t know about – so you have to pull from similar experiences, as well you need to do your research (which I will address in a future post).

Write

  1. Sit Down and Write.

After you’ve got your plot, sub-plot, and characters figured out you need to write your story – your novel. Wow, that can be daunting. 80,000-plus words with a plot, subplot, characters, denouement….and, and, and…. Take a breath. Writing a book can be an overwhelming (and often discouraging) undertaking.

 

Where do you start? That’s just it. Start.

 

I found that writing an outline of my story and chapters really helped. And then, well, you have to sit down and write it.

 

Some writer’s have word count goals, time goals, etc. You could also write out a writing schedule. For me, it was much simpler than that. I tied my writing time into my life routine. When my youngest son was in an activity, instead of going home and running errands, I slotted that as my writing time. Inspired or not.

 

I was taught to use Free Fall Writing at the Alexandra Writers’ Centre. This technique basically means sit down and just write. Without editing or self-criticism – give’r (that’s a Canadianism, eh?). I didn’t set arbitrary word counts as a goal. I felt that this would just add unnecessary pressure and would lead me to feel dejected and defeated if I didn’t attain the word count goal. My goal was simple: Any writing, for me, was an achievement (a lot harder to fail that way). When I wasn’t sure where to go next or what to write, I used the Free Fall method and it really helped alleviate any instances of writer’s block and kept the story moving forward. And hey, I always left the coffee shop I nestled myself into with more content than when I had arrived.

 

 

So, in the end, with the help of things I learned about characters, world building, and Free Fall Writing, I got my story down on paper. But most importantly, I wrote Unspeakable because I had a story that I felt compelled to tell. Once I had the idea, plot points and characters bounced around my skull constantly; cracking at my consciousness and pulling me into a world of my own making. I had to let my characters breathe. This, in the end, is what really drove me.

 

Especially Hank. With his long lean body, black hair, and those cobalt blue eyes. Well, I couldn’t wait to spend time with him. And the only way to do that…was to write him. So I did. And now, I miss spending time with him.

Hank
Hank

 

Sigh.

 

 

The Writing Process: Part One

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BE AUTHENTIC

 

In a previous post, I told you how I got my idea for Unspeakable and went about pursuing my dream to (near) completion.

But how do you write a book?

Funny, I wish I knew.

You may think I’m being a bit of smart-ass, but honestly, I’m not sure that I really know how I got here. I look at the 340-plus pages of my manuscript, harrumph (yes, I harrumph), and shake my head in disbelief. How did I write a freaking book? It seems as mysterious to me today as it did before I took my first course.

But here’s what I do know:

 

  1. Write because you’re passionate about it.

Don’t write a book because you think it will make you famous or the next great Canadian/American novelist. It likely won’t. The stats on this matter are quite frightening. It should be your passion. If it isn’t, it will likely fall flat – no passion from the writer, no passion in the characters. On that note…

 

  1. Care about your characters.

When writing a novel, you should know your characters. Not just their name, hair color, who their friends are, etc. That stuff’s plastic. Go beyond the surface. If someone cuts in front of them in line, how would they react? What’s in their fridge? What was their family life like? What are their pet peeves? What motivates them? What pisses them off? Why? [For a great post from Writer’s Digest on The Top 10 Questions You Should Ask Your Characters, click here]

 

In depth character sketches go a long way in helping a writer learn about their characters. Knowing what makes your characters truly tick, will make your story hum with the vibration.

 

For more on creating characters, I recommend the book, Breathing Life Into Your Characters by Rachel Ballon.

BreathingLife
Rachel Ballon’s Breathing Life Into Your Characters

 

If you know of any other great books on creating characters, I’d love to hear about it! Leave your suggestions below.

In my next blog post, I will share two more strategies on how to get that book written…including, how to avoid the dreaded writer’s block…dun dun dun duuun!