Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Surprising and Not

'Tis the season to think about consumer goods. Lots of stories in the zeitgeist about shopping, budgeting--holiday extravagance and how to avoid it. But I've been thinking about the goods we have and use every day.

Last night I noticed that I'm usually surprised when we run low on coffee filters, even though we use at least one a day, and I KNOW that we do. 

On the other hand, I'm rarely surprised when we're low on dish soap--also used daily, also by me.

That set me thinking about other pairs.

I'm surprised when I use up a tube of lip balm. I'm not surprised to use the last Q-tip. 

I'm surprised to use up a glue stick. I'm not surprised to come to the end of a roll of tape.

We're low on cinnamon--surprising. Black pepper, cloves, chili powder, and curry also fall under the same "we never use the whole jar before they mysteriously disappear" assumption. (I also don't remember buying chili powder, so how old IS it? A separate issue.)

In fact, all the contents of my spice shelf seem to stay there forever, or at least until I cull them. 

In conversations with other writers, I've learned that being too close to a work makes it difficult to judge whether elements of that work are surprising, and therefore possibly interesting, to a reader. 

I'm currently trying to select a piece to read at the book launch (in under two weeks!), so I'm considering what readers might find interesting to hear. Thank goodness I have other writers and readers in my life to ask. I may never have enough distance to know, myself.

My husband's novel-in-progress, on the other hand, fascinates me. I read and gave notes on an earlier version, so this time through isn't completely UNfamiliar, but his revisions still create surprise. 

I'll be happy to return to my own novel--it's had two drafts this past year, and it will get another, smaller revision soon. It will be fun to see what surprises it holds for me.

Having the time and support for in-depth work on a single writing project is such a glorious gift. It's a chance to fully inhabit a world and spend significant time there. 

It's a gift in another way, as well--a chance to stand back and look with new-ish eyes at previous work. 

Lots of gratitude around here these days.

And now, it's time to put on another pot of coffee (we have plenty of filters at the moment), and while I wait for it to brew, I'm going to peer at the dates on the spice jars. Some surprises are more welcome than others. 
Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Launch, Signing, and Celebration

I had a filling replaced this morning. Now that it's over I plan to lie on the couch and be dramatic--my hand on my forehead, repeating "all the drilling!"--until the numbness wears off and it's safe for me to eat lunch.

Meanwhile, here's this bit of news.


Hope to see you there!
Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Creative Nonfiction Resources

Last weekend I presented a workshop about choice in creative nonfiction.

In nonfiction, you have a lot of opportunities to choose--for example, the form your work takes (whether in print, drama, sound, or some other medium), the type of research you pursue and select to include, and how personal or not you want your creative nonfiction to be.

PLUS all the techniques of fiction are available to you--setting, plot, point of view.

All you have to do is tell the truth, and be honest about times when you aren't sure. (Ha! That's "all.")

In any case, I bombarded workshop participants with handouts and even forgot two, so I'm linking to them here.

This one includes a couple of exercises we did in the workshop plus others.

This one includes other resources--podcasts, organizations, publications, you name it.

Neither is in any sense comprehensive--they're just places people can go to keep learning about creative nonfiction.

Many thanks to the Northwestern Ontario Writers Workshop for inviting me to present, and thanks to those who came for their patience and enthusiasm for nonfiction and writing.
Wednesday, October 23, 2019

I've Seen It!

My author copies have arrived! Surely it will appear in stores soon. When it does, I'll share that information here and through other social media.


I'm feeling lots of feels, as apparently one does when one's book appears in the world.

Gratitude, mostly--for all the support along the way. Not only from friends, writer colleagues, and other individuals. Also, support from public funding through the Ontario Arts Council, and from the private company, Signature Editions, that is my publisher.*

I'm also feeling hope. Hope that perhaps somewhere another daughter who wrestles with guilt and fear might find she's not alone, and that life after the most difficult transitions can bring gifts.

* Just pointing out that Signature is also supported with public funding, as are all private companies that take advantages of "incentives" and "rebates" or information provided by governments, or perhaps use roads and public utilities, or whose owners eat food certified safe from pathogens and take medication. Don't let election campaign rhetorical strategies fool you into believing otherwise.
Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Insta Un-Worthy/Un-Insta-Worthy

Last week was Thanksgiving! (In Canada.) Happy Thanksgiving!

I made a pumpkin cake. It was fine. It was good! I mean, it tasted good. Looked okay, I guess. (Except I didn't think through the whole "dust with icing sugar" thing and cinnamon kind of gunked up my sifter, but that's a problem to be solved some other time.) It came out of the pan looking a bit fancy, as bundt cakes do.



It was also relatively easy to produce. I'd make it again except that it's suddenly hard to find spice cake mixes on grocery store shelves (possibly because of the time of the year). I could also make a spice cake from scratch and add in the add-ins, but let's not get crazy.

I took a picture of it (obviously) but decided not to post it on Instagram. It didn't really feel "Insta-worthy." And that led me to consider whether my tens of followers there would have really cared.

It's the kind of thing you think about when you've been quietly working in relative obscurity for years, with kind and rewarding encouragement along the way, and then something happens that sort of amps up the possibility for recognition. Or, you know, criticism. Like making a pumpkin cake from a cake mix with add-ins for Thanksgiving with a wonky topping. Or like having a book come out.

In a world of best-sellers and prize culture and glamorous invitations, and other trappings of the writing life it's hard to remember this: "Success" can mean different things to different people. And books. And cakes, and photos thereof.

So my cake may not be Insta-worthy. So what? I made it and it tasted good. It fulfilled its purpose.

I have similar modest ambitions for my book. Mostly, I'm excited, because books are exciting things. Inherently! I'm excited about this book because people will have the chance to read about my parents, and about Northwestern Ontario.

Books are also enduring things, even though such things as remainder bins exist. There's a chance that this book will speak to someone who doesn't even know they want to read it, at some future time when I'm off doing my next thing.

Perhaps that future version of me will be baking another pumpkin spice cake. Perhaps it will be a different kind of cake. I'm still not sure why I'm suddenly baking cakes after years of mostly not, but I enjoy doing it and we enjoy eating them. And we enjoy reading, and writing.

You know what? I think I'll post that photo of my cake after all. Why not? It celebrates gratitude, and what's more Insta-worthy than that?
Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Reverberations: Coming Soon

As I mentioned in July, my essay collection is coming out this fall! The first copies of Reverberations: A Daughter's Meditations on Alzheimer's are due to arrive later this month.

Here's the cover.


That young woman is my mother, Jeanne Starrett LeCaine (later Agnew), in her days as a mathematics student.

Kind people near and far have been helpful all along in making my semi-coherent thoughts into words into essays and now into a collection. I'm especially grateful to that apparently limitless font of encouragement and good judgment known as Susan Olding, author of the essay collection Pathologies (and much more!).

Many thanks also to Winnipeg's Signature Editions for plucking my manuscript from their slush pile and working diligently to slot it into this autumn's releases.

It feels fitting that this book finds its place in the world at the harvest season, when the birch and mountain ash are especially golden and glorious.

P.S. Part of me won't believe it's an actual thing until I hold one in my hand.
Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Different Perspective

We certainly picked an excellent time of the year for a quick business trip to Duluth!

See?


That background shows the same lake I see every morning. The birches and poplars are beautiful here--golden and lovely, brilliant against the everygreens, as you see in the foreground.

And yet, this is a different view, giving me a new perspective. I feel refreshed. I appreciate the beauty of this place all over again.

I hope everyone has the chance to do something similar, from time to time. It's lovely to choose your life again, even when you think you already appreciate it.

(Photo of Lake Superior from the lookout at Mt. Josephine, Grand Portage, Minnesota.)