Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Thank You Notes

Dear Everyone Who Works or Has Worked at a Publication:

Thank you for the energy you expend helping writers find readers. Thank you for making time, on occasion, to include a brief comment with a rejection. Thank you for your honesty, your care, your attention.

Thank you, too, for the occasional reminder that you are as devoted to good writing as writers are. We may disagree about what constitutes "good writing," and that's cool. Artists can disagree about definitions while agreeing that art is important.

Because of you, writers and readers can meet in (sometimes imaginary) rooms to discuss imaginary or re-imagined people. What a gift.

Specifically, I extend gratitude to the readers and editors at the specific publications listed below. And because this post is not about me-me-me, the links go to the submissions pages of those publications, which writers should bookmark. Then, writers, browse archives to get a sense of their definition of "good" before submitting.

Compose Literary Journal. They're now closed to submissions until Fall 2018, but read those archives! Need more? Check out Write it Sideways. And the Compose creative nonfiction editor, Lisa Romeo, gives advice and "how I did it" content here, and she has a book coming out in 2018.

Gravel. Based at the University of Arkansas at Monticello, they accept many types of work, including flash/hybrid and book reviews. (Fun fact: you're probably mentally pronouncing "Monticello" wrong.)

Full Grown People. A lovely place to browse when you feel unsuccessful at being a grownup, which has made it an especially nice pitstop during the day during this past fifteen months or so.

Pithead Chapel. Also fun archives to browse. Also interesting cover art. Word limit of 4000 is nice for stretching one's writing legs.

Mischievous Books. (This link takes you to their products page.) A small Canadian publisher with a big heart--this year, running a short fiction contest and publishing an anthology, proceeds from which supported refugees. Well done!

Again--to those who work with our work, thank you. Another huge shout-out to readers--thank you for honouring our work with your time and attention, as well.

My resolution for 2018 is to continue to support all of you as best I can.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Getting Work "Out There"

As part of my ongoing effort to evaluate 2017 and plan for 2018, I'm meeting with folks to kick around some frustrations and ways to address them.

By the way, it's really fun to do this kind of thing with word-people you trust. Maybe trusted artists in other disciplines, too. For example, we spontaneously invented a series of metaphors around snowfall to describe various stages of the creative process. Fun times.

One of our discussion topics was how to distinguish between what is and isn't within our control, especially relating to having work published. In our control: researching and submitting. Not in our control: whether it's accepted. I've written about this before, many times, because it's basically rejection, one of my preoccupations.

Also as part of the evaluation process, I'm reminding myself to be grateful to those who administer contests and keep publications afloat. Next week, I'll give specific shoutouts.

Meanwhile, gratitude is one of the best ways to ensure that the last days of this year include a modicum of peace--peace, a moment of which is necessary before continuing to fight those good and worthy and necessary fights.
Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Looking Back

It's December in what has been a VERY busy year. Throughout the month, I'm looking back at the past year and looking ahead to what I want to do in 2018.

Besides, of course, focusing on getting stuff done in that last-minute pre-deadline rush, the one I thought I'd grown out of when I was no longer taking formal classes. However. Deadlines and all that.

One joy of this year has been playing around on Instagram. I don't do fancy stuff--mostly just posting the same "here's the view from the window" I've always enjoyed capturing with my camera. But I've posted fairly often, and recently I've been posting snow pictures; in fact, some of the ones I've also uploaded here.

In any case, Instagram assembles the nine photos people have liked the most into one shot. Here's mine:

It surprised me to see the photos from earlier parts of the year--even just earlier this autumn. Why? Because the landscape out EVERY WINDOW now is so very different. It's all snow, all the time. The last part of the world outside our windows to change is the lake ice--which is growing ever farther out into the bay.

I spent a little time last night looking at the earliest photos I took on this phone (from March or so), and (of course) trying to delete some (always too many photos). It was really nice to take a scroll/stroll back through autumn, summer, and the fifteen minutes that constituted spring. And it was a nice complement to the calendar- and to-do-list-based looking back I've been doing to prepare for 2018.

Happy memories. "Learning moments" and times of satisfaction. Unexpected, ephemeral flashes of brilliant wonder. Determination. Gratitude. All parts of 2017--and all elements that I might otherwise have forgotten.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Serious Snow

We had the first serious snow of the season yesterday. See?

And a few weeks ago, I wrote about not remembering my jeans--how seasonal transitions require new wardrobes and remembering hacks from the end of the season.

That whole process, going from not-remembering to "oh yeah," also works with mitts and scarves and hats. Just in case you were wondering.
Tuesday, November 28, 2017

So Hono(u)red

In the spring, my essay "Bypass Instructions" appeared in Compose literary journal. Compose has been a going concern for at least five years--it's set to publish its 10th issue soon--and nominates its content for prizes.

I learned today that Compose nominated "Bypass Instructions" for a Pushcart Prize! You can read all their nominees at the announcement in the link.

I so appreciate this vote of confidence from the journal--as well as the positive responses from readers.

Thank you, Compose!

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Of Course! Wait...Really?

Lately, I've been moving several projects forward simultaneously. My days are packed with teeny incremental steps on several fronts.

I'm learning several surprising things. Some big. Most small. Like, for example, what I do and don't need to have handy.

Decades ago, I bought a Filofax planning system. (Influences: Thirtysomething and Alexandra Stoddard.) Ever since, it's held All The Important Things, as well as Most Things It Came With.

A couple of months ago, I decided I should use my Filofax more wisely, or not use it at all. To start, I asked myself some questions.

Do I really need to carry the addresses of all of my cousins (especially when we communicate mostly through social media)?

How about that fold-out four-colour map of the world, including time zones? Is that a "gotta have at my fingertips!" kind of insert?

What about the daily to-do lists from two months ago?

The answers: No. No. No. And answering those questions has made me face a few hard truths.

For example: No, I am not the kind of person who needs a map of the world at my fingertips. I probably never was, though it was kind of fun to picture myself sitting in meetings with the time zone in Nepal at the ready. If I had even remembered I had it. Which I wouldn't have. (Now, of course, we would all race to be the first to look it up on our phone.)

The questioning process has been useful. I've ditched a lot of paper, not replaced a lot of purported "necessary information," and generally simplified my Filofax--which I now consult multiple times a day, and which (mostly) helps me remember what I'm doing and what comes next.

I've extended the questions to other items I "must have." Like the extra glasses case with cleaning solution and wipes. Like the bag with five lipsticks, four of which I don't even like. Do I need both of those things in my purse? Of course! Wait...of course NOT.

At one time in my life, I might have wanted to be the kind of person who needed the time zone map and the five shades of lipstick. That time isn't now. Ignoring the voices of my Depression-surviving parents screaming "don't throw anything away!" I've now filed the addresses (for holiday cards) and parts of the to-do lists (taxes); I've left the eyeglass cleaning kit in the bathroom and tossed the lipsticks.

But I waffled on the time zone map. I'm trying not to save things for "someday," but still. I put it with the other maps in the stash of images I'm collecting "to do art collages with someday maybe."

Because at one time, I might have wanted to be that person. I might be still. Just not today.
Wednesday, November 15, 2017


"I don't remember my jeans."

I stood in front of the credenza where a stack of denim lies folded on the top shelf. My husband, poor man, happened to pick that moment to pass within earshot.

His raised eyebrow told me that he didn't quite know what I meant. Whatever. I did.

It happens every year--at some point in April or so, I quit wearing jeans so much and start wearing shorter versions of jeans, or more lightweight workout pants, or (gasp) dresses. And at some point in the fall, I go back to the long pants.

In the interim, I forget my jeans--the individual quirks I used to know about each pair. That one, the most comfortable pair, has a small rip near the zipper. I remember now, vaguely, that I decided in April I'd think about later.

Later is now, and now is later, and I can't worry about the times I've worn them recently without remembering that rip. I can only hope whatever else I was wearing covered it up.

Because I realized I didn't remember, I tried on all the pairs. And information came back to me. The legs on this one will fit into boots; the legs on that other pair also will but only if I take extra time to wrap them. This pair I can wear all day; this one is itchy against my skin after a morning.

I've bought new pairs, too, and am learning their strengths and limitations.

Is there a metaphor for writing in this? How well you know me! Many metaphors are possible: getting to know characters again, the ones you needed space from before you can really tell their story. Returning to a different phase in the "writing process," like drafting new work vs. revising existing drafts. Even allowing yourself to return to the yin of winter, after a yang-y summer.

As for me--I'm not quite ready to wear the flannel-lined jeans, but otherwise, I can do autumn.
Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Blank Square

Sometimes, there's no more beautiful sight than a blank square.

Like this one.

That's today on the desk calendar my husband and I share. It's the first blank space on the calendar in several days. You can even see some of yesterday lapping over the edge to today.

The events that have filled the past several days have been great--lots of celebrations and fun events, a few meetings, some generic errands, much that has been entirely pleasant.

And yet--it's been a lot of interaction for me.

I really enjoy this blank square. There's another one, tomorrow. Errands will fill up one or the other of these days. But for now, I'm enjoying that sense of possibility stretching ahead.

Maybe I'll even find the internal space to face a blank page. It's high time.
Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Autumn Leaves

This time of year I'm still walking outdoors, and enjoying it, for as long as I can. Soon, the snow on the roads won't melt during the day, and the ice will force me to the treadmill. But not yet.

Monday, I picked up two leaves--one a bright orange birch-type with a dark streak down the middle, another with lobes (like a maple or white poplar) that was a tasteful pink-and-yellow. They were lovely, a really eye-catching moment of brightness on a grey day when autumn has nearly-but-not-quite lost its glory.

There they are, below:

No, really. 

See, it started raining while I was out, and an unpleasant encounter with workers in my neighbourhood had left me rattled, so when I got home I put my dripping waterproof jacket and pants into the dryer without emptying the pockets. 

And then I had to race through the shower and get to town for a work date, and on the way, two different cars apparently didn't see mine (though I was driving with my lights on, even) and they nearly hit me. I was late for the meeting (which itself went fine except for the meter that ate my toonie) and then I had a frazzling wait at the pharmacy, and then several main roads were blocked off and the rush-hour traffic was even more hellish than usual, and my car was low on gas. 

However, I gritted my teeth and survived it all. 

When I got home, I retrieved my jacket and pants from the dryer but didn't think even then to look for those beautiful leaves. It finally occurred to me in the evening, as I reviewed my day.

I'd completely forgotten the lovely moments early in the walk, before the initial unpleasantness with the workers. I didn't have any control over their behavior, and I am in no way excusing it. 

I do wish, though, I had remembered the leaves when I got home from walking, before they had their fifteen minutes in the dryer. I could have participated in the beauty of that moment again. 

Would it have changed the other factors that made Monday so stressful?

Nope. But if I'd remembered the leaves, I could have thought of them as I settled into my work spot after losing $2 in a parking meter. I could have remembered them as I sat in backed-up traffic. I could have pictured them while I shivered through gassing up my car.

I try to notice those small moments for stressful situations just like those on Monday. This time, that strategy didn't work as I'd planned. 

At least I remember them now. And that's not nothing.
Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Setting Down the Backpack

My sister and I recently finished a long-term family project: we published my mother's memoir, the compilation of family stories our mother wrote for the five of "us kids" in the early days of her retirement.

We gave it a new name, CRADLE OF THE DEEP: MEMOIR OF A FAMILY COTTAGE. We took advantage of technology available today to publish it. And now we can be sure that our brothers' grandchildren can know their great-grandmother, just a little.

It's been a joy to spend time with my mother again, to hear her voice in my head. I write quite a bit about my mother, mostly about times that weren't so happy for either of us. I have had to work to be sure that's that impaired woman isn't the mother I think of all the time--because that wouldn't be fair. That's not who she was for most of her life.

Family business can sometimes like feel like a burden. Settling estates, meetings with lawyers, transferring assets or accepting the lack thereof. Many of those tasks don't have a definite end. An estate may be officially "settled," but YOU still have a billion boxes in the basement.

"Doing something with Mom's memoir" was a responsibility, but never a burden. It wasn't that heavy. Publishing it wasn't outside the realm of my own experience, or my sister's--not that we didn't have a learning curve, of course. Still, it wasn't as if we we were taking up brain surgery.

Finally making available this memoir feels like setting down a backpack. This book, too, is a project without a fixed ending date. People who never knew my mother are buying copies. And my relationship with her won't end--I will continue to write about her, eventually collecting my own essays someday, somehow.

But for now: Ahhh.
Thursday, October 19, 2017

Now Available: Cradle of the Deep

Available now: my mother's memoir, CRADLE OF THE DEEP: MEMOIR OF A LAKE SUPERIOR COTTAGE.

 It's really real!

My sister, Sue Agnew, and I have been working for months to make make her family stories available for the next generation, and for her extended "family."

This project has been a real labour of love: first for my mother and now for my sister and me.

Mom would be saying, "They're just family stories!" But if you're interested in life in northwestern Ontario in the 1920s and 30s, early cottage life (my mother had to train herself not to call it "the camp"), mathematicians, history and memoir in general, or (eventually) juggling kids and a beloved summer spot 1200 miles from home, you might enjoy reading it.

Hooray for publication day!
Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Challenge: Taking a Moment

Recently a friend was posting a black-and-white photography challenge, and added my name to her challenge list.

I don't always do challenges, but this one was fun and came at a good time. I'm moving a lot of projects ahead but in teeny tiny increments, and it can get frustrating.

Looking for a good black-and-white photo on my near-daily walk forced me to take a moment.

And here they are.


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Enjoy the Process

My work has found a few new readers in the past six months, and I'm grateful for that. I enjoy sharing my thoughts and hearing others respond.

Recently I've switched focus from sending work out. I'm spending more time at the page, scribbling, creating and revising and editing, and finishing commitments to others.

It's so easy to focus on the product--the publication. "Where have you been published?" "My work has appeared in x, y, and z." It's how you connect with the outside world.

But I'm ready to be back at the page. So I'm telling myself, "Enjoy the process."

Recently, my husband and I were driving home from town at the time of the evening when a large, near-full moon was rising. Even though I knew better, I couldn't resist trying to get a picture of it.

Here's what I got.

Yup, not only TRYING TO TAKE A PHOTO FROM A MOVING CAR, but impeccable timing: behind the road sign.

More impeccable timing: behind the roadhouse.

At least in this one you can kind of see the moon, though also: hydro tower.

You can see another hydro tower looming on the left, but this one also exposes (haha get it?) the sheer folly of trying at all to 1. get a great shot of a rising moon 2. from a moving car 3. with a cellphone camera.

I'm sure "real" photographers could achieve results that are SO MUCH better than this, even with the same parameters.

But, as it turned out, the results weren't the point.

Just trying, even though I knew all the layers of folly, was worth doing. It let the two of us share a project--on a drive home that we've made a million times, at the end of a long day, in the brief respite between spending money at the grocery store and stocking the kitchen shelves.

The process was fun. 

And I've been enjoying, somewhat, the process of creating new work, sculpting new visions of existing work, idly dreaming new dreams of different kinds of work.

The results may well be the writing equivalent of blurry, ill-timed photos of a rising moon. But that's okay. It's challenging and rewarding. And that's sometimes fun, and sometimes even better.
Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Without Words

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Lines on a Page

One way I relax is to draw lines on pages. One page at any given time. But, over the years, many pages. Many sketchbooks of pages, in fact.

I like sketchbooks. I like drawing lines in them. They get full. The End.
Let's be clear: I do not do this as ART, art, or art, and I don't even do it as art. It is not a statement about anything.

Except that I like colo(u)rs. I like doing something with my hands. I like to do repetitive tasks when I need to relax, focus, or daydream.

It's fun for me. Colo(u)red pens and what people here call "pencil crayons" add to the fun. Some lines I make are official Zentangles (TM) (go to the link to see what it's all about) but (I love to follow rules, but also, I don't) most aren't.

I have even filled at least one sketchbook with straight lines in different widths and colo(u)rs, when I was first playing with a particular set of felt-tip pens. (Crayola, okay? I'm telling you, I'm not a serious artist.) I've chosen not to save those in my Really Useful Box (TM) of sketchbooks and instead have used those pages in other of my non-art projects.

For example, I still participate in a summer creative challenge called "Index Card-A-Day" or ICAD, as I did in 2014. (Quick version: from June 1 through July 31, you decorate an index card in some way.) In fact, I've done some version of this project every summer (thanks, Tammy!) though I still don't participate in the official groups because writing is enough pressure, and I enjoy doing something that's not for public consumption.

(Full disclosure--for the past two years I haven't even been using an index card, which is about the ONLY rule Tammy insists on. Which is another reason I don't share--I don't want to clog her Instagram feed or Facebook group with non-actual-ICAD posts. Instead, I've been using those small envelopes that my father used to call "personal" envelopes. Not the ones that bills [and sometimes cheques or checks] arrive in. For some reason we have hundreds of those small envelopes, some many decades old, and we NEVER use them. So, daily during ICAD season, I've been doing something with the outside of an envelope and then slide in some sort of detritus from my day--a leaf from my walk, a receipt from a supper out, the grocery list, the stir-stick from my coffee, a bit of paper reminding me of sometime I'm grateful for.)

I bring this up because art-ish (near-art, art-esque, art-adjacent) projects are fun for me. And sometimes, while I'm drawing lines on a page, I think about what some of my characters might be doing. As in, what idiotic thing is Martin up to now? But mostly, I just draw lines on a page. And it's fun.
Wednesday, September 20, 2017


Revising. Man oh man. So, you remember how Fred Flintstone drives his car? How, after he leaps in, he has to scrabble his feet for a while before the car finally starts moving?

Recently I realized I've been doing some of that as I revise this novel.

It's been going well. Sorta. That is, I've been making lots of changes. After the initial surgical removal of an entire plot line, the word count has been rising and falling as I cut and replace and expand and lop again.

But. Have I made progress? Yes! and no. I completed several large tasks and tracked the ripples through the rest of the chapters. After that, my activity took the form of messing around making smaller changes, without actually addressing the crucial big revisions that represent the necessary, exciting, and scary improvement to the last two-fifths of the book.

But I didn't know that I was stalling. After all, I was working every day, changing words! Adding them! Cutting them! See? Progress!

Last week I met a writer for a "parallel play" work session, and we started with a status: an "I am here" statement. Without necessarily meaning to, I articulated a. that I was avoiding the second half, b. why I was avoiding the second half (more or less) (beyond "it's scary," which is a given) and c. why I really really wanted to stop avoiding the second half.

And somehow, my brain heard that as "Hey, there's a problem; let's start conjuring some solutions." All kinds of possibilities have suddenly appeared for the second half of the book, most of them focused on that last two-fifths. Now all that remains ("all") is to implement those ideas. (Which I am actually doing. Yes! Progress!)

All it took ("all") was the right setting, the right time, and a trusted listener.

And perhaps a few days or a week of Flintstone-ing ahead of time. Or who knows, maybe those days weren't strictly necessary. Or maybe they were this time but won't be in the future. But now I know I might need to ask myself whether it's time to pick up my feet and just let the car just go.
Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Medical Things

I had a medical checkup today. Here are a few things I've been pondering in the car and waiting rooms, and, to be honest, in the middle of the night last night.

1. Medical appointments aren't performances. They are simply progress reports--a way for you to find out the way you're living, even on those days you don't have an appointment.

2. However. Even knowing #1, sometimes you (one) (I) can't help but be nervous about a medical appointment. (See: middle of the night last night.)

3. As my sister said when I was texting her from the waiting room, "Everybody's got something." We're all human, and humans are imperfect, and even when you're (one is) (I'm) generally healthy, which I am and am extremely grateful for, things happen. Sometimes big things, sometimes small. Sometimes they need fixing, sometimes they don't, and sometimes they can't be fixed.

4. For the most part, it's good when your doctor isn't particularly interested in you. You WANT to be boring. You don't want to be the person who keeps her awake at night. You want to be the ho-hum one who gets checkmarks and prescription refills and heads back to normal life.

Today I got to remember all of these things--and head back to normal life. Whew.

I'm also sending kind thoughts and solidarity to my friends and relatives (and yes, strangers) whose lives have been turned upside down recently--literally, in the cases of those living in Texas and Florida, and physically, for some who have had medical issues. Everywhere, people are rebuilding their lives in significant ways. They're creating new definitions of "normal life."

We're with you. Y'all got this.
Wednesday, September 6, 2017


We've been calling this summer "the summer of all the house projects." Truthfully, every summer has its share, but this summer seems to have MORE than its share.

Some we planned for: replacing the multi-paned picture windows, and in the process (we hope) stopping significant leaks; shoring up the landscaping that makes it possible to park cars near the house; rolling the new roofing paper over the bathroom at the camp to address wind damage.

Some we didn't plan for: the slow leak from the main 2nd-floor bathroom down the pipes into the basement, the existence of which my husband has suspected for some time (I guess it's good we found it) and the repair of which required cutting drywall, which has now been replaced and painted over; the birch branch that dropped seventy or so feet to clock the top of the car, creating several large dents and taking out the roof rack.

OK, so the camp and the car aren't "house." But they were also projects.

All of these projects have required things apart and putting them back together--sometimes in the same way, sometimes in a different way. We hope, always, that we are rebuilding in a better, safer, stronger way.

And yes, I'm also talking about revising.

I've taken a small slice of time from work on a nonfiction collection to revise a novel. I'm pleased with how it's going. A lot of what I've written is gone, but I've learned what I needed to from writing it. Although I'm sad to see it go, I'm also glad to relax into the story I want to tell--one I think only I can tell in this way.

I'm also very grateful that the rebuilding required by our house projects is minimal, though it hasn't felt like it at times. But in this season of fires, hurricanes, and floods--which apparently is only beginning--we are the lucky ones.
Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Recent Results

I have some really exciting and humbling news to share!

* My essay "Atomic Tangerine" was shortlisted by The New Quarterly for its Edna Staebler Personal Essay contest and will appear in the journal in 2018. Also, the essay by Susan Olding, who mentored me this past year, won! I can't wait to read it. The full announcement, for their poetry, fiction, and nonfiction contests, is here. It will be a treat to work with the TNQ editors on my essay.

* Another essay, "Entanglement," was shortlisted for EVENT's 2017 Non-Fiction contest! That announcement is here. I appreciate the recognition.

* My peek behind the scenes is also live at the blog for Compose. In it, I share a little about how I came to write (and rewrite and continue to revise) "Bypass Instructions," which was published in their Spring 2017 issue. (The original essay is here.) It was very valuable to me to reflect a little on my writing process, especially about an event (my husband's heart surgery and our recovery milestones) that was so important to us. And I hope the blog post is interesting to you!

I extend a hearty THANK YOU to all at the literary magazines who work so hard to create opportunities for writers and artists to share work, whether through contests or regular publications.
Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Vacation Reading

In summer, I try to pick up books that I might not normally read. At a recent book signing, I picked up a new-to-me cops/crime trilogy, the Intuition series.

The books have as a home base a mythical town northern Minnesota that is based on Atikokan, though the second book goes to Winnipeg and the third also includes Quantico and towns all along the highways of the north-central US.

The main characters are a young cop and her intuitive girlfriend, and they're great. The secondary characters, too, both friends and antagonists, present an interesting array of characters that feel like real people. The second and third volumes in the series demonstrate more confidence and polish than the first, but even the first title presents a satisfying puzzle to be solved.

And yes, their author, Makenzi Fisk, is the publisher at Mischievous Books, which published the Canadian Shorts anthology in which one of my short stories appeared. Although knowing her inspired me to check out the books, their regional setting, including bogs, waters, and biting insects, won me over.

Go here to buy all three in the series, either physical copies or e-books.

And after reading them, if you leave your keys in an obvious place in your vehicle, I don't even know what to say to you.
Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Vacation Ramifications

I've been on vacation for the past two-and-a-half weeks. Admittedly "vacation" is a nebulous concept for me, since I live where I used to go for vacation.

Still, my sister comes annually and we stay at our family camp together. We wake up in a hydro-less little place our grandfather built 93 years ago on the shore of Lake Superior. We perk coffee on the propane heater and warm up the house a little (just enough to "take the chill off") on cool mornings by building a small fire in the woodstove. We make toast and eat local peaches and blueberries. We go out in a rowboat, and sometimes we swim (though putting on my swimsuit usually summons afternoon thundershowers). We talk, do silly art projects, work puzzles, read, talk some more, and drink wine coolers in Muskoka chairs on the beach during cocktail hour.

And then we come the half-kilometer back to the house, where I live and work the other 50 weeks of the year, to make supper and to take showers. Nobody said "being out at camp" required feeling yucky or being dirty. Showers feel good, and dishes are easier to clean and keep clean at a normal house.

It works for us. I always enjoy this time, and I'm always grateful for the abundance in which my family lives.

And this year, I'm aware more than ever the privilege demonstrated by so many items in the previous sentences.

Even the concept of "going on vacation"--it's out of financial possibility for many. Like me, decades ago, when I was just out of university, and like many seniors on fixed incomes that now cover grown "children" who want full-time work but struggle to find it, and when they find it, can't survive on it.

Still having a sister--thankfully, forty years ago, she had good health insurance and received effective treatment for a deadly disease that would have killed someone who didn't have insurance and/or who wasn't part of the middle class, who tends to receive better medical care in most systems.

Family property--it was claimed by and has since been held in the family through more than a few lean years and various deaths, all helped by the presence of my husband in the house next door, long before he became my husband. Yes, there's more to that story, but that's not the point.

Those are big things I'm grateful for. I'm aware of many "small" things, too.

Like enjoying an afternoon drink without worrying about anything more than whether I'm slightly more vulnerable in the unlikely event of impending violence. That is, I'm a woman, but I'm a white woman. Nobody judges me for buying or drinking an alcoholic beverage, and nobody judges the entire ethnic/gender/cultural group I belong to by how I behave.

Like being able to "ignore" politics, if I choose, for nearly three weeks, without worrying whether my healthcare will be taken from me, my marriage will be annulled, my body and health will somehow belong to a person who does violence to me, my right to vote will be removed, or my children or parents or grandparents will be deported.

And, just in the past few days, without worrying that groups of hate-filled people will decide I'm not fully human because of my ethnic or cultural background. Without worrying about the local newspaper of record printing a screed containing many factually incorrect statements that accuse me and others of my culture of freeloading.

Yes, I've been on vacation. But I'm still aware of the irresponsible behaviour of the media in my hometown. Of the violence in the streets of my home country. I may have been posting photos of dripping oars, laden tables, and sunrises, but I've been watching and fuming and grieving.

And I'm here, albeit late, to join the voices: what has been happening is not okay. And I'll join efforts locally and internationally to stop that BS.
Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Of Family, Crankiness, and Devil(l)ed Eggs

My essay entitled "Nulliparous" is now live at Pithead Chapel! Go here for some summer reading.

It's really neat to be part of this publication. This month, there's more creative nonfiction as well as prose poems and fiction. Lots of great stuff! (And they're accepting entries for their short story contest, too.)

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Cross Words

For the past year, I've done a crossword puzzle nearly every day.

I got hooked while on vacation. It's been really fun to try to figure out what other people think words mean.

Plus I've learned about things along the way. Like the plant indigo comes from: anil. And that there are many sites devoted to crossword puzzles online.

Also it reminded me of this 2006 documentary, Wordplay.

In the trailer above, former President Clinton says he does them to see what people are thinking about. Me, too. Many more recent movie stars than I had anticipated.

Right now, I'm thinking about going for a row with my sister. To read more about that, you could check out this essay, "Backwards, Opposite, Contrary," at Full Grown People. There's lots of other good stuff at FGP, too.

So: a ten-letter word for "holiday without leaving home" is "staycation," and I'm on one. Even if that's NOT an officially recognized word for puzzles.
Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Baseball Joy

If I were doing a "summer" mind map--you know, that brainstormy tool that looks like a visual tinkertoy assembly, with spokes connecting a central idea to disparate topics--one of the topics would be "baseball."

Ahh, baseball. A League of Their Own. The Boys of Summer. The Church of Baseball. Lemonade and hot dogs in the blazing sun.


And this: Baseball Life Advice, by Stacey May Fowles.

I haven't been to a baseball game since a Tucson spring training game 2007. At least I think that's when it was, and the league, and the location. I know I was there with my father (and my sister), and Daddy wasn't feeling 100%, and the dust didn't help his breathing, but once we landed in some seats, he got out a pen and started scoring the game in his own style. As he did.

But baseball exists not only nostalgia-tinged hazy memories like mine. Games are going on, now, and people still enjoy it and are inspired by it. They look to the game for entertainment and as a form of salvation. They consider its lessons.

And by "they" I really mean Stacey May Fowles, who's been writing about baseball since 2012 and caring about it for far longer. Reading these essays was like having a bunch of great conversations--always substantive, never preachy--on an afternoon when the sun's out but it's not too hot, and you've successfully put from your mind those random, nagging worries about bills and work problems, and your conversation partner knows more than you do but knows how to share it without making you feel stupid, and she even lets you sit quietly from time to time so you can think about what she's just said.

That's in fact how reading this book actually WAS for me. I forced myself to put it down instead of gobbling it whole. I gave myself time to read and ponder. I dog-eared page after page (and back-to-back pages at times), for all kinds of reasons. And the experience of reading it in this way was JUST what I have needed.

The topics range widely and she has so many interesting things to say. For example, this, at the end of a thorough essay on Imposter Syndrome:
The best way to deal with the voice that tells you that you're not good enough, or smart enough, or qualified enough, is to wake up every day and prove it wrong.

That. That's how I'm conquering the nausea of revising and sharing work. It helps. It will continue to help. As will its thoughts about disappointments, almosts, cheating, performance anxiety, communities, and teamwork.

Well worth reading. And re-reading. And I will. And I'll get to remember my father, with fondness, every time.
Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Revisions, Yet Again

I'm at the nausea stage of revising my novel--that is, the thought of other people reading it nauseates me and, I worry, reading it would nauseate them too.

On yesterday's walk, I noticed this balsam, which made me think of revising all over again.

The rust-colored branch that's hanging down was cut but not severed when the municipality trimmed back the trees growing over the street. I didn't stop to check closely, but I think the extending branch was damaged at the same time.

I don't know enough about the secret lives of trees to know why or when or exactly how, but I have noticed that evergreens also prune themselves. They drop needles that are no longer useful to them. These branches had help, but trees back in the bush are also dropping growth.

Which is what I've tried to do with this novel--get rid of the parts that aren't useful, that no longer work. The novel has taken several twists and turns through the years, as I've learned and experimented and despaired. The kernel I'm exploring is the same, the relationships still fascinate me, and I love the setting. But in working through all its iterations, I've gone down a few blind alleys.

The point is, like the tree, my novel doesn't need some of those branches any more. I've tried to get rid of them, but I know I've missed several.

Still. The tree grows over the course of several years. So has this novel. They're still pruning. And so can I.
Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Now Live at FGP

My essay, "Backwards, Opposite, Contrary," is now live at Full-Grown People! Here's how it starts.

Rowing: using oars to propel a boat. When you row, everything is backwards. You face away from your destination. Your right oar is to port, the boat’s left side. Your left oar is to starboard, the boat’s right side. 
Maneuvering feels strange at first, but with practice, your brain adjusts. As it does to so many things.
It's about...a lot of things, actually. The ways time changes expectations in relationships. The limits of minor rebellions. When the place you go to "get away from it all" is the place where "it all" actually is. Mothers, and fathers, and the cryptic ways we show our love for each other.

And rowing.

With an awesome photograph by Gina Easley.

Here's the link to the whole thing. Many thanks to FGP editor Jennifer Niesslein!
Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Shuffle Rebellion

Sometimes I don't sleep well. I've been blaming hormones; it might be age. Regardless, sometimes I just don't sleep well.

Yes, even when one of my feet is out from under the covers. (I read somewhere that receptors on the soles of your feet, when cold, signal the brain that it's time to sleep.)

Yes, even when I wear earplugs. (My husband is an excellent snorer.)

Yes, even when I exercise, do gentle stretching, limit light from screens, yadda yadda.

So--although I missed the article in O, the Oprah Magazine--I was interested to read articles about the "cognitive shuffle" trick. Like this article, from the CBC.

Basically, you think of a word--a short one, without repeating letters, like COMB. (That was my word last night.) And then you mentally list other words that start with those letters. The idea is that the task is repetitive enough to be calming but engaging enough to keep you doing it.

But I can't follow directions. I mean, I could. I love to, in fact. I'm a champion rule-follower. I've been following rules ever since I can remember. I have to WORK to NOT follow the rules.

Yet last night, for some reason, I decided this exercise would be an area in which I transcended my upbringing.

Just listing words that start with C until I ran out of words--dull and tedious. Plus, I'd never get to another letter. I'm a writer! I know lots of words that start with C!

Then I recognized I wasn't all that sure how to do it right--whether you exhaust all your C words before moving to COMB or if you do a C word, an O word, an M word, a B word, a C that.

Then I decided it didn't matter. That I wanted to do a word for each letter, C, O, M, B, C, O, M, B. AND I'd use categories. States. First names. Cities. Last night's category was Food.

Which is why I was lying in bed last night WIDE AWAKE, debating whether "orangutan" counted as a food, given that I wouldn't eat one but had used up "orange" and "oatmeal" and was stuck.

Which is when I realized that the POINT of the cognitive shuffle isn't to "do it right" in the way I had defined it, in an effort to transcend my upbringing--to create word lists in categories, say--but to FALL ASLEEP.

Ergo, "improvements" to this sleep method had been part of what worked against me. (Plus a too-late coffee and hit of chocolate, but never mind that.)

I eventually slept last night, but neither long enough nor well enough. Tonight, though--tonight, I'm going to sleep like the champion rule-follower I am.
Wednesday, June 28, 2017

More Excellent Company

Exciting news: one of my new essays will soon appear at Full Grown People, an online publication specializing in for essays about "The Other Awkward Age." Namely, adulthood.

I have admired the work there for some time. It's such a wide-ranging group of contributors, and they (soon to be we!) create a resonant hum of recognition in readers by sharing unique experiences.

For example, "Going to Ground" by Sarah Einstein is a recent and especially vivid evocation of how lives have changed in the past year. I highly recommend it.

But don't stop there. For example, the Submissions page advises writers to carefully scrutinize the endings of their essays.

So go there and root around a bit--there's a lot to see.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Such Excellent Company

Today, The New Quarterly announced the longlist for the 2017 Edna Staebler Personal Essay contest, and I have an essay on it! At the link, you'll see the other writers in whose company I am thrilled to have work. (She said roundaboutly.)

The folder holding drafts of "Atomic Tangerine" is several inches thick. No kidding. It's been, as they say, a journey, one I'm still on.

I've had really insightful and substantive feedback from writers whose opinions I value very highly. So it's lovely that the essay is recognized at this level.

And now, back to work on three other pieces that are still forming and swirling and shedding dead weight, where I hope to apply what I learned from all those drafts of "Atomic Tangerine."

Many many thanks to The New Quarterly for administering this contest--they're a lot of (often rewarding) work, and I appreciate the opportunity to participate as an entrant.
Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Something Else She Was Right About

"She" being my mother. Of course.

What she was right about: talking about something only to vent, without aiming at a solution, isn't particularly helpful.

Yes, sometimes people "think aloud," and sometimes people just need to express frustration.

But not every issue requires--or benefits from--my input. The world doesn't need another horrified person expressing anger or horror or sadness.

Besides, if too many people are talking, who's left to listen?

I don't mean to imply I'm not writing (revising/editing/dreaming)--I am. I'm doing my own work, even when I'm not sure of its originality or cosmic value. I'm doing the work that is mine to do.

And in the rest of the time, I try to keep my mouth shut and listen--for new voices, new ideas, new resolve.
Wednesday, June 7, 2017


June brings longer days, shorter nights, and chores--ongoing, unrelenting, neverending chores. Both continuous and continual.

Still, there's always time to read. I recently finished Medicine Walk, by Richard Wagamese. So much to ponder. Two things stand out immediately: how the characters stand so firmly on the land, and how physical work is described.

Picking up the book at random, here's a short sample of a chore (from page 186):
The ground was stony beyond the scrim of topsoil. It was gravel, mixed with sand and rocks the size of bread loaves. He bashed away at it and had to get a pick from the trailer and he swung it hard, the clink and the clip of its bite echoing dully off the trees. He'd broken a sweat by the time the hole was cleared enough to get the post-hole digger at it.
I've never done work that hard, but I've broken a sweat like that, felt daunted by the first post-hole-equivalent in that way, and been glad of a water jug, just as this character was.

I wrote about some of that type of work in the essay that appeared in Compose last month, though much of my work that afternoon was mental, not physical.

As this summer wears on, I'll read other books. But when I work, I'll remember this one. I'm so glad Richard Wagamese wrote it and it was published so I could read it.
Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Seasons Change

I love May. My surroundings change so much--from mud and dirty and lingering snow to green, out-of-control grass and budding birches.

I also hate May. I get really grouchy. It's hayfever season--merely annoying to me but seriously annoying to my husband until all the trees quit dropping pollen everywhere.

Mostly, it's just that May brings change. Between-ness is uncomfortable to me. Even though I'm celebrating the fact that I finished a lot of work (and some recent visible publications! bonus!) this winter, I still didn't do everything I wanted.

So I've been struggling a bit--trying to get out from under layers, like the ones below that kept me company yesterday as evening fell.

Summer is just...different.

For one thing, we're outdoors more of the time--but never, it seems, enough.

Most important, my energy for writing and revising is different, so it's time to change projects. New writing is stirring--I can almost feel it in my palms. It's exciting.

So I put away the remnants of the projects from the winter and spring I didn't quite get to and try to focus on what I did finish.

And I'm (still, always) listening--to new voices, to long-ignored voices, to new-to-me-voices, to inner voices, to the voices of this beautiful, beautiful world.
Wednesday, May 24, 2017

May is "Marion Overshares" Month

Just kidding, sorta.

"Sorta" because both essays that went "live" this month shine a spotlight on elements of my life that may not be social media-worthy. Though I did write them, and I did submit them for publication, and they're out there. So any second thoughts are a couple of years/decades too late.

August heat and obsessive love at Gravel Magazine in "Through the Hearts of Space": 
You drive through the August night. The swampy heat climbs the back of your neck to twine in your hair, where it clings like kudzu. 

The aftermath of illness at Compose in "Bypass Instructions": 
On a sunny early-August morning, I load my new chainsaw, the squeeze bottle of cherry-coloured oil, and the small pair of loppers into the red wheelbarrow. 

But I said "just kidding" because I've been very lucky. By circumstances of birth, I have a lot of choice about what to share and what not to.

Others, as I continue to learn by listening (my word and my work for 2017) live in a different reality. One in which their voices often remain unheard. I have a responsibility to listen to them.

So here's a list, from the fabulous resource The 49th Shelf, of Books by First Nations and Inuit Women. These titles are just a few of those I hope to immerse myself in this summer.

And while I'm at it, The 49th Shelf has tons of lists, organized by various subjects. (Including, speaking of immersion, books about swimming.) Very helpful for broadening your reading horizons!

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

New at Compose!

I'm thrilled that my essay, "Bypass Instructions," is up now in the Spring 2017 issue of Compose!

In it, I humblebrag (or maybe just brag) about chainsaws and cutting trees. But all of that is in service to more serious subjects--love, of course; and recovery from illness (yours and/or someone else's).

Also in this issue: five other nonfiction pieces (family histories and cooking! beating the illness odds! river philosophy! school pictures and family relationships! caring for people and dogs!) that are excellent reading--good companions to mull over while you work outdoors. And fiction, poetry, and featured interviews, of course. Plus artwork!

Thank you to the Compose editorial team and publisher!
Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Canadian Shorts: Proceeds to Refugees

Canada Post (a term I use to refer also to various courier services) has brought me some very nice things lately. Including this!

Sponsored by Mischievous Books, the Canadian Shorts anthology contains "Canadian-themed short stories featuring top entries of the 2017 Canadian Shorts writing contest."

Best of all, proceeds from anthology sales will go to the Canadian Council for Refugees, a nonprofit organization committed to refugee and immigrant rights.

And the anthology includes my short story, "A Map of the Moon," which placed third in the contest. It's about maps, tardigrades, motorcycles, dreams, and trying again. And family. Of course.

The anthology is available at a link on this page. With 15 short stories, it's the perfect summer read for lazy, rainy afternoons. While you're at the Mischievous Books site, check out some of their other titles for adults and young adults.

It's such an honour to have work included in this anthology! Especially when it supports such a great cause. Thank you, Brenda Fisk (managing editor of Mischievous Books) and the contest jury.

It's been quite a month, with an essay now live at Gravel and another forthcoming in Compose (new link next week!). I'm grateful.
Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Her Voice in My Ear

My mother was born in a home in Port Arthur, Ontario, 100 years ago today. She died nearly seventeen years ago but had disappeared gradually for several years before that, so she's been gone about twenty years.

Yesterday I stood in line at the bank because there are still some things you have to see a human about. I try not to go when I have a specific appointment after, because I'm more patient if I'm not in a particular hurry, but there are some times when you can't effect that, either.

So standing there trying to ignore the minutes ticking by, I watched a woman of maybe seventy years help her ninety-plus-year-old father with his banking. I wondered how that would feel, to still have parents today, never mind ten or fifteen years from now.

I was my parents' "late in life" baby. I started what I hope is the second half of my life without my mother. With any luck, I'll live longer without Mom's presence on the planet than I did with her here.

It feels strange to call that "luck," but I'm in no hurry to die. There's too much to write about first. Much of what I'm writing is about her and my father. It's about the place my grandfather built north of Port Arthur (now Thunder Bay), in what is incorporated as Shuniah, where I now live. My work is about family and roots. I recently received support from the Ontario Arts Council to complete a collection of essays and I'm grateful for it.

There in the bank, I realized I held a magical device in my hand--one with which I could alert my lunch date that I might be late and let her know why. So I did. And wished, for just a moment, for a way to text my mother, to receive a text in return.
Monday, May 1, 2017

Now Live at Gravel! my essay, "Through the Hearts of Space," about
* driving through Little Rock on sweltering summer nights,
* listening to New Age music, and
* (of course) wallowing in obsessive love.

Thanks to the folks at Gravel, a journal published by the folks in the MFA program at the University of Arkansas at Monticello. Lots of fun reading in the summer issue!
Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Showing Up

While I'm on vacation/holiday/family visit, I went to a Rally for Science. (The days are warm in Tucson, so we rallied instead of marching.) And it was great!

I haven't attended rallies or other events at home in Canada, for various reasons. For one thing, although I'm a U.S. citizen with family in the country and I and vote, I do intend to live in Canada for-you-know-ever. For another, we live in the country, so rallying with others (or even attending evening functions) is a commitment--planning, leaving early, weather, the usual.

(So maybe they weren't so much reasons as excuses.)

In any case: I went to this. I'm on vacation, so I have no "opportunity cost" calculations (if I spend all morning at THIS event, I can't be working on THAT project). The place was relatively convenient, since my sister was driving, we're mobile and could park far away without consequence, and we agreed that we could leave any time we became uncomfortable. (Sometimes I don't do well in hot weather.)

I hadn't thought I'd missed anything by eschewing protests and rallies. I had.

My big takeaway: showing up shows you that you're not alone. 

It was energizing to see a diverse group of people talking about projects that interest them. About a legacy they wish to leave to children or grandchildren. About solving problems that plague our planet. About contributing, sharing their gifts, working hard.

It was also a fabulous opportunity to listen to others who are more knowledgeable, who are curious, who are unsure of their way forward but remain determined to help others.

So I'm glad I showed up.

Does "showing up" work as well when you "show up" to the page? I suspect so. There, you're also not alone, though you may be the only person in the room. You have as company everything you've read, noticed, heard, felt, thought, perceived, talked through, received, ignored. You sit in infinite possibility--you can continue a project already begun or start something new.

But you have to show up.

And by "you," I mean me.
Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Words Mean Things

Consider the following labels for ways one can spend time:



Family visit.

Their meanings overlap but are not identical. 

I am currently experiencing at least one of them. By the time I get home, I will have cycled through all three, individually and all together, and no doubt all possible combinations of any two. 

While I'm away, I plan to do loads of nothing, though I am taking notebooks (of course) (yes, plural) and my sister has assured me she will share art supplies. Sort of an R&R Boot Camp. 

Once I go, I'll be happy about it. And also happy once I'm back home. 
Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Yes! and No!

From time to time, I get great satisfaction from cooking up the carcass of the holiday turkey. Broth! Soup! Good smells! Competence! Thrift! Say YES to actions that expand your skill set!

Today, I'm throwing away something that I think was the carcass of a holiday turkey. It might be something else--I'm really not sure at this point. And at the moment, I just don't have what it takes to investigate, even if it means I'm missing out on all the things in the previous paragraph. Say NO to actions that don't bring you joy!

In light of that particular experience, I was amused to read this essay at Brevity this morning. By Shawna Kenney, the essay's entitled, "Never Call Yourself a Writer, and Other Rules for Writing." It's awesome.

My favourite excerpt: "Say this writing mantra every day: I am my own mantra." Your mileage may vary, and rightly so--the essay is full of fun.

Sometimes the right answer is "yes," sometimes it's "no," sometimes it's "both," sometimes it's "neither," sometimes it's "maybe," and sometimes it's "salted caramel mocha, no whip."
Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Tapestry of a Story

Over the weekend, I sampled the S-Town podcast while I was on the treadmill.

Aaaaaand THERE went the rest of the weekend.

Sure, I ate and drank and went outdoors and got the newspaper and did the Sunday crossword. But I also listened.

Here's some background.

A. It's produced by those who brought the Serial podcast to the world, which in turn was made by experienced folks from This American Life, and focuses on the life of a character in a small town in the southern U.S.

B. It's in a significantly different format (aside from being a story told by voices on the radio): all seven episodes were released at once. It thus lacks the "simultaneous reporting" feature of the two seasons of Serial and other true-crime or investigative journalism podcasts, when attention to the initial story brings forward information that can shed light on or solve the initial mystery.

The fact of A made me, frankly, a little leery. I liked Serial, but I've heard storytellers on This American Life cross the line from an "Oh really? That's interesting; I'm listening" question to a "I'll let you keep talking while I snicker at your ignorance" question. Especially when it comes to people and places in the southern U.S. (I'm not pointing fingers at anyone or any story in particular. Your mileage my vary. I've been told I'm over-sensitive and I may well be so.)

Still, I heard NONE of that in S-Town. Brian Reed, the host, is open about the times he's unfamiliar with cultural issues and the times he's in uncomfortable situations. He does a great job of asking for explanations, of allowing people to speak for themselves, of calling people on it when he thinks their story is self-serving, of running difficult truths past interview subjects--in short, of standing in for a reader. I felt no disrespect, either from him or from the editing process, for the people he talks to or the culture they came from.

Still, I think it's the B element that makes the podcast so compelling--and yes, controversial. Questions have come up regarding the ability for interview subjects to consent, the possibility of identifying people who might like to remain anonymous, the framing of some sexual practices and types of relationships, and other concerns that are discussed and illuminated in this article by Aja Romano on Vox.

But S-Town is worth listening to if only in relation to storytelling. It provides lots of food for thought and discussion:

* The difference between content being released serially (Dickens) vs. all at once (Eliot and most novels). What type of content works well for serial release and how are those individual epidodes structured? What type of content works better for "all at once" release, and how are those episodes structured differently? How do podcasts like Serial create themes that make it easy for a listener to follow, while also allowing room for new information and updates?

* The ability, with an "all at once" release, to craft the total content in a way a writer can't predict when you begin to write the story. In S-Town, themes--identity and belonging, intelligence vs. education, regrets and sacrifices, clockmaking and life directions--all wind and turn and support the individual episodes. Symbols recur: gardens, fertility, growing things that take on a life of their own; mazes, puzzles, the final unknowability of another person. Some of this might have been predictable from Reed's first visit to S-Town, but most couldn't have been.

Neither type of storytelling is superior to another.

Some stories benefit from close attention to each procedure. A needle pulls thread through canvas. One stitch leads to another, some stitches require skipping ahead and filling in backwards, a stitch goes in a slightly different direction, one leads to another. Meanwhile, across a swath of blank canvas, someone else is stitching, too.

Another type of storytelling benefits by being crafted before any of it is exposed. A tapestry can contain repeating elements--gold threads can appear in a sunrise, in the reflection of life from a glass in a bar, in a mirror. A shape (pear) can appear literally, in a fruit bowl, in rising smoke (inverted), in human figures. Et cetera.

It's Wednesday and I'm still scrambling to catch up from the time I spent listening to the podcast instead of finishing paperwork and paying attention to deadlines. But my time in S-Town was worth it. I highly recommend it.
Wednesday, March 29, 2017

When Do You Think About "Where?"

The past few days have included several writer-full conversations touching on "where are you going to publish this?"

I've written a little recently (here, here, and here) (okay, maybe more than "a little"?) about matching written pieces to the needs and interests of particular publications.

Sharing finished pieces is an understandable need/desire/obsession/step in the process. Most of us tell stories FOR READERS--first for ourselves as readers, and then for other people.

One recent conversation held a new slant. A writer who's still in the early stages of a project has received suggestions from a person whose interest in the project is driven by business and publication. That's great--that's what the person providing input is supposed to do, it's her role. And there's nothing wrong with the suggestions, either--except that they may not work well with the story the writer WANTS to tell.

Which got me thinking about writing pieces for a publication (or publications) vs. writing pieces that find homes in publications. The first is what I did as work. It was a job. It was also really fun and personally rewarding (to say nothing of financially rewarding--it was a JOB).

But it wasn't driven from the same deep desire that I write from today. Which is also work, but a different kind of work.

I'm fortunate. For one thing, I'm older and so grateful to have experienced that thrill of contributing to magazines, writing and editing curricula, writing newsletters, summarizing and narrating research process and findings, and all the accompanying bits. The interviews with semi-famous people, passionate people, fascinating people. The research. The sense of being in a community and knowing little stories that others don't because you've spent time talking with this person about that thing they're doing over there. It was great.

I'm also fortunate in that I don't do that now. I still love working with experts in the limited ways I do (I edit a lot of proposals for motivated scientists and engineers doing really interesting research projects). But I don't HAVE to with the same urgency I had before, either for professional achievement or for financial reasons.

So in my writing, I CAN be driven by other questions: "What is the story I WANT to tell?" "What is the best way to tell it?" "Does this finished piece satisfy my urge to convey what I want it to?"

The question, "Where am I going to publish this?" comes later. Often, much later--years. Often, to be honest, the question sounds more like "Whyyyyyyyyy won't somebody just PUBLISH this??"

My situation may change. Though I am not (yet) a writer with an agent or a multi-book contract, if I were, I'd have to consider motivations other than just "me me me" and what I WANT to do. I would be in a business partnership, and I'd need to hono(u)r that commitment and their investment in my work.

Meanwhile, I have a stack of work that I've finished or that has come back. So: back to thinking about "Where?"
Wednesday, March 22, 2017

What It Looks Like

Last week I wrote about finding a particular contest to enter. (The full post, at the blog for the Northwestern Ontario Writers Workshop, is here.)

I'm just back from the launch of the anthology, made up of ten stories that were chosen from contest entries. Here's the cover by artist Becca Paxton, chosen by the contest committee after inviting submissions of artwork on the theme of "Rebirth."

Becca says she hadn't thought of a title and so was calling it "Untitled." Clever. To me, it looks like Ophelia. However, she's the artist, so it's her call.

The launch and celebration was a grand event. So much work goes into a contest, and it provides great opportunities to meet other writers, talk shop, and generally broaden one's horizons. The reception, featuring food mentioned in each of the ten stories, is a bonus.

Thank you to the members of the Niagara Branch of the Canadian Authors Association. It is an honour to have a small part in your anthology series!
Wednesday, March 15, 2017

How I Did It

I recently wrote a blog post for the Northwestern Ontario Writers Workshop, of which I'm a proud member, about how I even knew to enter a contest in another region and generally how I decide where to submit my work.

The tl;dr version: research.

Along the way, I mention Compose and the Ten Stories High contest, sponsored by the Niagara Branch of the Canadian Authors Association.

NOWW is also accepting entries for its contest--$10 (free to NOWW members) with excellent judges. Consider submitting!

For the full blog post, go here.
Wednesday, March 8, 2017

International Women's Day: An Important Difference

On International Women's Day, I like to think about my mother and my grandmothers. Fiercely intelligent, curious, driven--and teachers, all of them. Doing the best they knew to do, though their actions might be viewed differently through today's social and moral lenses.

I think about my sister, whose companionship I treasure. I think of my nieces--competent adults with energy and gifts to share.

I think of women unrelated to me whose presence in the world has taken up space, and also, in some miraculous fashion, makes room for other women alive today and in the future.

Some years it's tough to feel optimistic about the role of women in the world. That would be this year. For me, anyway.

It's extremely difficult to accept that one particular woman--who had so much to give and gave it freely, who was upright (AND RIGHT), who never fit "properly" into a traditional "woman's place" role and paid for it over and over (AND NEVERTHELESS PERSISTED before that even became a thing)--has been deliberately cast aside.

I wonder what my grandmothers and my mother would think.

This year, I feel particularly grateful to live in Canada. Leadership on Canada's political landscape is also changing. It's partly in response to the turmoil in the U.S. and partly because time is passing, and party leadership needs to reflect the different needs and voices in the country.

And here's a difference about politics in Canada in 2016/2017: generally speaking, candidates for leadership who are women are wrong because their ideas are bad--racist, harmful, divisive--and not because they are women.

A small difference, but an important one. I cling to it. I also look to the growing strength of a new generation of political and social leadership in the U.S., in all its various forms of diversity, and hope to feel more optimistic next year.

Meanwhile, I remember my pride in the women who came before me, and yeah, I know what they'd tell me. Get back to work.
Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Three to Think About

Welcome, March! Here are three thinkers/writers/speakers whose virtual paths have crossed mine recently.

* Richard Conniff's strange behaviors blog, where he writes about animals and behavior and animal behavior. I've been reading and responding to this post in particular: Useless Creatures (and Why They Matter). Not everything in the world has to demonstrate its value by doing something for human beings.

* In the Sydney Review of Books, by James Bradley, this essay: "Writing on the Precipice." The idea with which I first engaged was his discussion of the power of story, one of my ongoing interests. He says, "There are moments though, when our stories fail us, moments when the world's complexities exceed their power." The rest of the essay also has much to ponder. He considers various ways people have recently written, both fiction and nonfiction, about science and nature. Reading and digesting it is taking time, in a good way.

* This talk, "Indigenization in the Time of Pipelines," by âpihtawikosisân (Chelsea Vowel), a Métis scholar and activist. I started listening to this while doing something else. So much to learn! Even her early pre-presentation thoughts about territory acknowledgments--where they're happening, where they're glossed over, where they're no longer causing discomfort--are enlightening. There's lots to engage with, all the way through. 

Here's how I'm starting March--and it feels like "a very good place to start,"* too.

* Yes, from the Sound of Music. Because I've also been thinking more about refugees, resistance, and patriotism lately.
Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Revising and the Ship of Theseus

The Ship of Theseus is a thought experiment from the world of philosophy. A ship, lying on the shore, needs repairs—new decking, fresh timbers, a new mast or two. How much of the original ship can be replaced before it's no longer the same ship? 

I ran into this idea in a recent TV episode, and now, of course, I SEE IT EVERYWHERE.

During my Admin Boot Camp (which I still haven’t written about, in part because it’s still NOT OVER, see ~ below), one of my tasks was to get that rattle in the Corolla fixed. 

Almost two days and $$$$ later, I’m now driving the Corolla of Theseus. Not really, but I pondered at what point I’d be driving a different car vs. the same car with all new parts.

AND the Ship of Theseus relates to revising. How much of a draft can you change before it becomes something new—not something that’s necessarily better or definitely worse than the original, but something decidedly different?

I’ve worked on pieces—usually essays, but short fiction, too—where I think I know what I want to write about but I’m mistaken. Really knowing what I want to say usually requires several drafts (sigh, see ** below).

Sometimes I even have to let go of my original idea. Turns out, that idea (an image, a character’s statement, my Grand Plan) was just a starting point—my open door. However, the door has become less important than what’s inside the room, and it’s the room (not the door) I want to show to the reader.

At that point, am I still writing the same thing? Maybe. Maybe not. I think the answer is different for everyone.

Say you set out to write a lyric essay about squirrels, and four months later, you have written a sonnet about the science of flying. Did you fulfill your purpose?

On the surface, the answer is NO. The form and content are both different. A lyric essay isn’t the same thing as a sonnet, and “squirrels” aren’t “the science of flying.”

But maybe the answer is YES. Maybe the process of revision during which Draft A of a lyric essay about squirrels became Finished Product B, a sonnet about the science of flying, was exactly what you wanted it to be. Nobody can tell you otherwise.

Whatever the answer, you get to decide. It’s your ship.

~ Admin Boot Camp is somehow related to Parkinson’s Law (work fills to take up the time available), but the exact parameters are still under investigation.

** I know in my head that multiple drafts aren’t “wasted work” or a “time sink” but I don't always know it in my heart.