Showing posts from 2011

Not What I Expected

Sometimes, things don't turn out the way you expect them to. Like today's haircut. Backing up a bit...last July, my brother started a particularly strong type of chemotherapy to help ready his body for a stem cell transplant. For the first time, he faced losing his hair. In a moment of insanity, um, solidarity, I said I would grow out the gray in my hair. (At least I knew myself well enough not to volunteer to shave my head!) My stylist talked me into dying my (shorter) hair a colour that she claimed matched my natural colour. (My hair had been chemically treated for so long, in one way or another, that I honestly didn't remember what my real colour was.) Then, she said, the colour could grow out and I could look somewhat adult and respectable instead of like someone who hadn't really thought through this whole "growing out the gray" thing. The whole growing-out process took a lot longer than I expected, and the results aren't nearly as shocking as I was s

Surprise, Surprise, Surprise!

So you know my story came out in Prairie Fire before I expected it to. AND the Fall issue of Room , with my essay, has also hit the bookshelves at a fabulous independent bookstore near you. You might also find it at a chain -- if you don't see it, ask for it so they know people read it! AND I just sent back proofs for the fall issue of South Dakota Review , which will print my story "Walking Out." AND I got a review! Joan Baril, Thunder Bay writer and purveyor of Literary Thunder Bay, had some nice comments about "MacDonald Variety ," the story in Prairie Fire . It's been quite a fall. The best part, which I had absolutely nothing to do with, is that my brother continues to recover well. Which reminds me, November is my birthday month, and the ability to celebrate my birthday with my brother (and his, a few weeks later) is one of the best gifts I've ever received. With a quick swab of the inside of your cheek, you can join a registry that could allow y

Early Bounty

The Fall 2011 Prairie Fire is out ( this link is to the home page while it's the current issue; for future visitors, it's Vol. 32 No. 3) and I have a short story in it! I had thought it wouldn't be published till Winter 2012. This is such a pleasant surprise. It will be really fun to see the rest of the issue as well. I'm still away from home (and my brother is recuperating VERY WELL, thanks!) so I am awfully glad I had my husband open the mail. And yes, I brought writing, and yes, I am able to work on it! That feels rewarding, too. It's a little early -- or late, depending on the country -- for Thanksgiving, but there is much for which I am very grateful this harvest season! (Which you can tell by all the exclamation points!!!)

Surfeit and Link-O-Rama

I've written before about participating in a local writing community, but since I can't get the blog's search function to load, you'll have to take my word for it. Writing communities, and their value, can inspire differences of opinion among writers. I can see both sides: communities can be useful, and they can also be distractions from doing the work. During the seven years I've been in the process of moving here, living here, and adjusting to life here, I've found it useful to keep company with other writers. With some writers, at some times, for some purposes. Sometimes I feel that I know more about writing than I have actually practiced, and so I don't seek out new insights, "how to" articles, workshops, or opportunities to learn about writing. Instead, I focus on taking apart writing (my own). Applying what I know. Trying things. Sometimes I attend readings and workshops simply to be in the same room with many people who think writing is impo

Literally: No Really, I Mean Literally

It's October and the leaves are turning. Friday I was driving to a morning meeting in town, enjoying the vistas in front of me: golden poplar and birches intertwined with dark green spruce, balsam, and pine. The moose maple and low-lying brush have gone orange and red this year. Beyond the trees lay the lake, glinting silver blue in the mid-morning sun, and beyond that, the Sibley peninsula, Isle Royale, and Pie Island in their various shades of purple. I came to the top of a rise and gasped audibly. The view took my breath away. Literally: a breathtaking view. Over the years, other images used figuratively have shown me their literal roots. One summer Saturday, the our end of the bay developed huge rolling waves, coming from town. It had been a calm morning -- the kind of morning, in fact, that my grandfather and then my mother used to warn about. The kind of morning that encouraged people to go out fishing, perhaps too far from shore to be safe. Sure enough, one of the guys out f

"All I Can Say": A Timeline

This entry got long and all self-reflect-y. There is important stuff at the top, and also about subscribing at the bottom. Feel free to skip the middle. The new Room magazine, Issue 34.3, will be out soon, and my essay “All I Can Say” is in it! Here's the cover. Here's a link to the editor's opening essay , which starts off with my own piece. Nonwriters sometimes ask writers, “How long did it take you to write this story?” To illustrate the difficulty of answering that kind of question, I've created a timeline of events that are (mostly) relevant to this essay. 2000 (May): My mother dies, technically from pneumonia, but really from Alzheimer's Disease. She lived in Oklahoma; I live in Colorado. I had quit writing about my mother's illness during the last year of her life so that I could be more present in it. I take up writing again soon after her death. 2001 (September): I take my first class in American Sign Language (ASL), something from my List,* with a (


Some commitments are more important than others. I know: duh. But seriously. When you say, "I'm writing a novel," and then you don't, who do you hurt? Yourself, for sure, unless your own integrity demands that you don't write it, at least at this moment. But what if you say "I'm writing a novel," and then just...don't, for no real reason except that it's hard, or something else was more fun? Make this kind of "commitment" often enough and sooner or later, you won't believe yourself when you make commitments, and then it's even harder to keep them. "Oh, sure," your inner self says. "We'll see how long this lasts," whether you're committing to write a novel or run a 10K or just spend Saturday mornings with your kids. And then that inner critic claps with glee when you sleep in instead of putting in your page count or mileage, or heading off toward the playground. You could also argue that when you d


Loss has been on my mind lately. I've had the privilege of sitting in a memorial service for a family member. Canada lost one of its political leaders. And the U.S. observed the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks. Of course, I think about the stories. The stories people told. The stories that people didn't get to tell. The ones people wish they could forget. And the ones that are now lost, the stories unique to each of the individual souls no longer with us. StoryCorps is working with family members of those who died on September 11 to record their stories. Unfortunately, it's too late to capture the stories from those killed -- how they would have described their lives, the things that were important to them. It's also too late for me to seek out my husband's cousin's memories of my husband as a young boy, of their fathers and mothers as they talked and laughed together. Over the next few months, I'll have the opportunity to listen to many family

The Doldrums

The Doldrums ( the intertropical convergence zone ) are a physical place, near the equator, where winds from north and south converge. The Doldrums encompass both violent thunderstorms and what Wikipedia calls "stagnant calms." The "calm" part of which I think of more as "lack of anything happening," instead of "peacefulness." And the violent thunderstorms are most often expressed as "Omigod what happened to summer????" In any case, several people have mentioned symptoms of being in The Doldrums lately. Maybe it's the heat, which discourages purposeful activity but doesn't erase the guilt for "wasting" perfectly beautiful sunny days. Regardless, summer is slipping away (September is THURSDAY! Autumn is nearly HERE!) and that stirs up feelings of panic or wistfulness, depending. Natural disasters like storms or earthquakes don't help. Neither do unsettling events, like the death of Jack Layton at a young 61.

Giving: Risks and Rewards

I love it when people do nice things. It's inspiring in ways they may not even have considered. Here are two examples. Last year, a poet friend and her sister collaborated with one of their friends who makes books. "Makes" as in hand-makes, stitches, selects paper, does the fancy folds -- really makes them, hands-on. This bookmaking friend had been part of a course in which participants discussed that question that plagues all artists: now that I've made it, what do I do with it? Obviously, many artists want to sell things. But let's face it, not everything artists produce is something others want to own, much less pay for. Then what? Writers fill up filing cabinets (now virtual), but when you're a potter or a painter or book-maker, what do you do? How many storage units can an artist afford? This book-maker decided she would use her skills to give to others. She came up with a theme: seasons. She recruited co-conspirators. The painting sister painte

Looked at "no" from both sides, now

Sorry for the earworm, and if you're too young to have it appear naturally, here . You're welcome. This is the version (pared down: Joni Mitchell + guitar) that plays in my head. (Though, okay, I first heard Judy Collins do it; I'm American.) And this version (Measha Brueggergosman + lots of production) is also beautiful. It's obviously an enduring song. In any case, my point: I've had the chance to "say" no recently, and being on that side of the rejection was a different kind of difficult. A group I'm in has a great program starting (again) this fall, and we put out an RFP that elicited dozens of applications. I wasn't involved in the entire vetting process, but I joined toward the end, and since I was the one with a little time, I was responsible for bearing the news. First I notified applicants that selection was taking longer than we anticipated. About ten days later, after much discussion and back-and-forth and research, I had to n

Set. Sprung.

So. Still living in the country. Still fighting to enforce a line between indoors and outdoors. New opponent, though: this time, it's a rodent. Last week, a mouse made its way into my office. I am not a fan of rodents, so my inner alarm system shrieked to alert the household to the presence of the intruder. Just trying to keep everyone else safe. That's me. After a quick trip to the little store for peanut butter, my husband set four traps. Meanwhile, I donned my "wellies" (wellington boots, similar to these , except mine have glitter flower stickers on them) and stood by, trying to keep my alarm system from tripping again. Soon thereafter, the intruder reappeared but eventually made his way up the vacuum hose to heaven, where s/he frolicks with friends and enjoys the absence of shrieks. It's been several days, now, and I have heard nothing in the way of further mouse activity. (Sadly, I am familiar with its scritchings and tappings.) However, the set

Life as an Antagonist

I haven't had the joy of parenting a teenager, so I have little direct experience as an antagonist in someone else's drama. At least, not that I'm aware of. Except for...never mind. However, I live in the country (stay with me), where the line between "indoors" and "outdoors" is porous. Periodically, critters get confused. At the moment, we're dealing with some flies. Big, slow-moving flies. And I am their antagonist -- even their nemesis. Today, I have armed myself with a vacuum cleaner. I have conducted several sorties against them and emerged victorious in battle, though I have not yet (and may never) win the war. Because I have seen enough advertisements in my life, and I have watched enough episodes of CSI: Wherever in my life, I know what the presence of flies indicates. (Where you see X vermin, 10X actually exist. Flies are a reliable indicator of the time of death of something, which means...never mind that, either.) Yuck. To distract myself

Seven Years Later...

Seven years ago this weekend I was in my favorite city, Washington DC. On July 3, I watched Barry Bostwick rehearse for the July 4 evening extravagannnnza (which I skipped to watch fireworks with my niece). That weekend, I sat on the steps at Lincoln's feet in the pink haze of evening while Marine One (or possibly Two) buzzed the mall. I visited with family, hung out at various tourist spots, saw parts of the city that I hadn't seen before. And recognized that I didn't want to go home. Standing under the awning at Union Station in a surprise rainstorm, I realized I was in that city to pursue the wrong dream. I had aimed toward a really wonderful life. An honorable life. A life that I still respect and admire. But not the right life for me. I didn't want to go "home" to a place that I wasn't comfortable in, to a house I wasn't comfortable in, to live with people I wasn't comfortable with. I should clarify: this "not comfortable" was not t

The Writer's Fantasy

Hey, writer: what's your fantasy? Spielberg calls and wants to adapt your story for his next blockbuster, which is guaranteed to win both critical acclaim and bonanza bucks. A publisher calls: she wants the story you're struggling with AND has developed technology that can lift it directly from your brain onto the page so that the story is in the perfect form you imagine it to be, not the slightly altered form that you're capable of actually writing IF you were actually capable of writing it and not stuck, yet this form of ESP is enough work on your part that you will also get to bask in the glow of work that's hard but not too hard. Whew. Neurotic much? OK, so what I experienced this week isn't perhaps a writer's ULTIMATE fantasy, but it's close. The rejection was wrong. It was all a mistake! They want it after all!! Actually, the mistake was probably mine. In the past 18 months, I had submitted (according to my spreadsheet) three pieces to this journal. In

Lessons from The West Wing

Ahh, The West Wing . I won't even try to explain why I have been watching the entire series from start to finish. It's not as if my life is devoid of other tasks. And it's not as if I've been watching episodes 24/7, either: just regularly. And often. I also don't know why, when I need to rejuvenate my introverted self by spending some time away from people, I want to spent time with some of the talkiest, most egotistical, and most challenging "people" on the planet. Okay, I really do know that answer, or at least partly. I want to because I learn about writing. Here are just some of the things I've learned. 1. The characters are active. I started to say "stuff happens," but it "happens" because the characters make it happen. "Stuff" doesn't just rain down from the heavens. When the President experiences angst, it's because he's just authorized the assassination of the Qumari Defense Minister or he's about t

Two Thoughts about Rejection

Two smart people have written recently about rejection. First, marketing guru Seth Godin addresses the standard rejection advice, "don't take it personally." He says that it's not about you. It's personal to the "other guy." That person is rejecting you because that person has wants, needs, interests, whatever that you don't meet. The disconnect doesn't mean you don't provide value. Which is true. Except that it's easy for writers to cop the "I'm a misunderstood genius" defense. Which Godin also addresses by saying, "Do your work, the best way you know how." That, to me, says "Keep learning," because it's always possible to add to what you know. And then there's Daniel Menaker, writing in the Huffington Post about the ways in which his memoir met rejection before its ultimate acceptance. If you are as unfamiliar with him as I was, this bio is enlightening: he has written fiction, worked at The Ne

Depending on the "Click"

I am not a "real" photographer. I just happen to live in a beautiful place. And lately the weather has inspired me to pick up whatever camera is handy and shoot stuff. Like this. That's an island lurking out there. So yesterday I was snapping away and noticed that the camera was acting funny. (Technical term! Many more to follow!) When I pushed the round "take a picture" button, the image in the viewfinder froze as it usually does, but there was no sound. No "I just took a picture" click. I wasn't sure, till I uploaded these shots, that I had actually taken pictures. The "I just took a picture" click of a digital camera is apparently without a useful purpose. Yet I depended on it, and didn't realize how much until there it was, gone. The experience got me thinking about writing. One of the hardest parts of working as a freelance writer has been the lack of routine feedback. Business experts may scoff at formal performance reviews, but

Little Things: Action and Reaction

If you've been on Facebook this week, you may have already seen this conversation. I've seen it several times, and I still laugh when I see it, mostly because the action/reaction is perfect. For example, 16 seconds in, the human says the word "bacon" and the dog's eyes shift. At 37 seconds, the human says "beef" and the dog twitches. Whoever wrote and performed the script paid attention to the little things and got them right. Impressive -- and funny. Little things. So important!

What Writers Can Learn from America's Next Top Model: Or, How Watching Reruns is NOT a Waste of My Vacation

I've been on vacation. I worked some, I played some, and yes, I watched marathons of America's Next Top Model. I learned a few things. 1. You put yourself in this position; now make the most of it. Young women try out to participate on America's Next Top Model. Then they receive critiques of their modeling ability. They have the opportunity to develop a portfolio with input and help from recognizable names in their industry. They compete with each other but they also learn from each other, from their judges, and from experts picked by their judges. Plus, they get a makeover! Sounds a little like an MFA program, or perhaps an intensive multi-day writing workshop, doesn't it? My takeaway: when you are in a setting that focuses on learning, spend the time learning. Don't spend the time arguing with the judges (teachers, authors, editors, agents) or bragging about what you've done. You asked to participate; now make the most of what's available to you. Keep your

At Night, with Headlights

E. L. Doctorow, the American novelist, is famous for saying something like this: "Writing is like driving the car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way." (Some online versions include fog in the drive. It's hard to get a reliable source.) Fog or no fog, that's how I'm working this week. I have this novel, see, and I have a bunch of pages of it, and I know sorta where one of the threads is going, but not really, and somehow the other thread and this thread relate. Somehow, sorta. I know what does not (absolutely must not, cannot) happen (not because it's too scary but because it's cliche), and I know what must happen for the characters to make any sense at all. But what I really want is a Google Map, a MapQuest map, some kind of detailed map!! Or a GPS with the voice of the Old Spice Guy (James Earl Jones/Kevin Spacey) telling me when and in what direction to turn. The thing is, Doctorow is right. I&

The Opposite of a Platform

Today I spent several hours in a church hall selling a Haitian artist's painted metal artwork. To set up the sale, I exchanged a few emails with the woman who is his representative in Canada. I also put together some information about the event for the local newspaper. During our email conversation, the Canadian representative cautioned me about releasing too much personal information about this artist, especially if this information is available online. The artist is concerned about attracting too much attention. How many North American artists do you know who want to remain relatively unknown? My answer: none. I bet most artists have practiced the Award Acceptance Speech a time or two, in the privacy of the shower at least. (You google yourself. You know you do.) Also, this particular artist isn't concerned about "selling out," or becoming somehow more important than his art, or any other idealistic notion. His reason is purely practical. His community lost one of i

Nobody Told Me

This week has had its share of good news. The main thing for today is that my husband received a grant from the Ontario Arts Council to write a novel he's been puzzling over for years. While the cheque is nice, it's the support that he appreciates most. (Truthfully, we appreciate the cheque a whole lot. Especially because this is tax time and therefore budget time.) He found out maybe Tuesday. Since then he's cleaned his office, which he calls the den, and tackled a couple of other big projects (NOT his novel). Today he decided he needed more file folders. This need required a trip to town, which engendered other errands. Of course. I know what he's doing. I've done it and I still do it. He's clearing his mental decks. It looks like procrastination. It may even feel like procrastination. (In me, it usually IS procrastination.) However, in him, it's really preparation. He doesn't multi-task, and he can't be pondering other obligations or decisions whi

Shining Through

Inspiration Green is a New York-based company website, with blog (link at the bottom of their page), about green...everything. Issues, resources, music, tech, art, food, and more. It's visually compelling design. Especially when you look more closely and see that all those blocks with patterns are close-ups of leaves. Or tree trunks. Plus there's this page , a compilation of glass bottles used in walls in various ways -- decorative, functional, both. Sometimes, like now (election season in Canada), I suffer from "too many words." Images like these are an oasis. Thanks, Green Inspiration!!

So Many Thousands

That's how many words this video is worth. During the first minute, you get to watch cracks in the earth open and close. After that, it gets even freakier. The videographer talks of feeling woozy and wondering if he was sick. While it's interesting to know that the human body may experience earthquakes in that way, that knowledge pales in comparison to the images. Wow. So many effective visuals from this disaster--a good reminder that sometimes, words just don't quite get there.

Too Big, Too Small

I was all set to write about Hana's Suitcase , another fine example of the power of story and symbol, but then the earthquake, tsunami, and subsequent radiation stories have diverted my attention from whatever meaningful thing I wanted to say about luggage. However, one thread ties two events: sometimes a story is too big, too abstract to tell without making it concrete and personal--but then again, sometimes the size is the story. Hana's Suitcase as a story is an effective way to help everyone understand the horror and human loss of the Holocaust. Hana is today's Anne Frank--a real person whose real life was silenced, leaving us all poorer. Without Anne and Hana, and without some sense of the fundamental humanity of the victims, events of the Holocaust could become less real, less immediate, and thus less horrific as time passes. The personal is vital to preserving the essential meaning of the story. Right now, this disaster in Japan, which has both natural and human-mad

Book Learnin'

I'm working on an analysis of The Time of Our Singing , by Richard Powers --specifically of its narrative structure. I've analyzed several works during the past year, and I've learned a lot about narrative each time. I'm also part of a group that reads and provides feedback on works in progress. Some call this a workshop, others a critique group. At the moment, our group is small but mighty, and one of my pieces is on tap for this coming week. It is always interesting to see whether this group of readers, each of whom is also a writer, confirms what I suspect to be the limitations of a story (in this case, a loooooong one). (Sadly, they often point out things I didn't even think about. Sigh.) Both kinds of learning are important to my development. That's why I was pleased, in reading an interview with Powers, to see him say that the workshop needs to be supplemented with direct learning about narrative technique. Here's why: We never tell a person who wants

How Much?

Do you believe in your writing? (No, this is not "believe in" like the Easter Bunny. This is "believe in" as in "believe in the value of.") No, really. Do you believe in your writing? How much, in actual dollars, do you believe? If it's hard to quantify, think about some other concrete item--say, grande mochas. Would you be willing to forego 2 grande mochas, or pay $10, to enter your story (poem, script) into a contest? Then go here, to the contest sponsored by the Northwestern Ontario Writers Workshop, and do so. Disclosure: I'm on the Executive for NOWW. I am not involved in administering the contest, and I'm not entering it. As we used to say in the South, back when we wuz rockin' on the porch 'n' spittin' watermelon seeds, I don't have a dog in this fight. (Okay, we never said that, and nobody I knew in real life ever said that, but Southerners in movies do.) (However, I have been known to sit on porches, to sit in roc

It's the Little Things

When you work as an editor, you have to make compromises to live in the real world. (Well, you don't really have to, but if you don't, you go nuts. Or drink. Or both.) Sometimes, compromise involves letting go of little things. Here's an example: Menus. I don't edit menus. I would if I got paid for it, but when I'm out for an evening, I don't. I don't care that the menu lists "roast beef with au jus." In fact, I would say, "I couldn't care less." If you in a similar situation said, "I could care less," I might grit my teeth a little but would try not to show it. Unless you really meant "I guess I COULD care less but I'm not sure how," in which case I would know you're one of us!!! The point is that when I'm off duty, I'm off duty. Because I can't fix all the little things in the world, especially when I'm not asked to. But here, I'm supposed to be on duty. So you'd think I'd have