Showing posts from 2013


The other night, I had a dream that included a Roomba , a cat, and a handheld electronic device for checking out library books. I had to get the angle of my device just right, so that the Roomba could read that I wanted to recheck my library book. The cat wasn't keen on being carried around but otherwise was just part of the mental dream furniture. Last night's dream included a house with lots of rooms, Escher -style architecture, and Alice-in-Wonderlandish phantasmagorical and slightly frightening happenings. At one point I was carrying around an enameled basin, delivering some kind of fluid somewhere (and I couldn't find where it was to go), to someone who looked like the Mad Hatter. Last night also included the following conversation. Important person: Why are people turning in their prescription drugs?  Me: Because they heard the headline about vitamins being worthless and are bringing in all their medication, not just their vitamins. You know how people are abo

Being, Doing, Do Be Do Be Do

For the past couple of months, I've had a lot of fun. I've spoken about the possible uses of journaling. I've gone to events, met people, learned things, talked with people. People meaning writers, readers, teachers, learners. In other words, I've been being a writer quite a bit. I have spent less time doing the writing . And when I don't write regularly, I feel more and more like a fraud when I say, "I'm a writer." And also too, I'm able to be a writer more easily and successfully when I am not feeling like a fraud. So, in early November, I reversed that. I did my own form of NaNoWriMo. Because I'm not a joiner so much anymore, I didn't sign up anywhere. And because I'm trying not to follow rules that don't necessarily work for me,* I made up some of my own. For the first twelve days of November, I wrote 2000 words a day on a nonfiction project I'm researching. When I couldn't (I was sick a few days in there), I ma

Walk with a Three-Year-Old

Have you ever gone on a walk with a three-year-old? I don't have a whole lot of experience with kids in general, but I do know that "unpredictable" might be the best descriptor of the time I spend with them. For example, if I want to spend some time outdoors as a way to give the kid a chance to "run the stink off," as an experienced grandmother expresses it, the kid just wants to be indoors (making noise or tearing up something, usually). Whereas if I want to get from Point A to Point B, the kid wants to examine every rock on the beach from all angles and otherwise experience all the glories of nature. So lately, I've been the second kind of kid. The one who may be on a path to a destination and all, but who keeps seeing shiny things on the ground that require intense inspection. Or an opening in the brush at the side of the road that absolutely must be investigated. Or a butterfly that requires chasing. You get the picture. There's this nonfic

Links for Alzheimer Caregivers

Thank you to the Alzheimer Association of Thunder Bay for hosting such a wonderful, supportive day for caregivers and allowing me to share a little about the value of keeping a journal. Here's a link to the handout I shared; it has the important information on it. At the workshop, a few caregivers shared their stories and thoughts about the process. One of the caregivers said that some days with her mother are basically okay, and some days she just wants her "real" mother back. I didn't get the chance to tell her this in person, but I will say it here: it's been my experience that after a sad and difficult journey, and perhaps a time of mourning, you can develop a new relationship with your loved one. The end of someone's life doesn't represent that person's entire life, and those circumstances don't have to define your relationship with that person forever. You may not have her "back," but you can re-connect with more of her than yo


You know how you think your life is going to go one way, and then some stuff happens, and it goes a different way? Or maybe you thought some day you'd be "all grown up" and receive that Adult Handbook and know how to do everything. Either way, what a surprise to discover that you can--or must--continue to learn new skills and change directions in your 30s, 40s, and (dare I say it) 50s. The May 2013 issue of Discover magazine contains (among other fascinating insights into our world) an article about an ornithologist (birds), Richard Prum, whose theories about beauty and evolution are worth reading for themselves. The writer, Veronique Greenwood, did a great job with questions that get to important information and great quotes. So yes, go there and read this! A sort of "sidebar" element of the story that captured my attention relates to the reason why Dr. Prum started studying bird feathers and display in the first place: he had to punt. From childhoo


I'm in a yoga class again. If I'd stopped to count how many YEARS since my last experience with yoga, I might have signed up for the beginner class again. However, I managed to keep up this week, and I enjoy a challenge, so I'm staying. Earlier I was talking about endings and beginnings. One of the new projects in my life has more or less come to me--it's taken hold of me and won't let go. A couple of experiences this summer inspired me to start researching and writing, and now I can't stop. It's creative nonfiction, which I have written before, but mostly in response to a death. Thankfully, no one had to die for me to write the essay cycle I'm working on now. Or rather, people have died, but their deaths are important only in that they signify the passage of time, which in turn has somehow made me one of the (ostensible) adults in the world, someone with responsibilities like an actual grown-up. Oh never mind. The point is, I'm stretching phys

The Summer That Was

For some reason, I'm finding the change of season this year to be harder than usual. I'm really not sure why. I love autumn, even though I'm not technically on a school calendar and so have no real reason to buy notebooks and colored pencils (though I do anyway). I have a little end-of-summer ennui most years, but it dissipates as I recognize yet again that I never have to leave here. Forty-odd years of leaving what always felt like home to "go home" to a version of life that felt temporary apparently created a lingering unconscious sense of impending doom. But I know better: Yes, I don't have to leave here this year, either. Still, that "oh no, not yet" feeling lingers. Previously, I mentioned end-of-summer projects, both writing and other, and finding new goals. I've done a bunch of all of it. Of course, there's never enough time for all the summer projects, but we have managed some, in spite of too cold and wet, too hot and muggy, rai

Long Live The ...

So, I'm done! I revised and revised and submitted and submitted. Whatever the results, I've done what I am able to do at this time, and I'm defining that as a victory. Woo-hoo, yippee. Okay, enough celebrating. And in the words of President Jed Barlet, "What's next?" I'll be finding/figuring that out in the next couple of weeks. Meanwhile, the boat needs to be rowed, the wood needs splitting, structures need rebuilding and mouseproofing (yech). I may even tackle a couple of other big cleaning/clearing projects. Lots of work to keep my hands and body busy while my mind "toils" with ideas. Happy late summer, everyone -- whether you're heading back to school or celebrating a different kind of new beginning!

Because It's There

Recently, I told my sister I was growing out my bangs. Her response: "And then what?" which is sister-code for "WHY??" The answer: my new hairstylist is persuasive. She thinks I could have curly hair if only I treated it correctly, which leads me to like her even as I recognize she might be daft (or trying to sell products for curly hair). And, as she expertly cut my hair, she suggested growing out my bangs. Another answer: because it's there. It's a goal. It's something I'm moving toward, at a time when I need a hair goal (can't believe I just admitted that I need hair goals). About two years ago I decided to let my natural color take over my head, in solidarity with my brother, who was losing his hair from chemotherapy. (At a hotel recently, the woman behind the registration desk described my hair as "brown and blonde," to which my sister replied, "If 'blonde' is what we're calling 'gray' these days."

It's Here!

Room 36.2 has the winners of the 2012 contest in it, and that includes my 2nd-place essay, "Words." Thunder Bay writer Joan Baril, at her blog Literary Thunder Bay , has some nice things to say about it. It's such a pleasure to be included in Room. Their dedicated group of volunteers carefully considers submissions and creates a beautiful finished product. And they do it every quarter! Many thanks to all who work hard to make it happen.

Of the Words, I Have Lots But Not of the Sense-Making Type

I haven't been writing here as often recently because I am working on a long-term project, for which I am very grateful. It is a writing-slash-teaching project, in that I'm writing about writing and teaching writing by writing about writing. Which means I produce a lot of words. Thousands. For just that project. Which makes me enjoy not-wording sometimes. I'm also revising revising revising. Revising. On a mid-August deadline. And vacationing with my sister in July, culminating in a family reunion at which my husband will be able to observe a passel of Agnew cousins. In amongst the revising. Plus with the revising of writing, with words and all. Whenever possible I do try to go outside and do things un-word-like. I can't seem to find anything interesting to say about that. Oh! I know!! We have seen a doe with one fawn and a doe with two fawns. Fawns are even more cute than you think they will be. In other news, Lori A. May had nice things to say about the B

It's Not You, It's the Writing (Really!)

So I did something good, and I'm pretending it was a sign of maturity, though I think it was instinct. Regardless, it was good. Here's what it was: I made a distinction between awards for writing and awards for the author of that writing. Recently, I was involved in administering the NOWW Writing contest (last year's page: (mark your calendars: similar deadlines for 2014). The awards for the contest winners were given out at the Literary Awards Party in May. In announcing the winners, I said, "The winning entry is...." Which is different from giving the award to the writer. It may sound "just semantics" (a phrase guaranteed to get my back up), but hey, we're word people, and we know the importance of words. Here's the thing. I saw a lot of the entries in this contest, this year and in previous years. Lots of good writing didn't get awards. Screeners and judges are human, and humans have preferences.

New Journal!

Greetings! I had a post about rejection all ready to go (oh, who am I kidding) in mind, but then this happened: A new journal, several months in the making, went live today!  It's called Compose: A Journal of Simply Good Writing . And the Spring 2013 inaugural issue includes two prose poems by fellow Thunder Bay writer Cathi Grandfield, as well as one of my short stories! I can't wait to look at all of it. What I've seen is simply beautiful.  And what a journey the Managing Editor, Canadian-(from Thunder Bay, even!)-in-Australia Suzannah Windsor, has been on these past months. She took great care--in selecting her teams, inviting content, ensuring beautiful layout, and supporting the work with with marketing and publicity--and it shows. Many people have worked hard to bring it about. I appreciate their efforts very much. They're also accepting submissions for another issue this year. Ahem. I would repeat their submission requirements here, but you're goi

Overhaul, Revise, Upside-Down, Invert

Those are just a few of the words you could use to describe what I'm doing to my writing schedule. At the risk of trying to organize myself out of a problem I've behaved myself into,* I'm mixing it up a little, at least in terms of calendars, schedules, and "Butt Meets Chair." Yep. I'm going to try using my morning hours for my work writing and the rest of the day for my own writing. For one thing, I really can do work-person-like writing in the morning. For another, working mornings--just accepting that I gotta work in the mornings--is going to prevent problems like the one I had this week, when everything came due at once and I had to get a deadline extension. I hate that. I am not like one who easily accepts the need for extended deadlines. I am not at all like that one. So yup. Upside down, inside out, backside front. A few hours a day instead of a festival of panic. That's not a festival I enjoy attending. So I'm overhauling, revising, ups

Beep Beep! Make Way for Awards

Y'all may not know that I was born and grew up in Oklahoma, but I did. And through the magic of Facebook, I have connected with many fine people I knew long ago. One especially fine person, Jeanne Devlin, is the backbone and steel behind The RoadRunner Press , a literary publishing company "changing the world, one reader at a time." Recently, two RoadRunner titles won 2013 IPPYs: Independent Publisher Book Awards!  The Immortal Von B ., by Scott Carter, won the gold medal for Young Adult Fiction, after winning an Oklahoma Book Award. And The Bulldoggers Club: The Tale of the Ill-Gotten Catfish , by Barbara Hay, took home the gold medal for Juvenile Fiction. Thanks to the pleasure of my "day job," I had the opportunity to, ahem, read these books pre-publication. Both were a lot of fun, as were RoadRunner's new title for adults, Crimes of Redemption , by Linda McDonald, and Tim Tingle's soon-to-appear title,  How I Became a Ghost . These are all s

Hello, World!

Good May morning, people! The snowbanks persist outside my office window, and we're due for another 10 cm (4 inches) tomorrow. But if you squint at just the right angle, you can see greening in poplars and grassy patches. I'm pretending that spring is on her way. Meanwhile, I'm also a little late in shoveling out from under some writing and work commitments. For all that I'm in no way affiliated with formal schooling, this time of year -- this year, at least -- has a distinct "end of semester" feel about it. But something else is at work, too. Recently, I participated in Liar, Liar , an integrated arts project funded by the Ontario Arts Council (thanks, OAC!) . The work is currently in the Thunder Bay (Historical) Museum -- through June 2, in fact. My participation in the project more or less ended when I submitted my short story, "Improvisation," for consideration. Four short stories about lying were chosen. Since then, artists in various di

Hanging from a Telephone Wire

It's been a little bit of lunatic heaven in these parts lately. We're getting lots and lots of lovely snow, which will be wonderful when spring finally does arrive. I've been on vacation someplace warm, and now I'm home. And this integrated art exhibition is happening, too. Not only is the exhibit open at the Thunder Bay (Historical) Museum  through June 2, but also there's a reception on Sunday from 2 to 4 p.m.!! For which I am making cookies! No lie!! That burning smell is not at all related to either my cooking prowess or pants that might (or might not!! liars are tricksy that way!!!) be on fire. (The number of exclamation marks is in direct relationship to the amount of coffee I've had, not to the truth or falsehood of any statements they follow.) Hope to see you there -- and if you're not in the area, the link at the Museum's website has some words about the exhibit from the visual and sound artist participants. I have read all the st

A Showcase of Creativity

How does that interior design saying go? Something like this: One is an accident, two is just stuff, but three is a collection. How about ten?  Ten plays in one night? Because that's an option available this weekend in Thunder Bay. The showcase for 10 by Ten will run this Saturday night.  Okay, so technically, it's six full ten-minute plays and four shorter "scenes" from smaller plays. But still -- nine different writers, many directors (some playwrights are directing their own work), actors interpreting creative visons -- lots of creativity will be gathered in one place. I've read a few of the plays that will be performed and they're crackerjack. Of particular interest to my household is this one: Though the showcase is Saturday, preparations began last fall, and bringing together this "grand finale" has meant that many people have sustained enthusiasm well beyond the typical "let's put on a show!" moment. Their enthusi

More About Those Essays

As I may have mentioned (a time or two) (often) (repeatedly), I have an essay in Best Canadian Essays 2012 . People up here in Northwestern Ontario are fine folks, and a couple of them have asked me about it. The anthology is available for purchase at Northern Woman's Bookstore , for one thing. For another, I'm currently featured blathering about my essay at Literary Thunder Bay , courtesy of its purveyor, Joan Baril. Susan Toy scooped that interview to her new site, Canadian author Reviews and Interviews . Finally, a review is due to appear in the local paper, the Chronicle-Journal , this weekend. That is plennnnnnty (for now).

Left Right Up Down

One of my favorite places to visit is Indexed, a blog by Jessica Hagy , where she explores relationships between sometimes-disparate things. She uses axes, lines, curves, and sometimes Venn diagrams. I love it. I thought of her this morning, when I was looking at the various short stories I'm (again) trying to collect. They vary along a continuum from "raw" to "stick a fork in it; it's done." They also vary along a continuum ranging from "I'm excited by it" to "I'm sick to death of it," another continuum from "examined" to "unexamined," another from "hardly any time" to "relatively, a lot of time," and yet another from "only tweaked" to "revised extensively," by which I mean "every freaking word has been second-guessed." I hope that the "stick a fork in it" end goes up at the same time that "examined," "revised extensively," a

Get on it, Dyson

I try not to be a snob about much of anything, but I do have preferences about some things, and, it turns out, I have distinct preferences about the tools I work with. I can adapt to pretty well any kind of keyboard or software, but I'm kind of "that way" about pens. I don't write a LOT with pens -- definitely not production work -- but I do write with them often. Just about every day I do spend time writing "by hand," as we now must specify, and I sometimes sketch  zentangles. Generally, I like felt tips and fine points. In the world of ballpoint technology, I have recently enjoyed using Paper Mate's InkJoy pens (and no, they're not paying me to say so). I originally picked up the package because it had all different colors of pens in it, and it said something important on the package: Effortless Writing. Effortless! Writing! In a rainbow of fun colors! Who could resist that? But every time I get on a plane, my pens explode in transit. Even

If Age Brings Wisdom...

And I'm not actually saying it does , but if age brings wisdom, how come these days I feel I got nuthin'? I'm working the short stories (AGAIN), without much break between them, and at varying levels of "work," from "what was I thinking?" to "is this ready to send somewhere?" I am discovering some very very VERY disturbing things. If you were to name Santa's reindeer after my characters, there'd be Robert, Robert, Robert, James, Jason (formerly James), Jim, Cass, and Carla. I'm tempted to name somebody Rudolph, just to do it. Plus I was looking through notes I've made for stories to come. They feature yet another Robert and another James. But wait, there's more: All these people drink a lot of coffee and talk. A lot. If my short stories were ever to inspire a drinking game, you'd need to watch out for the "drinking coffee" scenes. Sigh. There are a lot of advantages to being an ahem "mature&

Avoiding Feedback Frustrations

A short time ago, I wrote about applying the "mouse view/eagle view" concept to revision . Before I make a pass through a manuscript, I've found it helpful to decide in advance what I'm looking for. Am I checking spelling and punctuation? smoothing infelicitous phrasings? or sending the main character to Gibraltar instead of the mall? On a related note, sometimes it's impossible for your own eyes to give you guidance about next steps. In those cases, it's important to get feedback from readers -- but which ones, when, and why? Here's some useful advice from agent Rachelle Gardner. Boiled down, she says to carefully consider why you want input from a particular person -- is she a subject-matter expert, a wide-ranging reader of your genre, an experienced writer who can step outside of personal preference to read the manuscript on its own terms? That last criterion is important. Say you're lucky enough to find a group of writers to learn from and h

Different Way to Say It

One benefit to being a (mostly) recovering procrastinator (and the reason my recovery is mostly) is that clicking around on the Internets can yield some pretty interesting stuff. For example. I read Girl's Gone Child . I don't read it every day (recovering! mostly). I'm not sure how I got there, or why -- I'm not a parent or grandparent; on lots of wintry days, seeing pictures of sunny California simply depress me instead of reminding me that I love winter; I don't cook vegan (or much of anything, either); I don't do much that's decorate-y; I haven't read any of Rebecca Woolf's books; I don't comment...and yet. That space is a destination I like. It's a creative space. It's encouraging, even when its people are out of sorts and life isn't rosy. Maybe especially then, because it celebrates the power of doing the best you can. (My parents were fabulous people, but sometimes the second half of "Do your best" was ": be

Best Canadian Essays: Really REALLY Real

Last August I received word that my essay, "All I Can Say," would be part of Best Canadian Essays 2012 , published by Tightrope Books. Last week, I received my contributor copies. Yes, my essay really is in it. Really truly. NOW it feels real -- like really REALLY real! You can order a copy from the publisher -- or check your neighbo(u)rhood indie bookstore. You never know who might be carrying it! Thanks again to Room for initially publishing the essay and to the hardworking folks at Tightrope Books for including it.

More Tools for Taking Stock

In the spirit of not reinventing the wheel, I point you today toward a couple of articles that ask good questions and can possibly help you answer them. They're both on Write It Sideways: "writing advice from a fresh perspective." In the spirit of full disclosure, its founder and impresario, Suzannah Windsor Freeman, is Canadian with ties to Thunder Bay. (We met online. That counts, right?) Plus, they're about to launch a new literary magazine, Compose , which is pretty exciting and might call for further announcements here. Back to their recent articles that are useful tools for taking stock. This one asks whether a Writing Residency is right for you . We all long for that uninterrupted time away from it all to just write. Sometimes, that may indeed be exactly what you need. And sometimes...maybe not. This article suggests that  setting boundaries on  your goals  may help make them more achievable -- and most helpfully (to me), reminds us all that we can cont

Successful Learning

While catching up on Macleans magazines, I ran across a profile of James Dyson by Jay Teitel . It's entertaining as well as illuminating -- well worth the read. The paper version of the magazine used this as the pull quote on page 2 of the story: The path to discovery is full of mistakes and false leads. You can’t do things if you’re afraid of making mistakes. "Mistakes and false leads" might also be called "playing," and doing THAT requires me to transcend my parents' "focus on the goal" achievement-oriented upbringing. But speaking of my parents, here's another Dyson quote -- and this one sounds even more familiar.  You learn from failure. You don't learn from success. My mother used to say this. I'd bring home the algebra test on which I'd scored 97%, and she'd ask, "What did you miss?" I'd deflate. Of course, she wanted me to be humble. But mostly, she knew that to learn, you have to find out what

Taking Stock

January is technically more than halfway over as of today, but since I haven't sent out the Christmas letter yet, I'm still going on the assumption that we can still call 2013 "the New Year." Seriously, late December and early January are traditional times to take stock, though of course I feel the urge in September as well, when school starts. In any case, I've done that. I've updated my creative writing plan and set new goals for 2013 -- the first quarter, anyway. And because it's a stock-taking time of year, others are considering the same topics. For example, here is an excellent essay by Jane Friedman, with the intriguing title, "How Long Should You Keep Trying to Get Published?" So many excellent ideas, worth pondering. Here are a few: * The value of reading: it gives you a good sense of what is (a) being published and (b) appealing to you. * The value of questioning: questions can help you decide if it's time to change course.


It's early January. Normally at this time of year, the bay in front of our house is frozen solid, and the days are sunny and cold, with temperatures between -15C and -10C. Understand, I'm no meteorologist; I haven't actually researched what's "normal." I know only what has been "normal" weather for the past seven years or so, since I started living here year-round. And I know that today's high, which was something like 6C (45F, give or take) was definitely abnormally warm. Did I enjoy it? You bet. We were out and about, running errands. One of those errands was buying water from the city water pump in town. (I'm a bit of a princess about the way my drinking water tastes, and our well is temperamental in its own unique way. The well and I are both recovering from the holidays. I'm drinking more water; that's as close to a resolution I'll see in 2013. Plus, we're generally augmenting well water with town water, 20-liter jug

Mouse View/Eagle View: Revision

Ah, a new year, a new calendar page! In the past year, I've had the opportunity to edit fiction for a US publisher and provided feedback to other writers on their creative projects. And now I'm also in the throes of revising some creative writing projects of my own. One of the more frustrating realities I live with is that I've worked, with some success, as a writer and an editor for years -- yet revising my own creative writing remains one of the most challenging parts of the writing process. Good news: Revision is one context in which distinguishing between mouse and eagle view can be the most helpful. In fact, it's necessary. When I work with a client, I have to know what kind of feedback they're looking for. Do they want me to be a mouse? If so, I'll standardize their use of punctuation and verb tense, correct errors in grammar and usage, and even check the bottom of every page to see if the last word is hyphenated. Or do they want me t