Writing is a solitary pursuit--the imagination guiding the hand moving the pen. I'm pretty old-school, valuing the work of good editors and the revisions process before letting my words go public. But life is short, right? And sometimes, just sometimes, we need to spout off.

About me...

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A writer, mother, teacher, friend, I love books, blizzards and beaches, music from Hildegard von Bingen to the Beatles to Bonnie Raitt to The Brood; I love medieval churches, red wine, creme caramel, and roasted beets, and walking the woods and coastlines of home. 

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Hunk

Ever come across something you wrote so long ago you completely fuhgotallaboudit?
Sometimes buried gems pop from the rubble, from the formless matter of a ditched draft.
Today a nugget that made me laugh when it first jumped into my head, I know, and makes me smile six years later. A miniscule but telling detail. Funny thing that my character harbours such a treasure.
A grow-in-a-jar man called The Hunk. A man that starts off as a tiny shapeless nub of red plastic. Just add water and The Hunk sprouts arms, legs and a head. Like a human tadpole, sort of, and just as slimy if left too long.
A gem tossed my way once upon a time. Instantly recognizable as useful, if only to remind me now of my character's silly side.

Sunday, March 28, 2010


In the dusky cold, hiccupping Maritime excuse for spring (one step forward, ten steps back)lawns have gone pea-green again, flowerbeds splintery with frost. The most alive thing, save the withered crocuses, the elm outside the window. Bark as fissured as Methusela's skin. Elephantine trunk. Lichens, moss. Brittle, stalwart, stationary but for a slight tilt earned by resisting hurricane winds. Patient. Finite but reaching towards the sky. Oblivious of cold, of a sun turned bitter. A clutch of outstretched arms blue-black against the paler evening. If one were inclined to bundle up, slip outside, lay a bare palm against its frigid skin, what then? The rough promise of April?

Thursday, March 25, 2010


A character finds herself in a classroom. No time to prepare. A clutch of students seeking a new hobby. Dried flower arrangement. My character's stock in trade. Gritting her teeth while they wield their glue guns. Trying to make useful suggestions, and not to hurt anybody's feelings.
[The hook, where's the hook?
It's like a salamander under a rock. Exposed to light it slithers away.]
The character goes home to an empty house,pours herself a drink (or not). Let's say instead she does yoga for three hours. Shivasana, the corpse.
And the next day she wakes up, goes to work, busies herself stripping the thorns from roses.
It's just her way, a little way.
Patience, she tells me. Just keep writing. Sometimes it's like this, you have to wait for the slippery spotted squiggle of truth to slither back.
Trade light for light and dark for dark.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Today's scenario (a drama from real life.) Guy loses wallet on bus. Every piece of ID he owns is in it, plus bank and credit cards. A couple of coupons for free movies, a five-dollar bill. Lost.
Suddenly he is persona non grata. Fears of identity theft loom large. Bank fraud. The card maxed out. His worst concern (out of his being quite young) that some loser scumbag is passing himself off as him, flashing his ID to get into bars. The insult!
Then the cost, not to mention the rigmarole, of replacement cards.
And then, out of the blue, most unexpected, a phonecall.
A flustered trip to Metro Transit's lost-and-found: the wallet has been turned in.
Will it be plundered, gutted, a shell of empty slots? That is the question.
Restored into the proper hands, nothing short of a miracle.
Every card in its rightful place, untouched.
Even the crisp unfolded $5 exactly where it should be.
The kindness of a stranger, an honest, decent, compassionate soul!
Why are we shocked?
Shock soon spilling over into awe, then into a soft, round joy, wonder like an ammonite coming back to life.
An ancient petrified coiled creature, a gem made precious by its perfect form, a talisman, a trinket never to be worn lightly.
The reminder that goodness rules.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Writing the bones

Forget les bons mots--for now. It's about letting your characters shout/yell/rant/rave/deflect and act out. The beautiful prose comes later. The trick is being patient, for now, with their clumsy calisthenics, their flat-earth chit-chat, as they wallow around presenting themselves. Reminding oneself, always, that layers come later. Poetry, meaning. A reflection of art as life--all of it wrapped up in the bodily, the "actual"--which translates, transmits its own significance, manifests the realer than real. Like a seed allowed to grow.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

A Picture's Worth....

An image created with a click--versus words upon words. Such patience, writing. So hard to sustain in the world of instant gratification.
Like refinishing a piece of furniture, maybe--once you've got the structure there. Taking the finish down to the wood, then building it back up again. Making every word count.
The need to create an oblique beauty that must play hard to get. Must keep people guessing, but not too much.
Once again, that fine balance-- the border between telling and showing, between shouts and whispers.

Friday, March 19, 2010


So much energy must be taken up preparing. Raking and bagging the winter's detritus, stooping and scooping,
clearing the way for patches of purple.
Crocus and miniature iris and the brave tops of tulips before the deer arrive.
We all push on, laying the groundwork for a profusion of blooms,
or, for the cloven-hoofed, bellies full of bulbs.
Paths made straight, space arranged.
All in quiet, hopeful preparation.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Coffee shop hop

Five minutes is better than no minutes. Joy today scribbling away for a few spare minutes while waiting for a friend. As long as one has paper and a pen that works, all is well. Writing through the chatter, writing through people's comings and goings. Never an idle moment.
There's a certain freedom, writing in a coffee shop. Note-taking, the narrative shaping itself but no pressure...just to move the pen and let the characters quibble.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Precious, precious

Would love to say I'm gone swimming, fishing, hiking, shopping, drinking green beer, etc., but instead it's a day of unholy obligation: marking.
The good thing about this, tho, is that marking chafes (tho sometimes to the point of blisters).
But it's the grit inside the shell that makes us hanker for pearls.
The chafing the flipside of the writing life that lends urgency, the less-than-subtle nudge, however irritating, that time is precious, and measured against the mundane can produce little gleaming globes of happiness.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Time travel

Absolutely true: to get any writing done, you must pretend the Internet was never invented. Instead, your world is one of clear glass windows, rotary phones, record players, radios.
Library books divulge treasured information.
This world with its quiet, hopeful pregnant hours is small and seamlessly circumscribed. It bellies up to you. In it, humans answer phones and only kids with tree forts have passwords.
Writing days yawn and stretch; they are gently waving fir boughs, layered clouds and freshly-mown lawns.
They are peacock-blue ink scrolling from a leaky cartridge pen.
Lines, guy-wires, connecting with translucent sky.

Saturday, March 13, 2010


What places in your memory stir characters, voices?
If not for such places, our stories might have no roots.
Stones, rock walls, trees. Common edifices of the imagination:
how these grow and mutate and, sometimes, never change.
Signposts. Starting places and ending places.
The roar of a word, laughter, a scent.
The feel of something solid under the palm.

Friday, March 12, 2010

We think, therefore we are

A few months back, while prepping a fiction-writing course, I came upon a quote by another writer on writing that basically said one learns to write a novel by pretending to write a novel.
In other words, if you allow yourself to try, after a while you'll no longer simply be faking it, but actually doing it.
A gentle spin on Descartes' "I think, therefore I am," with the proviso that the best writing mixes craft and openness, the willingness to play around, pretend, jam, improvise.
The same applies to living, I'd venture to say.
As it does to goodness, the saints suggest.
Aiming for the lofty, faking it if & when you must. The practice, the constant, continual practice eventually making it real.
The habit becoming us.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Thin ice

Sirens last night. A fire truck and ambulance screaming up the road, drowning the early evening's quiet.
Kids. Three of them on skates on rotten ice. What were they thinking? Open water edges, floating ducks. Spring having sprung.
Firemen with a ladder lugged through the woods. Kids clinging to a rock. All safe--thankfully.
But it begs the question: how crazy is that?
The pond this morning groaning its melt: whale songs? a woman compared it to. The booming, echoing, loosening, cracking. Fractures.
The fractured hearts if one of those kids had been harmed. Lost.
Saved from their urge to do the supremely stupid.
But what is it that leads people to think they can skate on a spring pond anxious to swallow its surface?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Tax time

With the onslaught of crocuses cometh the dreaded ritual of T4 torture. Not that I mind in any way paying my fair share of taxes. But it's the numbers, the math that I hate. The feeling of reckoning, adding up all those receipts that detail the quotidian, the sensible not-too-sexy underwear if you like, of the writerly life. The underwire of postage and (less so, now that agents have Kindles) photocopying. The support of editing fees. The saggy elastic of supplies: pens, paper, printer cartridges. The silky slinky satin of web design & photo fees. All measured against an anorexic income.
Thank goodness for teaching's girdle is all I can say: the proper forms, figures entered in boxes that conform to Rev Can logic.
The things that add shape to the body's wandering.

Shedding Some Ink on Carol Bruneau

Shedding Some Ink on Carol Bruneau

Monday, March 8, 2010

We are our stories...

Words make and re-make us, words fake us, words slake our thirst
to get under the skin of things.
Truth or fiction are moot points.
What counts are the constructs,
the houses we enter
built of images, ideas,
strings of thought and
if these were taken away
the silence,
imaginations gone mute,

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Time flies

Incredibly, the snow is gone and in my garden hyacinths and hellebores are up. A trick? It feels like mid-April, sun beaming through panes flecked with winter's grunge. Whassup with this? Winter's hibernation--its ideal, idyllic snow-white blank-canvas effect, the best time of all for writing in Canada--barely a blip or a glimmer this year. Blizzard fantasies, hours inside stories: the standing stillness of a story moving from opaque to transparent.
Not a complaint, hardly a lament. But a marvel--even if the rest of March snows its head off. The hard-crusted base in the backyard non-existent, only moss yelling for grass to get with the program.
May our writing be a raucous onslaught of crocuses.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Word Processing

There's something about timeliness of ideas...not that good ones necessarily dry up or go away. But when you revisit stuff written in all "seriousness" so long ago you barely recall the characters, probably it's time to start over.
Not easy, though, detaching from the wads of notes and pages and pages that sometimes do contain a worthy snippet, phrase or image.
But it's a matter of being brutal (she tells herself). Extract the image or the word with tweezers or needle-nose pliers--jewellers' pliers?--and insert as needed.
No one ever said novel-writing was easy. No one ever said it was fast.
So why the temptation to jog when you know it takes surgically-precise baby steps?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Hungry Artist

An interesting review in Saturday's Globe, all about challenging fiction's conventions, and, indeed, originality itself. The piece is well worth reading:

Shields' approach appears to be the literary equivalent of sampling a la hip hop. That the way, the truth and the life of the novel lies in patching & scratching together found bits and pieces, all without accreditation. (I mean, why bother inventing and building your own distinctive characters when you can rip off whole chunks of other people's?)
Hmm. I would agree with the view that as our attention spans shrink and with it our reading habits, the way we write novels has to adapt too. To churn out a 400 page story now seems antiquated--a no-brainer that its audience will be small? But stealing? (er, borrowing?)
Some would say this is dishonest, pegging the craft of sampling as such.
Because everything we create comes on the heels of others' creations--the whole creative process one long concatenation of influences upon influences.
But doing away with characters, narrative?
Doesn't that pull the plug on story?
Isn't writing about finding form out of chaos, seeking and constructing meaning?
Isn't that the writer's job?
I'm not sure it isn't cheating--lazy--a cheapshot--for a writer to fling down a collage of found words and hope--expect--readers to make great sense of it. If in fact sense is what readers seek. Or is it breaking narrative down into the cyber bits and bytes we no longer consider virtual but real and/or just as important as the stories, the experiences behind them?
Reality, man.
But just because the new reality is sampling/splicing/skimming/skipping, should fiction necessarily image that?