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, June 29, 2010

World's worst opening lines

CBC's website today names this year's winner of the annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction contest, a celebration of the world's worst opening lines instituted by the author of the iconic It was a dark and stormy night...
The award-winners quoted are brilliantly bad, so bogged down with cliches and bodacious blunders that they must be intentional. I mean, there's regular bad writing and then there is soaringly bad writing of LOL calibre. Like this:

"She walked into my office wearing a body that would make a man write bad cheques, but in this paperless age you would first have to obtain her ABA Routing Transit Number and Account Number and then disable your own Overdraft Protection in order to do so.

Kudos for this to runner-up Steve Lynch of San Marcos, Calif. Maybe it's just me, but you gotta admit in these recessionary, post-G20, big-brother-esque days, his entry in the detective fiction category has a certain je ne sais quoi.

To read more badder than bads, visit: http://www.cbc.ca/arts/books/story/2010/06/29/bad-writing-contest.html#ixzz0sHlOV6En

And yet, doesn't it all dredge up Anne Lamott's sage advice about Shitty First Drafts: how you have to write crap in order to get to the good (or at least better) stuff.

So maybe we all should try this as an exercise in breaking the block or conquering the old "I'd rather clean the toilet than write" carrot-and-stick conundrum.

I'm willing to bet that starting a day's practice by coming up with just such a gem may prove that writing a genuinely decent or at least workable first line isn't nearly as excruciatingly hard as we set it up to be.
Just another of the hoops we set ablaze before making ourselves jump/crawl/squeeze through them. So, kill the flames, and think of it as a poop hoop, my apologies to Lamott. And for pete's sake, save your results--there's always next year.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Rainy Monday

A perfect writing day, rain on the roof...Also a perfect day for running away to the woods of Lunenburg County, far from the (tiny) crowds clamouring to see the Queen. Will take my notebook. Will take a leisurely trip to Frenchy's. Ant-block therapy. Breaking my own rules. A day to play hookey. Life, after all, is for living. Gathering fodder. Listening.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Royal Visits

Better to write than not to write, whether what you're saying is IT or not IT. The writing self, the subconscious occasionally such a fusty, cranky thing that it's probably best not to treat it like the entitled brat it can be sometimes. Don't indulge it by putting everything on hold, waiting for it to decide what you're doing is The Real Thing. So many ideas and impulses percolating beneath a crusty surface. You could thrash around forever just deciding what to write, and then beating yourself up over its questionable "worthiness."
Different ways of wrestling with the ego, maybe? Or of racing ahead of the wolves howling at us all to stop writing. (The woods are full of them.)
The practice of writing exactly that: a never-ending practice, even when some sessions feel like empty ritual. Showing up is important. So is trusting the cranky capricious little voice in spite of its ornery nature; trusting that basically it speaks/shouts/cries out of love, even when it acts like a princess.

Saturday, June 26, 2010


Had the great pleasure of hearing Buffy St. Marie perform last night on the Halifax Common, part of the Mik'maq Membertou powwow. Gorgeous full moon over the illuminated wigwams.
Sobering, very sobering, to be an onlooker, part of the dominant culture, another generation of white oppressors. Buffy's lyrics so full of toughness and forgiveness. What a way to use words, fighting war, hatred, and oppression, all in the name of peace and community.
An inspiration, a slap-upside-the-head re: our petty worries about publishers' quirks and discounted books. The power of words. A powerful reminder. Harking back to what Victoria Nelson, she of the Block book, says about speaking the unspeakable. Pray that it hits the page sooner rather than later.
Sharpen your pencils.

Friday, June 25, 2010


...can be golden, according to that block-buster Victoria Nelson. If it's for the right reasons: the psyche gathering fodder, steam.
She doesn't have any suggestions, however, considering silence in light of such things as Chapters' current Buy 3 get the 4th book free deal. Great for readers (though we should all be supporting our local indie bookstores!!) but very scary for writers of all genres.
Scarier still is the deep-discounting of books by such authors as Alice Munro, and works that have only been out a matter of months. A veritable jihad against all who live by the pen.
What's a girl to do but keep bashing away? Taking the odd breather in the sunshine before heading back to the keyboard for more.
I suppose in a way it's nothing new; we write into and against the void, we write in hope. As long as what we aim for is good, and is neither illegal nor immoral, to cop a phrase from a friend.
Why why why, tho, this apparent industry love-hatred for books, when everything in our culture would say (genteelly of course) Shut Up? I don't get it. But the only way to fight it is to keep plunking away.

Thursday, June 24, 2010


Sounds disgusting. Compulsive writing. Writing for the (frantic) sake of moving the pen--an ironic form of writer's block, according to Victoria Nelson's insightful book, On Writer's Block: A New Approach to Creativity.
For a year I avoided (ha!) opening this book, discovered quite fortuitously at Frenchy's. It's quite a wonderful uncovering and sympathetic analysis of the whys and wherefores of the hurdles and hoops we jump over & through.
Nelson quotes Malcolm Lowry's biographer, Douglas Day, as saying the urge to write copiously, compulsively, is in recognition of "the lethal attraction of silence" and done "in order not to die."
A bit extreme, Nelson says, and I might agree.
But she's also right, I think, in suggesting that compulsive writing "constitutes a defense...an armor against unknown terrors, rather than the constant unfolding expression of inner truth."
Maybe the inner truth is too big, too scary, to attempt to put into words?
Anyway. Food for thought, to be digested and passed accordingly.
I still say write, write, write and write some more, "if only" for the act of doing it. Otherwise, how will the good stuff in there ever come out?
A colleague who is a visual artist says, Even if nothing's happening in my art, it's important to show up at the studio regularly just in case something does.
Write on.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

On the merits of early rising....

Insomnia not so unwelcome when it's characters plotting, voices a sleepy murmur under real-time twitter of waking birds:
A walk in the park.
The sunrise sighting of a deer in the parking lot.
Ears twitching
so finely tuned before
its horsey bolt for the woods.
And mist--that too.
Bullfrogs snapping rubber
bands in the swamp;
lilies waiting.

Literary La-La-Land

Too occupied in the garden and at the desk to cyber-bop, but never too busy to take in a literary do. Last night, a wonderful presentation by a Californian author on Sylvia Beach's letters. Keri Walsh's book is just out, and a goldmine on all things Shakespeare & Company. Dream a little dream, if you've been lucky enough to visit the bookshop in Paris--not the original, but its namesake.
Walsh's presentation included some wonderful readings from Beach's letters to her "dear little mother" and benefactor, and to James Joyce, whose benefactor she became.
Imagine, a bookseller/publisher who championed authors whose work she loved, work that otherwise mightn't have seen the light of day. Work that was contraband for all kinds of (crazy) reasons.
A risktaker who loved literature and sucked up the rest.
Kudos to Walsh for fanning Beach's flame.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Row by row

The tedium of planting seed by seed. Scattering words into fallow ground. So much more fun to hit the garden centre: I'll take this, and this, and that--and one in each colour since I can't make up my mind.
So much easier to dig holes, slot in plants primed to bloom. Instant garden. Instant colour.
Something to be said for the grunt work.
The digging and turning of sod, hacking away invasive roots.
The more fully formed and slug-proof the plants starting out, the less grief, A Canadian fact.
As long as you leave room for the accidents, the accidental.
A clump of purple lupines that plant themselves, rioting against the irises for attention.
The happiest results those that startle us.

Friday, June 4, 2010


Do we write as a ferret-like means of laying down tracks, notations that we were here now? A kind of graffiti that is (or used to be) welcomed by the public--so long as it was filtered through the gentle, genteel middlemen of publishing?
Do we write to avoid mowing lawns, doing laundry, balancing check books, cleaning toilets?
Or do we write for the joy of it, the compulsion of getting down what burns/yearns to be written?
I would like to be a perpetual traveller, an escape artist. But mine is no gypsy soul.
A woman whom lawn mowers hate. Machines refuse to co-operate with.
But pens, ah, pens. The leisurely flow of ink for my eyes only.
Notebooks, desk drawers.
Debit receipts embroidered with scrawl.
The text-ure of one's quiet hand.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Too much info...

No deadlines and mayhem of ideas nattering for attention- their voices too far away, the echo of spring peepers from a bog many blocks away.
Earth to mars, do we have contact? While Google seduces, captivates but never quiets the clamour.
What a noisy world, a writer's brain.
Not enough words to paint in all the hues and shades, as time itself curls under a fog-bound rock.
Is it just me, or is it harder and harder these days to focus?

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

One crow sorrow?

Ever been followed, literally, by a bird? On this evening's stroll a crow picked me for a partner. Paced itself to swoop a little ahead, perching in the wires till I caught up, letting me pass only to swoop to the next nearby perch, all at eerily regular intervals. A perfectly straight line, following my path along a fairly busy road. Not so much as the crow flies but as the human ambles. Wings so close to my head I could feel their draft. After ten minutes or so it ditched me as unexpectedly as it had begun to tail me, flying back the way we'd come. Weird. A harbinger of what?