Category Archives: Writing

A Dragoness Made Me Cry

Yesterday, I made the trek into CBC Toronto to watch the Canada Reads final debates. (Yup, that sure is me right behind Jian Ghomeshi’s shoulder.) Although this year’s debate has not been without controversy, specifically the incendiary comments made by Anne-France Goldwater, I am so glad I made the trip into town to catch the debate live.

I’ve never been a very political person. I know little about Iranian or Chilean politics so am completely unqualified to comment on what Ms Goldwater said about Prisoner of Tehran or Something Fierce. However, I do agree with the panelist, Shad, (who is this amazing guy?) that if the debate had been shutdown, the message would be sent to Canadians that it isn’t okay to disagree or to voice certain opinions in this country.

The most moving moment of the week for me came in the final few minutes of the Q & A section of yesterday’s debate when Arlene Dickson, star of Dragon’s Den, spoke about why Canadians ought to read books.

“People who haven’t read and aren’t considering picking up a book again because they live in that short text world, need to understand that when they get up in Canada, that they are living in the best country of the world, and that we stand on the shoulders of giants. And that’s why we live in the best country in the world. And the giants are the people who are willing to put themselves out there and share with us the journeys they’ve been on so that we can become better as a nation. To me that’s what Canada is about. We are about listening and understanding and learning as a multi-cultural unit and taking the voices of the individual and making it into something amazing. So read books. It is so important.”

Arlene’s passion brought me to tears.

The experience of being in a studio for a live taping was fun, but what I take away from this past week and indeed, the weeks leading up to the debates, is that books matter and I’ve been reminded of the power of the written word. Fellow writers, it can’t be overstated; as storytellers we have a responsibility to tell stories, stories that shine mirrors back at ourselves and our world, stories that move and motivate and resonate.  Books are relevant.

Write On!

Each of the four debates, Q & A sessions, and panelist confessionals can be found at the Canada Reads website. Whether you agree with what the panelist say, I promise they will make you think.


Filed under Writer's blog, Writer's journey, Writing

Be Careful What You Say, I’m Writing a Book.

Recently after reading at an open mic in Newmarket, two teenage girls approached me to ask about my writing and specifically the story, For Sale, I had just read. Before leaving, one girl asked whether the story was real and had actually happened. Although I had anticipated someday being asked this question, I still stammered through, “No, it’s completely fictitious.” Which is the truth—all except for the completely part.

Not one scene in this story ever happened, but what was true was a feeling of loss I was experiencing at the time. Strong emotions and feelings are my inspiration, my jumping off place, not actual people I know, or actual events I’ve witnessed. So it was pretty cool when Terry Fallis (a judge in the Random House Student Award) said in his comments about For Sale: “I felt the tension, the anticipation, and the daring wrapped up in her words. Then I felt the sudden sense of loss, just as Sharon Overend had intended.”

Nope, it doesn’t get cooler than when a reader actually gets IT.

I suspect every fiction writer comes up against the did-this-really-happen question at some point. After all, the work comes through us, so it seems a natural question to ask. The people close to us are bound to believe they recognize themselves, or their life situations, in our work. I don’t know how to get around it. I’m a writer and as a writer, I’m an observer. My characters rise out of the many rich, interesting people around me, but are not portraits. They are caricatures, often an amalgamation of several people.

Before you ask dear family and friends; you are not in my novel—mostly.

My story centres on a Roman Catholic, Irish Canadian family living off the Danforth in Toronto from the 60’s onward. It’s true my teenage years were spent living one block north of the Danforth and at the time I was attending a Catholic, all girls’ school downtown, and I do come from a large family, but let the record reflect; I’m only ¼ Irish Canadian and I only lived off the Danforth for five years.

Although, I may have used some family members as character archetypes, it’s important to stress this family is not my family. The similarities of place and character were reference points for me and not meant to draw comparisons to my own life. It’s a work of fiction.

Having our family and friends recognize themselves in our writing is a real danger and if left unchecked can also be the source of writer’s block. Too many good writers have been stopped in their tracks worrying what their loved ones will think. Quit it!  It takes a lot of courage to write and maybe for our families to read our writing, but we have to tell our stories with the characters who are speaking to us, warts and all.

Writers, proceed with caution, but please, do proceed!

What do the pros say on this subject? I’ve read several interviews and most authors admit to having grounded some of their characters in personalities they’ve know. Others say no they haven’t.

Not only do I base my characters on people I know, I use people’s names. In Standing in the Rainbow, Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven and Welcome to the World, Baby Girl!, there’s this couple, Norma and Macky Warren. Those two people are based on my best friends who live in Birmingham. After I wrote the book, I called Norma and said, “Honey, I’ve got these two characters. Help me think of some great names to call them.” There was this silence and she said, “Well, you may as well call them Macky and Norma because everyone’s gonna know who we are anyhow.” So I said, “OK!” Well, Norma has become a local celebrity. She goes out and signs books, does speeches, and is having a wonderful time! – Fannie Flagg – Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe

Not at all.  The plots are not my life, those characters are not people I know, and none of them is me.  My job, as I understand it, is to invent lives that are far more enlightening than my own, invested with special meaning.  That’s the whole advantage of fiction over life: you get to control the outcome…

I populate my setting with characters who will serve my plot.  Those characters are my slaves.  They must do exactly what I want, or the story falls to pieces.  No actual person I know is that cooperative.  So I invent people from scratch, starting with what they need to do, and working backwards, inventing life histories that render their actions believable.

Pure invention seems straightforward to me, much easier than trying to jam an already formed personality into a mold it won’t fit. – Barbara Kingsolver

And here’s what Jonathan Franzen had to say.


Filed under Writer's blog, Writer's journey, Writing

I Walked Into a Cow Once!

True story. I was at the cottage, probably fifteen or sixteen-years-old, walking the gravel road to our country store, my face buried in a book. I’m sure bringing said book on a solitary three-quarter of a mile walk was my attempt at stealing a few moments of quiet from the usual cottage related shenanigans that were a constant at the McRobb Mob Inn.

Next door to the store was a century old farmhouse that had seen no home improvements since the original carpenters tucked their tool belts away –the floors were still dirt and there was no indoor plumbing. The farmer, Old Camack (his family name was Camack and he was extremely old) kept his one cow leashed to a fence post at the end of his driveway.

Bet you know where this is going.

Have you ever tried walking with your eyes closed? If so, you’ll know that it’s almost impossible to walk a straight line. Well, I can assure you walking with your nose buried in a book amounts to exactly the same thing. I can only imagine what that cow must have been thinking as she watched a skinny girl with a paper foldie thing clutched in her hands aiming straight for her. Bidding her time, that crafty old cow waited for our noses to almost touch before she let out a moo that sent me skyward. Once I recovered, I do seem to remember a hint of a smile curling around her lips.

I loved reading books then and l love reading books now! Reading brought me to writing. I know, I’m preaching to the choir, but it bears repeating; writers you have to READ. Okay I’ll get off my soapbox. You writers get it, right?

I’m a firm believer that you can tell a lot about a person by how they keep their personal space? (No you can’t come over to my house.) On a recent visit to a writer friend’s home, I was thrilled to see every inch of wall space in her sitting room was covered with bookshelves. Now that’s a writer for you. My house looks the same, except I could add; every flat surface in my bedroom and office is also covered with books.

Currently, I’m working my way through the 2012 Canada Reads shortlisted books. The Game – Ken Dryden, On the Cold Road – Dave Bidini, Prisoner of Tehran – Marina Nemat, Something Fierce – Carmen Acquire, The Tiger – John Vaillant. Although I’m only on the third of five, I highly recommend Prisoner of Tehran, but be warned—you won’t come out the other side the same person you went in. It’s a life changer!

I’m always looking for new books to read so let me know your current favourites and I’ll tell you mine.

I’ve attached a short video wherein Ian McEwan discusses showing up at your desk to write and schedule reading into your day.


Filed under Writer's blog, Writer's journey, Writing

I Like Writing About Boys.

I find men interesting and often find myself watching them as I would a wild, strange creature in a zoo. Men fascinate me. Consequently, after years of watching the boys in my life, I find it easy to write male characters. Weird but true. What I have trouble writing are female characters. Weirder, but also true.

I grew up in a female-centric (is that a word?) home. I went to an all girls’ high school. Most of my friends are women. And I’m a woman for god’s sake. So why is it so damn hard to write female characters? You’d think writing from a female POV would be like falling off a horse. Not!

As I’ve mentioned in earlier blogs, my current project is a novel I’ve been working on for some time. The story centres on a large, Irish Canadian family struggling with the life-threatening illness of one of their own. I’m using three rotating first person POVs to tell the story; Anne, the matriarch, Burt the eldest son and Barb, the youngest sibling.

Burt is fun to write. I arrive at my desk excited to work on a Burt chapter. He’s a boy and I like writing about boys!

I have also had knee slapping fun writing his younger sister, Barb’s character. A female character, true, but one who does every blasted thing I would love to do, but never in a million years would do. Her sense of adventure and F-you-F-the world attitude is wonderfully freeing. Burt and Barb show up on the page with very little effort from me.

In contrast, Anne, the matriarch’s character may one day cause me to throw myself in front of an ice cream truck.

During a particularly painful critiquing session at my bi-weekly writing circle, someone posed the $64,000 questions; why did I think Anne and I weren’t connecting and (maybe more importantly) what was I afraid of?

Anne, I thought, I’m afraid of Anne. After all, she’s living every parent’s worst nightmare—her kid is sick and the family aren’t handling it well.

We aren’t meshing because as her world falls apart, so must I, but I’m not, I’m not letting myself fall apart (ficturatively of course).


You’re right, you’re right. It’s my responsibility to stand with Anne, to take my reader where she lives and right now that’s a dark and scary place. I have to make the readers experience what Anne is experiencing when she encounters her monsters. My readers need to know I’m holding the steering wheel firmly in the 10:2 position.

But alas, my wonderful writing friends have come to the rescue and suggested an exercise to help me access Anne’s feelings. Here’s the exercise (designed to push the writer deeper into their characters) in case you find your characters are misbehaving as badly as Anne.

Copy a strong line from your existing prose onto a clean piece of paper. With that sentence as your guiding light, start writing everything you see, hear, smell, FEEL around that sentence. Keep your hand moving for fifteen minutes.

Here’s the sentence I chose.

It scared her to realize how ill her child really was.

Fifteen minutes in, I was shaking. I’d reached down into Anne’s life, and finally I had written two strong, emotive pages I could work with.

Anne scares the bejesus out of me, but I owe it to my readers (and to myself) to push my fears aside and write Anne’s true story.

Good luck, writing comrades and may the force be with us!!!!!!

“Mystery is at the heart of creativity. That, and surprise…As creative channels, we need to trust the darkness. ” ― Julia Cameron

“Write what disturbs you, what you fear, what you have not been willing to speak about. Be willing to be split open.” ― Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within


Filed under Writer's blog, Writer's journey, Writing

My Muse Just Left For the Casino!

How do I know? Well, there’s money missing from my wallet and she sure as heck isn’t here with me, in this lonely, windowless, overheated office. Doesn’t she know about my abandonment issues?

Fellow artists, I know you’ve felt the empty feeling and the pull-your-hair out panic when your muse is MIA. As I sit here worrying I might not have any money left when that crazy b***h gets back, I wonder—can a muse really leave? Is my muse a separate entity, or part of me? Aren’t those rare, fleeting moments of true inspiration actually me assessing my own subconscious? If I think of my muse as a separate entity, aren’t I essentially using a get out of jail free card and letting myself off the hook to explain away why I’m not producing? Maybe, but is that so terribly wrong?

This morning I watched a You Tube video where Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat, Pray, Love) questions why artists feel so tortured when their work isn’t going well and why so many plummet to the deep pits of depression and even insanity on such a regular basis. She goes on to suggest it might be healthier if artists did identify their muse as an external being, a creative divine attendant spirit that lives in the walls and seeps out and over an artist. After all, our art, although an act of expression, is in fact our job. We wouldn’t put ourselves through the dry spells if we hadn’t been called to do this work. When we show up for our job, we’re doing our bit and when the genius (Romans called a muse their genius) doesn’t visit us, well it isn’t our fault. Right? An external muse eliminates the need to torture ourselves over something completely out of our control and we get to keep our marbles. Sounds like a plan to me.

So as I plod my way through my re-writes, I’ll continue to look to my muse—even if she’s decided to wear her invisible cloak that day. And once in a while, I’ll even let her take a break if she has to blow off some steam at the casino. I’ll just have to get it in writing that she’ll be using her own cash from now on!

Here’s the link to the video. I think artists—and those that love one—will benefit from her sense of humour. We could all learn to not take ourselves so seriously.



Filed under Writer's blog, Writer's journey, Writing

Finally Blogging

Welcome to my first blog post!

My goal for this blog is to not only sound a foghorn out into the world that I seem to remember is out there (I intentionally write in the one room of the house without a view), but to share my journey toward publication with fellow writers and book lovers alike. With regular posts, I also hope to assure my family and friends who may not see me again until my novel is finished, that I’ve not succumb to a lethal case of carpal tunnel syndrome.

As you will discover, my story is not that different from most other writers. I knew I wanted to write from the time I was a child. Even at the age of ten all I wanted for Christmas was a typewriter (yeah, I said it, a typewriter. I really am that old) to write my stories. As it often does, life got in the way and I lost sight of my childhood dream. Then I remembered. I bought a notebook and the nicest pen I could afford and I was off again, spinning my yarn.

My first attempt at submitting a story was to the Chicken Soup series and out of 4000 stories, mine was shortlisted for Chicken Soup for the Grandparent Soul. I survived two further cuts, but ultimately ended up on the proverbial cutting room floor. Rather than discouraging me; a fire was lit inside my nice pen.

Several years have passed since that first story, and I think it’s safe to say, I have single-handedly supported Canada Post with all the mail I’ve sent to prospective publishers. I’m pleased to say a few have sent me acceptance letters/emails and I’ve finally seen my name in print on something other than a credit card bill.

In the spring of 2011, after years of juggling a full-time job (Marketing Manager for a children’s edu-tainment company), running a large household of super-sized people, working toward a certificate in creative writing from U of T Continuing Studies and writing every spare hour I could steal, I knew the risk of my going postal was becoming a real possibility. Something had to go. With my husband’s support (smart guy) I  left my job and have committed myself full-time to finishing my  novel.

And now the next step – Blogging, Facebook and even Twitter. I hope you will join me as I complete my final course and swim upstream inside the wonderful, exciting tide of literary fiction.


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