Last month, Gwynn wrote about her grandchildren’s interest in hearing, again and again, the many family stories she often shares with them. While our families may be interested in hearing about weird, funny ancestors or thwarted loves or the price of candy 50 years ago, there is another audience we should consider. Strangers who will only know those stories in books or articles decades from now.
Author Marie Gage recently posted about her interest in taking her fascinating family stories and turning them into historical fiction. It’s a nice companion piece to Gwynn’s Family Stories, so we invited Marie to share her insights:
We carry the past with us
I experienced a bit of an ah-ha moment the other evening as I sat listening to the acclaimed Canadian tenor, John McDermott. I wanted to share the experience because it relates to my writing inspiration. He presented a song titled, “Somewhere in Me”, with a repeating line of “Somewhere in me there is you.” The song talks about how his parents influenced who he is today.
As I listened, I realized that this is why I am intrigued by and write stories of historical fiction inspired by real people. As I research, I find pieces of myself, or other family members, that were carved by the past and bear remembering. The stories I choose to turn into novels have lessons embedded that are not only important for me, they hold universal truths. As they say, we need to understand and remember history if we wish to avoid repeating it.
After researching both A Ring of Promises and Promise of the Bluebell Woods, I realized that Canada, and more generally North America, was not the Promised Land it was touted to be. Our ancestors were often given to understand that a better life awaited them if they immigrated. But that was not always true. In fact, it was often far from true. And in the case of Will Parker, a character in A Ring of Promises based on my English grandfather, even the government played a role in using the immigrant labour force in a way that was not in their best interests.
Somewhere in you is the hard work and perseverance and untold stories of your ancestors. Why not dig a little and find out what tales lie beneath the surface? You don’t have to write them as novels like I do. But you should collect them and save them in a way future generations will be able to consume them. Once you are gone, no one else will know the truth, and I guarantee someone will care about the life you lived.
Fill in the blanks
Another reason I write these novels is to resolve
my frustration about all the stories of my ancestor’s lives that I can never
really know. There are so many missing truths that I am compelled to resolve my
own disappointment by blending what I do know with one possible way it might
really have happened. This is why I wrote my Guide to Family History
Interviewing. It’s my free gift to anyone who signs up for my
newsletter at www.mariegage.ca.
Now, please go and make sure you capture the story
of your life, or the life of someone in your family in a way that can be passed
down. If undertaking a Family History Interview makes you uncomfortable, then
choose another way. Use a photo album but provide better explanations and
details rather than just the pictures. Create a scrapbook. Write a diary. Tell
your grandchildren a real bedtime story about something that happened in your
life and audio record it.
Choose the way that is easiest for you and find a way to preserve it. It’s important. Your life is important, and it will matter to people in the future even if you don’t realize it today. Our world is made up of people just like you and me. In Promise of the Bluebell Woods, the war Rod and Pearl lived through wasn’t won by people like them alone. It was won by the collective action of many brave people. Some gave their lives, and others lived to tell about it, in the hope it wouldn’t be repeated.
If you are able to be in Minden on September 24, 2022, I will be doing a brief workshop at 2 p.m. on Family History Interviewing at Bookapalooza. This festival for readers and writers is at the Minden Community Centre, and admission and the workshop are free. Come join us if you are in the area!
Marie Gage‘s writing is inspired by real people. She is a passionate researcher, intent on using all available resources to make history come to life. The weaving of fact and fiction to create stories that are both believable and inspiring is her forté. The passion she develops for her characters adds depth and life to the story. Gage writes for adults and children with equal passion.
As many of you know, one of Gwynn’s projects lately is preparation for the Northumberland Festival of the Arts taking place September 16 to Oct 2 this fall. The theme for the Festival is “Celebrating Resilience” and Katie Hoogendam, poet, writer & interdisciplinary artist, responded to that concept in a way that really got Gwynn thinking about art and the artists who create it. We think it will get you thinking too,
“Who can bend and not break? Not one of us. And yet, the moon also rises. The peonies bloom. Someone hands you a glass of water. Your thirst is quenched, for a moment, and you are touched by the kindness of that person, the significance of that glass of water.” Katie Hoogendam
What does art have to do with resilience?
What do we make of resilience? The capacity to bend but not break? They say reeds are resilient, but so are various plastics, those that float like undulating rainbows across the vast oceanic expanse. What is it to be resilient? As a person? Are you one who has survived the pandemic, but who has suffered loss nonetheless? Have you grieved an absence? Are you grieving now? Are you alive, but full of lost things? What does art have to do with resilience? Is art-making an act of defiance? A laughing into the void? Does making something new and formerly unimagined somehow re-set the balance of all that has been taken?
Creativity in community
Within our local artist communities, with each wave of COVID like an ocean it seemed there would be no legitimate moment to stop and take stock—no crest of a wave from which to gather perspective and examine all that has come before and all that will be—to take an accounting for all that we have lost and all the hope and optimism and perseverance it will require to mend what has been broken. We waited for that moment, but it did not arrive.
History is not predictable as we live our way through it; more waves came and instead of waiting for a crest from which to gain balance, we learned to brace ourselves for the next impact. After multiple bracings, some of us learned to capture the momentum of each new onslaught—to ride the waves. We learned that creativity helps one ride waves. And community. Even better—creativity in community, with community.
Who can bend and not break? Not one of us. And yet, the moon also rises. The peonies bloom. Someone hands you a glass of water. Your thirst is quenched, for a moment, and you are touched by the kindness of that person, the significance of that glass of water. In fact, you feel compelled to write a poem about it. You feel compelled to paint a picture of her hand. You feel compelled to compose a song about water, glasses and glasses of unending water.
You almost broke or you shattered completely and yet, even now, you feel the need to respond to the universe, to make something of it all, with your very own hands. You cannot explain this, yet your body, like all green things, bends toward the light—toward life, uncertain as it is.
Art is for everyone
The theme of Northumberland Festival of the Arts 2022 is resilience. Artists local and some far-flung will share with us from the rich caverns of their talents what it means to make art while the world appears to implode, while finances are stretched, while our futures seem uncertain. Whether or not you consider yourself an artist or patron of the arts, NFOTA is for everyone because art is for everyone. We all bend toward the light.
Celebrate Resilience this September 16th to October 2nd in locations all around Northumberland County (more than 40 events/16 days/8 townsa) as NFOTA celebrates and supports the resilience of local artists and the strength of our shared community. Let’s celebrate our gorgeously illogical human capacity to find beauty under rocks and in dark places—and when beauty cannot be found, to roll up our sleeves and make some!
Meredith K. Hoogendam (Katie/Merkat) is a poet, writer & interdisciplinary artist. Folklore, feminism, and a deep love for the natural world inform her art. Her work appears in publications across the U.S. and Canada. Her play, Plan X, debuted at the 2019 Spirit of the Hills Northumberland Arts Festival (now Northumberland Festival of the Arts). Her most recent collection of poems, Spring Thaw (Glentula Press), launched at Cobourg’s independent bookstore, Let’s Talk Books, in April 2022. Her forthcoming poetry collection and collaborative art project, Grief Forest, is in the works for 2023. You can find her on Instagram @merkatart.
Why do you write? It seems like a simple question, but it’s not. Why we write (or create in any medium) can be as visceral as an urge you can’t deny, a simple desire to channel creativity, a deep-rooted emotional need to achieve or be accepted, a way to earn a living, or bits and pieces of all those things and more. Over our writing lives we often have different reasons at different times. All are valid.
Today’s guest blog comes from Aprille Janes, who I met over twenty years ago when we attended writing retreats together. These days, Aprille chooses to create through visual and fibre art, at her Stoney Bay Studio in Nova Scotia, but her message is relevant for any creative.
Aprille tells us why her answer to “Why do you create?” may have been wrong all along.
Guest post: Aprille Janes
the Joy Again
I baked a cake from scratch this week and in the process, I
learned something important about why I love making art. One thing that changes
everything for me.
I used to love baking but haven’t done much of it in a long time. However, over the holidays I really got into the Great Canadian Baking Show on the CBC. The fact that bragging rights is the only prize seems to make the relationships more sincere and honest. They weren’t competitors as such but simply people with a common love for baking. Even the judges and show hosts exhibit a warmth and kindness that is an antidote to all the negativity and anger out there these days.
Getting Prepared for Something New
Inspired by the show, I looked for something to bake myself. I
browsed cookbooks, Pinterest and recipe sites. I savoured the time searching
for something special. It’s hard to make plans these days when Covid keeps
blowing them up but this was one thing I could plan with confidence, one thing
in my control. The process gave my outlook a real lift. (BTW – Click on link
below the image if you want the recipe, too. )
After choosing the recipe, I went shopping. I invested in a springform pan and a couple of other tools I was missing and the freshest ingredients. Not rushing the process is a gift whether I’m working in flour, fabric or paint. Taking time to anticipate and choose added to the enjoyment.
The Big Ah-ha!
When I got home, I made my cake, delighting in the scent of the
lemon zest and the colour of blueberries. The warmth of baking filled my
Finally, when the cake was done, I shared it with family and friends. I even posted the photo on social media along with the recipe. Because, in the end, seeing someone else enjoy something I make is why I do it. THAT was my big Ah-ha.
Why I Create
I finally get why I love making things. It’s not just painting
for me. It’s about making art quilts and needle felting, baking and knitting
and just working with my own two hands. I’d been making it hard when really,
it’s so easy.
It’s the pleasure of making and the joy others take in what I’ve
made that motivates me. Looking back, I can track the journey to this point but
it felt like a bolt out of the blue. The business lens that I’d been looking
through isn’t right for me.
I’d been struggling with a decision about Instagram. Marketing
wisdom said I needed multiple accounts to share these other facets but removing
the business mindset provided the answer. Sharing who I am is the common
So I’ll be shifting focus. I will share my art on social media
but I will also share other things that bring me joy and satisfaction. I won’t
be doing a newsletter any longer because I’m ‘retiring’ the business side to
follow my heart.
My wish for you is that you too find something that warms your
heart and gives you deep satisfaction.
Aprille has fond childhood memories of outdoor adventures and time spent near the water. Today, she lives by the Bay of Fundy and her art reflects this love of the outdoors. She divides her time between painting, fibre art, writing and teaching watercolour workshops.
first-draft hot mess of my memoir was easy—a mudslide down the inky slopes of
several thousand journal pages.
Rewriting countless drafts, fun—an archeological dig I’ve never tired of.
Restructuring the thing, hell—as I struggled to place backstory at the precise moment of reader thirst.
But none of those
ups and downs compared with the anxiety I felt about sending my manuscript to
my two aunts and my uncle, who appear frequently in its pages.
I had reason to be nervous.
My memoir is about
their eldest sister, my mother—a woman they were estranged from most of their
lives, my own longest estrangement from her spanning a mere seven years. My
aunts and uncle tried to have my back through the turbulence. An only child, I
leaned heavily on their love and support.
Yet as soon as I
mentioned I was writing a memoir, I detected frost in the air. Heard rumblings
of that old lament, “airing the family’s dirty laundry.”
I understood their wariness.
They were of a
generation that preferred to hold troubling family truths underwater with the
flat of their palm. I am driven to haul those truths out, towel them down,
assess them from every angle. What can they teach us? How might they heal us?
My aunts and uncle
don’t read memoir. I knew if they were going to accept my manuscript, I
couldn’t just thrust 300+ pages at them and hope for a miracle. I would need to
chart a wayfinding course to the genre using signposts and lamplight.
And about two years
ago, drawing on what I knew about awareness campaigns from my 35+ years in
corporate communication, that’s what I did.
I casually sent
them essays by memoirists who acknowledged their vulnerabilities and the
challenges of truth-telling.
I sent book reviews
and memoir quotations to show what other writers were sharing with the world.
I sent updates on
my own project with excerpts from my work-in-progress that I hoped would
demonstrate a balanced take on our difficult family circumstances.
approach paid off when the Los Angeles Review of Books published
my essay, “How to Tell Your Mother She Can’t Go Home Again,” describing one
of the harshest events of my mother’s life (and mine)—her first day in a
nursing home, eight years before she died.
With that, my
memoir project could no longer be ignored. Nor could its intent, tone or
potential reception in the world.
My aunts and uncle
read the piece and sent congratulations.
We had taken the
It was time for the
By now the
manuscript was ready for beta readers. I promised my relatives a copy but kept
them waiting while I finished some edits. One aunt in her eighties complained
that at this rate she might not be around to finally read the thing. My uncle
asked how it was going. I could hear the other aunt’s fingers drumming from her
home in California.
They were eager to
I emailed the pdf
to the California aunt. She immediately responded with family stories triggered
by my chapters, as well as helpful editorial suggestions and a factual
“For the duration
of the reading it was as though my sister were alive, in front of me with all
of her strife and fury…” she wrote me when she finished reading. “You’ve done
yourself proud, Heidi.”
My beloved writers’
groups responded to this news with jubilance.
invited my other aunt, and my uncle and his wife of 50+ years, to my home,
where I presented them with coil-bound copies. We spent a convivial weekend
enjoying a charcuterie board, tacos, wine, and quiet time as they turned pages.
They didn’t offer
encouragement, though my uncle remarked that his avid reading signaled his
interest, and his wife dissolved into tears at one point, acknowledging the
painful path our family had been forced to take in tangling with my mother.
In my beta reader
guidelines, a one-page menu of suggestions I developed for first-time readers
on what kind of comments would be most helpful, I had asked for their feedback
within a month—one week away as I write this. I’ve invited them back for a
second weekend to close that loop. After all, this was a business arrangement:
their access to my full work in exchange for their editorial catches and family
No reply yet.
can be challenging when you’re not used to it.
No reason to be nervous, I want to tell them. You’re in safe hands here. It’s going to be all right.
Heidi Croot lives in Northumberland County, Ontario, Canada, and is working on a memoir. Her corporate writing has appeared in numerous trade publications, and her creative work in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Brevity, Linea magazine, Writescape, the WCDR anthology Renaissance, and elsewhere. You can reach Heidi on Twitter @heidicroot.
There’s nothing better than words of encouragement that arrive seemingly out of nowhere. That recently happened to me when my long-time friend, Jessica, sent an email with a link to the local online newspaper, in which she had written a letter addressed to me.
What? Was she airing dirty laundry? NO! She was supporting
me as a poet. To explain…
Jessica Outram currently serves as Cobourg’s Poet Laureate. One of her projects is an online poetry chapbook called Poetry Presents. I have successfully submitted poems a couple of times. Jessica also writes a poetry column for Cobourg Now, where she engages with a poet and /or a poem and muses on poetry generally. Here is where the stars aligned. Jessica chose one of my submitted poems to feature in her column. Thank you , Jessica!
Story is at the Heart of Poetry
An exchange between Gwynn Scheltema & Jessica Outram, Cobourg Now
(Note from the Poet: I grow as much of my food as possible and forage as well. I love the memories of nature that cooking smells bring forth for me.)
Dear Gwynn Scheltema,
‘Carrot Soup’ invites me to reflect on harvest and a way of looking at the
passing of time through the life of a carrot. The food we enjoy today has a
story that connects to more than one season. From preparing the soil to
planting the seeds to harvesting fully grown crops, a process and patience are
paramount to success.
It can be
the same with poetry. From preparing to use form to planting phrases and lines
to harvesting metaphors, poetry thrives with the use of process and patience.
When I was younger, I wrote poetry quickly, usually a poem (and sometimes two!)
in one sitting. Over the past couple years, I’ve looked for ways to slow down,
to linger in a line, to return to a poem over time to better understand its
story. It’s good to give a poem space to change and grow.
at the heart of poetry. Story is who we are and story is how we connect. To
prepare to write a poem, I reflect on these questions: What story do I want to
share? How will this story connect to others? After writing the poem, I return
to the same questions.
Poetic’ Archibald MacLeish writes “a poem should not mean, but be.” A poet
shows a story rather than tells a story, inviting the reader to share the
experience. By appealing to the senses (the eye, the ear, our senses of taste,
touch, and smell), the poet invites readers into the world of a poem. When
reading a poem, rather than ask ‘what does this poem mean?’ Ask ‘what are the
stories here?’ Use questions to shift understanding and points of connection.
starting to write poetry, begin with your stories. The stories of your life,
your every day, and of your imagination. Everyone has stories. What are yours?
You may find that you never have writer’s block since our stories can be more
abundant than the Fall harvest.
Gwynn, for sharing this story of carrot soup with us.
Poet Laureate of Cobourg
About Jessica Outram:
Jessica Outram is Cobourg’s 4th Poet Laureate. She is a Métis writer and educator with roots in the Georgian Bay Métis Community. Since 2019, her mandate has been to honour and nurture Cobourg’s culturally dynamic community. A resident of Cobourg, Jessica has worked in Northumberland both as a principal and vice-principal and continues to participate in local arts, music, and theatre. Currently, she works as Principal of Indigenous Education K-12 in the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board.
Some weeks ago, one of our regular retreatants, Lori Twining, shared her retreating experience at Writescape’s fall retreat. But what if you can’t get away to write on retreat? How else can you keep the words flowing?
Have you ever considered an accountability partner?
Lori wrote about the magic of accountability partners on her blog in August, and we reprint it here today with her permission.
Accountability Partners: Are They Beneficial?
have a simple goal: I want a writing career.
it is not as simple as quitting my day job and writing the damn novel. Other
things factor into a writing career, besides having money to pay the bills. In
2021, as a writer, it is essential to have a social media presence, network
with others, be searchable on Google, be knowledgeable and experienced with the
craft of writing, have an agent, have a publisher, and the list goes on and on.
It is endless.
writing career something I can do alone?
The writing part falls on the individual writer. However, if you have other
people who share your wants, your desires, and your future dreams of a writing
career, then you should team up and do it together. Build an army. Challenge
each other. Support each other.
This is where the benefits of having an accountability partner come into play. These people establish a relationship with you to help achieve your goals. They hold you accountable for what you said you would do and try to keep you on track, even if you are experiencing a meltdown of some kind.
Let me explain..
I sent out multiple emails regarding my volunteer role as a Blog Wrangler for
my local writing group. Most of my writing group writes novels and short
stories as a side hustle to their “other” careers (that pay the bills). All of
us write blog posts that relate to our writing lives in some way. As a
volunteer, I admit that I get tired and overwhelmed (sometimes cranky) at
working behind the scenes for zero money and little appreciation. I’m not
complaining; I offered to do this to further my writing career (if it ever gets
further than barely existing). I admit that it is a selfish reason. Sometimes,
I have days that I question my choices on volunteering. I want to quit
everything and just write. But, then something like this happens:
the frantic emails (and FB messages and text messages) back and forth with my
writing tribe, I received a message:
anyone told you that you should be a writer?”
laughed. Reading this message broke the stress and frustration I had been
holding tight inside. My shoulders released the tension, and I relaxed a bit. I
wrote back to say, “Not lately. I’m too busy wallowing in a puddle of
self-doubt right now.” I often wonder if all this writing is simply a
time-waster, and I’m going nowhere. Several text messages followed to say they
appreciated my time and effort, and I need to keep writing. This is one writer
supporting and encouraging another writer. I love it.
later, the following email came in from another accountability partner. It
I am late in responding to you. Thank you so much for your accountability email
(you were on time, I’m two weeks late). Ha! I’m never on time. At the moment,
I’m sitting on my couch crying about not making any progress during July. I
decided to email you and tell you the small amount that I did manage to find
time to do. Then, I surprised myself with what I actually got done. This makes
me happy. Writing it down, so I can see the progress. Yes, I was still a couch
slug for most of the month, but I did submit two short stories, sent ten
queries to agents, and updated my website so that if the literary agents ever
decide to google me, I will look important! I might even fool them into knowing
what I am doing! Thank you for this. I love you! Talk to you in a month. Or
After reading this message, it reminded me to check in with a few of my other writing buddies. I have multiple people that I keep in close contact with, where we exchange emails on the first of every month (with many emails in between, just to keep us motivated). I keep a list of excerpts from their emails to encourage me, so I remember that working toward a writing career is not a waste of time. People do get something out of this. It keeps me moving forward with my goals.
My partners are inspiring
are a couple of example messages from them:
I did awesome on my goals! I really want to say thank you for this. Having
these goals keeps me motivated and helps to keep me working on all aspects of
excited and scared and motivated and terrified all in one. I am so thankful for
you and this accountability thing we do together. I have WORK TO DO… so here
are my new goals.”
How I stay accountable
I write an accountability email at the beginning of the month describing everything I accomplished (or didn’t accomplish) from the previous month, and add my goals for the following month.
I exchange these emails with a few different writers to encourage them (or challenge them) to do “something” to further their writing career. And they do the same for me.
Here are a couple of examples that show progress in someone’s future writing career:
Woke up at 5 am for two weeks straight. Butt in chair. Writing.
Published four book reviews for novels in my genre on Goodreads.
Posted five Instagram photos of books I purchased written by my
#5amwritersclub writing buddies.
Submitted my short story to a contest.
Attended Inkers Con virtually.
Finished the Dan Brown Master Class on Mystery Writing.
Ran a giveaway on Goodreads. Sent out the print copies to the
Attended two virtual book launches this month.
Signed up for a 7-day IN-PERSON writing retreat.
Took a course online, “How to Nail Writing Multiple POVs &
Timelines” (this one is something I’m doing this month).
All of these examples keep you in the writing game. You are supporting other writers, networking, learning your craft, or writing the book—all good things.
Cutting Yourself Some Slack
The end of my July accountability email listing all my goals was this:
August goals are to tackle as much as possible with my writing, without
breaking down and bawling like a baby because I don’t have enough time to do
ALL THE THINGS that I want to do this summer.”
received this immediate response from one of my accountability partners:
have a similar goal for August and the rest of the year. Now that I’ve had a
vacation, I will try to go several days in a row without yelling/swearing at my
computer screen. And that’s just for work. It doesn’t include the head-hanging
despair during the writing sessions. Maybe we should ease up on our
expectations of ourselves? Just a thought.”
excerpt above is from an experienced published writer, and she has made a good
point. I have high expectations for myself. Maybe this is why I am biting my
nails to the quick? I’m walking the fence between giving up (by sitting on the
couch watching every Harlan Coben Netflix series and not writing) and moving
full force ahead with writing every chance I get, hoping my novel gets a little
better with each pass through of edits.
is an evil monster, and accountability partners can help with that. They remind
you that you are not alone on this path to a future writing career, and
everyone struggles with so many things (and I don’t even have to mention the
pandemic and all the stay-at-home orders that interfered with our mental state
for writing over the last 18-months). They are full of motivation and
inspiration. They can help you plan and strategize how to approach editors or
agents. They can advise on improvement on your query letter or book blurb.
Also, they can help you stick to your commitments and expectations, so you can
continue to make progress.
are all in a different place with our writing careers. Some writers are already
published, and some of us are still struggling with that first novel (that
would be me). But, overall, we are suitable matches for being accountability
partners. We strive to be full-time writers and are putting in the work to get
there. We all struggle with time management, primarily since we all work
full-time or part-time for other people. So, being able to discuss it with each
other is a bonus. It echoes the reminder that we are not alone.
little thing you can manage to do (writing, networking, reading, promoting
yourself & your writing friends) proves that you are showing up for
yourself and committing to the work. The best part of having accountability
partners is that you can share your progress and celebrate everyone else’s
progress too. There is no need for jealousy; it is all a wild and fun
experience of living life to the fullest and conquering that writing dream.
If you are struggling with pulling your butt off the couch back to your writing chair, maybe you should look for an accountability partner? They are perfect for brainstorming and bouncing ideas around, supporting each other, motivating, and inspiring you to continue with your dream. Plus, they are there if you want to cry or rant about something when you are grumpy or extremely pissed off. They are also there to laugh with you, and everyone needs a good chuckle from time to time.
If you don’t have one and would like one, just ask another writer if they would be interested. It is as simple as that. Good luck on your path. Baby steps will get you there. Eventually.
Lori Twining writes both
fiction and nonfiction, with her stories winning awards in literary competition
and appearing in several anthologies. She’s an active member of many writing
groups: International Thriller Writers, Crime Writers of Canada, Sisters In
Crime, Toronto Romance Writers, and Ascribe Writers. She’s a lover of books,
sports and bird watching, and a hater of slithering reptiles and beady-eyed
rodents. Find more info at www.lvtwriter.com; Twitter: @Lori_Twining
While we are cautiously optimistic that the worst of the pandemic is behind us, and we slowly return to some semblance of how the world used to be, I hope we don’t discount everything that happened in the past year. I’d like some elements, of the virtual kind, to carry over into the future.
What? Haven’t we’ve all had our fill of Zoom and Webex and Facetime and whatever else people have found to connect with one another when we couldn’t attend in person? But there are some really good things that have come out of doing things virtually.
A virtual win
I work in a library and for each author
visit I’ve hosted in the past year, I reached over 2,000 views on Facebook
live. Two thousand views! In-person events max out at the room limit of 70
people. Going virtual has been a huge win for the library and my guest authors.
In future, I intend to do a hybrid: in-person events while streaming on Facebook
live. Something I hope organizers of writer conferences will consider.
Having just attended my second fabulous virtual Surrey International Writers Conference (SIWC) there are some things I’ve embraced about attending conferences this way that I hope will continue in some fashion.
Conferences: a virtual plus
Attendance: You can attend any virtual conference you want no matter where you live. I tried to attend SIWC in person three years ago but it sold out so quickly I didn’t have to worry about convincing my husband I should go! When it switched to virtual last year organizers opened it up to more people and I had no problem getting in.
This year alone, I’ve gone to When Words Collide in Calgary and Write Now!, a crime writing conference in Arizona. It’s a big world but virtual conferences make it feel smaller.
Events are recorded: Many conferences are recording the sessions held over Zoom and it’s fantastic! If you attend a conference in person, unless like Hermione Granger you have a time turner, you can’t physically be at every session.
But with recorded events, you can hit any session you want. With SIWC for instance, the recordings are up for a month and I can watch them at my convenience – even while making dinner!
Transcripts: With live events on Zoom or recorded, transcripts are easily available. While watching live, you can enable the transcript right away and follow along (or go back if you miss something). Zoom also gives you an option to save it. Save the transcript? Yes please!! Save my hands from cramping for an hour and a half session.
And with recorded events, you are able to copy and paste the transcript. You might get 46 pages and some odd interpretations of words but it helps you catch the gist of anything you missed.
You can duck out of recordings: Not every session you attend at a conference is perfect for you. You may be looking for nuts and bolts about how to do something and the presenter takes more of a theoretical approach. It can be awkward to walk out halfway through — but virtually, not so much. It’s even better when it’s a recording. Just end it. Or skim the transcript to see if it does get into more of what you are looking for.
Even more pluses
Pitching: Pitching your book to an editor or agent is nerve wracking, virtual or in person. Doing it over Zoom however, there is a good chance they aren’t going to see how nervous you may be. Yes, you have to remember to look at the camera but sweaty armpits aren’t going to show up across the internet. And pitching, just for the experience alone, is always a win – virtual or otherwise.
Cost: Conferences can be expensive, from airfare to accommodations to meals. Virtual? Well, you miss the adventure of a trip and restaurant meals and hanging out at the bar. But do you?
Many events have set up virtual bars to hang out in. Order food in and mingle. Network. Meet and greet online.
While I hope in-person conferences will resume again soon (New England Crime Bake in November is doing a hybrid event) — I am soaking up everything I can online whenever I can. And having a lot of fun while I’m doing it!
Andrea Adair-Tippins is a children’s librarian assistant. She is currently working on a historical mystery, attending conferences and taking online classes to improve her craft.
What writer wouldn’t love to disappear from their life and spend an entire week hidden away at a remote location? With no other obligations other than to put fingers to keyboard or pen to paper and tell a story. Maybe, a story no one will ever read? That’s a possibility. But hey, if you are a writer, you will have a strong desire to write that story whether someone reads it or not, right?
Disappearing to a remote location sounds fantastic, especially after the tough year or two we have experienced. My doctor said I was becoming a workaholic, even though I’m working from home now, and I should take a mental health break. She said something like, “Take a vacation.”
In my mind, I watched her scribble a prescription on her pad for me:
Go somewhere. Eat, sleep, and write from sunrise to sunset. Repeat for seven days.
So, I passed the fake message along to my family and booked a writing vacation. I realize that most writers can only dream about going to a week-long writing retreat. Sometimes, writers struggle to leave their family behind or they find it challenging to schedule time away from work, or they can’t even manage to save enough money to go away. The stress is real, but if you can achieve it, I highly recommend doing it.
At this moment, I’m finally experiencing a writing vacation that I have been looking forward to for almost two years. I booked the retreat with Writescape in the fall of 2019 to celebrate my spring birthday away from home doing something I like to do: WRITE! However, the event was postponed three times due to the pandemic happening right outside our door. Although we are not finished with the pandemic yet, I’m thankful for science and knowing everyone at this retreat is double-vaccinated, masked, and keeping their distance.
With that in mind, I cannot express how ecstatic I am to be tucked away in a bedroom on the second floor of a rustic cottage with a 4-foot wide window overlooking beautiful Rice Lake FOR SEVEN DAYS. I haven’t been setting the alarm because I’m on vacation, but I still manage to roll out of bed around 5 a.m. I make a pot of coffee, pull out my notebook and a pen, and write until the darkness gradually turns to light.
The sunrises are breathtaking at the Elmhirst’s Resort nestled along the shoreline of Rice Lake (see photo above of me gazing out my bedroom window at sunrise). It is so peaceful and relaxing here that I can’t help but focus on the first light breaking through the early morning darkness. The vibrant red, yellow, and orange colours reflect across the serene lake, sending a tingling sensation that rockets from my toes to my earlobes.
Usually, I’m wearing my Jack Nicholson’s grin along with my pajamas, and I think about how lucky I am and whom I might have to kill today. (I’m a fiction writer, so it is allowed.)
I set up a folding table beside a comfortable chair, and my job is to write ALL the words. This is my solitude time where I can immerse myself inside my novel for seven days. I can wear my pajamas all day if I want to; the same goes for the Jack Nicholson smile. I open my suitcase full of notes and reference material and scour through it for something important. I throw sticky notes up on my wall and figure out my plot holes. I read some parts aloud, looking for extra words or clunky dialogue. I slip outside for a breath of fresh air, walk to the floatplane dock, and make an apple disappear. Then, I get right back to the writing.
Occasionally, during this Writescape retreat, there are writing workshops where the instructors, Ruth E. Walker and Gwynn Scheltema, teach us something small but specific. A timed writing exercise follows this teaching moment. It is funny that when I attended my first Writescape writing retreat, I loathed participating in writing exercises. I wanted to slink out of the room and pretend I was never there. Seriously, what writer can come up with material that is worth keeping during a ten-minute interval of freefall high-pressure writing? Well, it turns out, when I use the courage buried deep inside me, I can surprise myself and find something golden in my words almost every single time. It might have something to do with the other writers’ artistic and creative energy in the room with me. It is extremely electrifying.
By participating in the workshops and partaking in the exercises, you learn that it is a process, not your finished product. It is a tiny step along the way to creating something new. It doesn’t have to be perfect, as long as the muse is nipping at your ear, pushing you to experience the magic and go where you have never gone before. The sudden release of endorphins triggers positive feelings in your body, similar to morphine. You can honestly get addicted to the high of someone saying they love your writing or trying a new concept and having it work for you.
We discussed art emerging from art by using Ekphrastic Writing, which was a fascinating workshop for me. I created six pages of new writing about a piece of art that speaks to me. With that, I will select the words, sentences, and statements I want to keep to form a poetic response inspired by the sculpture, thereby enhancing the artistic impact of the original art through synergy. I will need to do a little more research on my own to see if I’m attacking the project in a clever and creative way. I’m excited to see where it will take me.
Today, I’m reaching the halfway point of my retreat, which makes me sad, happy, and freaked out. I have so much I want to do here that I’m considering skipping the sleep portion. *Joking* I’ll just reduce the shut-eye time to five hours instead of six. That will make all the difference.
If you are a writer and you want to be more productive in your quest to finish that novel, then grab a couple of your writing buddies and plan a writing retreat vacation.
I’m grateful for the solitude mixed with the camaraderie that is happening this week. The pleasure of attending this contemplative retreat makes me cherish every minute of this writing journey, and I’m honoured to spend it with friends who have the same passion and mindset as I do.
Thank you to Ruth and Gwynn for running a fantastic retreat that I will miss dearly. I look forward to finding a new adventure for next year’s retreat (although I might just camp in Gwynn’s backyard, looking for poetry advice).
Lastly, I’m thankful to the two writing friends pictured below: Seana Moorhead and Donna Judy Curtin, for always accompanying me on these writing retreats. They are the best cheerleaders a writer could ever ask for. They remind me that I’m here to unplug, focus on my writing, and need to get my shit done.
I look forward to the day that we are successful best-selling authors, and we can tour the world together. Look at me! I’m always dreaming when I should be writing. Ha!
What could be better than going on a writing vacation with writer friends?
Lori Twining writes both fiction and nonfiction, with her stories winning awards in literary competition and appearing in several anthologies. She’s an active member of many writing groups: International Thriller Writers, Crime Writers of Canada, Sisters In Crime, Toronto Romance Writers, and Ascribe Writers. She’s a lover of books, sports and bird watching, and a hater of slithering reptiles and beady-eyed rodents. Find more info at www.lvtwriter.com; Twitter: @Lori_Twining
of my writing buddies have been struggling to find the words lately. I’m no
different. There are days I sit at my desk and stare at a blank page and wonder
why I am even bothering to get up. Seriously, I could be sleeping right now. I
never get enough sleep.
The thing is, I have found a way to get my writing mojo back. I’ve been multi-tasking. While I paint or quilt or indulge in other other creative pursuits, I’ve been listening to podcasts specifically for writers. They are so engaging that it has turned me into a BINGER! I have become a person who exhibits excessive or uncontrolled indulgence in podcasts—a podcast binger who often listens to four podcasts in one single day.
why? How could they be that good?
of the podcasts listed below inspire me. Authors explain how they balance their
family life with their writing life, what time of day works better for them, or
how they came up with such brilliant story ideas. I love hearing how my
favourite authors churn out bestsellers one after another.
these podcasts help you improve your craft or help you understand how other
people are making a living doing the one thing you are passionate about, I
should warn you that you have hours of binge-worthy episodes waiting for you.
are a few of my absolute favourite writing podcasts:
“The Shit No One Tells You About Writing” with Bianca Marais.
podcast has a segment called “Books and Hooks” featuring two Literary Agents as
cohosts: Carly Watters and Cecilia Lyra. Writers are encouraged to send in a
query letter and the first five pages of their manuscript. They discuss what
the writer did well, what the agents were confused about, and suggest what the
writer could do to improve it. I have listed some examples of their podcasts to
try, but you can find hundreds to choose from on their website. Following the
Books and Hooks, Bianca interviews an author about a specific topic such as:
Writers Write is a podcast for creative writers to learn how their favorite
writers tell their stories. The podcast’s host, Brian Murphy, interviews
world-class writers to decode their tips, routines, and motivations for
you have tried listening to podcasts and they are not lighting a fire under
your butt, then perhaps you should try listening to author interviews. Live
events are happening across the globe almost every single night. Most of these
events can be listened to while you lounge in the bathtub, eating cookies
(meaning your face will not be on ZOOM camera). This is always a plus because
no one needs to comb their hair during a pandemic if they don’t want to.
Live Events (Live Facebook or Instagram Events):
Murder By The Books ~ Live Author Interviews via Facebook Live
Anderson’s Bookstore ~ Live Author Interviews via Facebook Live
Genre Masters ~ Live Interview via ZOOM
Day Drinking with Authors with Molly Fader~ Live Interviews via Facebook
First Chapter Fun with Hannah Mary McKinnon and Hank Phillippi Ryan
Many live interviews are archived online after the event and are available to
listen to at any time.
binging on a few podcasts or author interviews, I am positive you will be
inspired and motivated to write your own words down on the page. There is no
stopping you now. Get to it. Just put your butt in the chair and write all the
words. I can’t wait to read them.
Lori Twining writes both fiction and nonfiction, with her stories winning awards in literary competition and appearing in several anthologies. She’s an active member of many writing groups: International Thriller Writers, Crime Writers of Canada, Sisters In Crime, Toronto Romance Writers, and Ascribe Writers. She’s a lover of books, sports and bird watching, and a hater of slithering reptiles and beady-eyed rodents. Find more info at www.lvtwriter.com ; Twitter: @Lori_Twining
Today we welcome guest blogger Shane Joseph, a Canadian novelist, blogger, reviewer, short story writer and publisher. He is the author of six novels and three collections of short stories. His latest novel, Circles in the Spiral, was released in October 2020. For details visit his website at www.shanejoseph.com
Increased time online during the last
year or so made him realize that there is an App for everything—even fiction. Enjoy
his tongue -in-cheek blog about it:
There’s an App for That
by Shane Joseph
There’s an app for everything these days. For searching,
shopping, information, books, car maintenance, home decor, clothing, cooking,
domestic help, medical care, even sex – you name it, there is one. So, what are
we left to do, but say, “Alexa, get me…”
It started with someone saying: If a process can be diagrammed
in steps, then those steps can be automated. And automation will always get you
a consistent, high-quality product at a low price. Gone are labour costs and
human error. Place the App on Google Play or the Apple iStore, feed it to the
multitudes, and rake in the revenue.
The Master Switch
Gradually, those who provide the goods and services and who
unwittingly and voluntarily help the techies diagram their processes—i.e.
bricks and mortar retail stores, personal and profession services firms, car
mechanics, cooks, decorators, tailors, bookkeepers, travel agents et al—become
automated and are rendered obsolete. This list will continue to grow in future
as more process-driven professions get computerized. Even programming, that
evil mastermind that began automating everything in the first place, is getting
automated; soon, one will wonder who has control of the master switch.
Having dodged this speeding bullet for forty-five years, where
every job I held ended up inside an App, I finally retreated to the bastion of
the imagination—creative writing—where I felt I would be free from the clutches
of the automating juggernaut. I have a few years of active work left before I
end up in a geriatric state when nothing would matter anymore – so creative
writing is going to be my last safe haven.
The Novel Writing App
But, lo and behold, my consternation when I saw an advertisement
the other day for a novel writing App. “Add your plot points and characters,
and watch our algorithm serve up multiple scenarios, twists, endings, car
chases, punch-ups, shoot-ups, sex scenes and other situations, and design your
novel to be a tragedy, comedy, tragi-comedy or comi-tragedy.” I am making most
of this up from memory, but I think you get the gist. Orwell predicted this
future, albeit with outmoded technology – but this App looked a darn sight more
“Great,” I thought at first. “This will take out all those hacks
who write to a formula (to a process), and that would include those who are
writing time-limited and formulaic TV scripts, detective pot boilers, romances,
police procedurals, vampire chronicles, fantasy and other predictable stuff,
those unimaginative scribes who have invaded my space and taken a
disproportionate share of readers’ eyeballs. Fie on them!”
Then I wondered: would my literary novel be safe, where, even
with a novelistic arc that suggests “formula,” nothing is taken for
granted; where evil could triumph over good if I so desire it, or vice versa;
where originality of language matters more, not repetition and stock phrases
spewing out of a machine; where subtext matters; where the writer’s moral
principles underscore the story? Could automation permeate this deep?
It’s a Chess Game After All
Then I remembered Deep Blue and Gary Kasparov and their chess
duel at the end of the last century. Kasparov won in 1996, but Deep Blue came
back the very next year, re-tooled for higher performance, and beat Kasparov
who was only getting older. And that was over twenty years ago – how far had
Artificial Intelligence progressed since then? literary novels are not safe. No way!
So, there it is. We will have to learn to live with this new
bedfellow whether we like it or not. He (or She, if called by names like Alexa
and Siri) will have to complement what we do, and be
treated as an ally rather than a foe. For now, I say, “Go find me the meaning
of this word” or “Go find me some info on this place.” But as my faculties fade
and I get lazier, I can see myself ordering: “write this paragraph, adding a
touch of humour, a hint of tragedy, a pinch of intrigue, and using five new
words that do not occur in the book already.” I could end up a “novel director”
instead of a “novelist.”
But Heaven forbid, should the algorithm say to me one day,
“Shane, your writing is crap. Take this entire chapter back and re-write it, to
my standards – you’ve got five minutes to complete it,
and that’s generous, in machine time.”
Festina lente! I never thought I would use that Latin proverb in my writing,
but I think it is an apt one here given what we know is barreling down the
pike. Or do you think I could confuse the novel-writing algorithm with foreign
oxymorons and get it to stop in its tracks or slow down even for a little
while? Festina lente…