Author Archives: tenalaing

100 Days to 100!

Honestly, it’s hard to remember what it felt like to blog regularly- given that I haven’t done it since returning from my last writing sabbatical in 2015. Being a full-time school marm can really put a damper on one’s online self expression 🤷🏻‍♀️ But today marks an important countdown and rather than just counting down the days, we’re going to dig in and make them count.

My twin, Tara, and I are turning 100, yep 💯 in 100 days! Trust me, I’m not making it there on my own. So collabs it is. I’m still waiting for the driverless cars (never got my license) while hoping to avoid the murderous robots 🤖 the untold future may hold.

I’m returning to my blog to help me stay accountable to some ‘Century’ priorities and goals I’ve set for myself and because I’m inspired by Tara’s return to blogging after quite a departure. And her successful commitment to personal challenges – right now another buy-nothing-new-year.

For the moment I’ll mention my writing ✍️ commitments. I finished the 4-month Story Intensive with Sarah Selecky’s writing school in December and have signed on for the Workshop starting next week. Although I’d been interested for years, I wasn’t sure how I’d like the online format but it was incredibly positive, practical and productive, and the deadlines have been essential for me during the frenetic school year.

So on 100 Days to 100, my first commitment is to meet every writing and posting deadline for the Workshop and 2 other submission deadlines as well. I will also commit to posting about my progress and the other priorities and challenges I’m focusing on and facing.

30th Anniversary of Breakfast Club – Nothing Simple About Those Minds


I’m going to try to do a few things in this post. First of all, thanks to Eileen On at for nominating for a new blogging challenge: 5 Photos – 5 Days. She encouraged me to share more from my SXSW experiences in Austin, Texas, which I’ve been slow to do, since the end of South By Southwest coincided with my return to teaching full time after 9 months off – a jarring jolt of a time, to be sure.

The second thing I’m going to try to do is incorporate some videos into this blog for the first time ever! My Banff Centre friends would be so impressed – if it works, that is!

During SXSW 2015, a real highlight for me was the 30th anniversary rerelease of Breakfast Club. If you came of age in the 80’s, this movie was your touchstone (first date, anyone? anyone?) and John Hughes had plugged into your psyche, and was downloading (before that was even a thing) your emotional topography. They screened it at The Paramount – an historical theatre in Austin, and the venue for the biggest SXSW Film Festival events.

We were greeted with pink doughnuts photo 2(7)

and a choir of elementary schoolers singing a gorgeous acoustic version of Don’t You Forget About Me, photo 3(3)

and finally, a real live interview with Molly Ringwald and Ally Sheedy! I was beside myself when I realized that Molly and Ally were right beside me – that’s how dark it was. They were adorable, and I am hopefully going to be able to share a tiny bit of their interview. My photos are poor quality, and the video amateurish, but what a delight to have been there, and in those good seats! My 16-year-old self would have spontaneously combusted!

Here’s Ally Sheedy talking about that sandwich – the one she poured pixie stix onto and crushed chips and who knows what else. (at least she saved the dandruff for her art work)  *** APOLOGIES – CAN’T ATTACH VIDEO…Working on it!

And here’s Molly Ringwald talking about John Hughes, who must have considered her a major muse. *** MORE APOLOGIES – working on attaching video! Wrong format 😦

I loved the part when both actresses talked about how John Hughes basically (and quietly) (and individually) told everyone in the cast that “Really, I was you…” so that they all felt his most personal connection was to their character! I won’t forget about them. I just wish you were all there too.

Also, Molly mentioned that she had watched Breakfast Club with her 11 year-old daughter last year and interviewed her before, during, and after for a podcast for This American Life. On my way to check that magic out NOW! Like I said, nothing simple about those minds.

Muskoka Novel Marathon and Adult Literacy

You might love reading the long form narrative of novels; you might prefer the brief staccato punch of twitter updates and texting. Wherever your literary loyalty lies, picture the profound impactnovel marathon win of a sudden loss of your basic literacy: you can’t navigate the internet, you can’t fill out job applications or government forms or do simple math; your options are rendered terribly limited. I’m doing the Muskoka Novel Marathon again this year, in support of Adult Literacy. Last year, we raised $23,000 & changed some lives – AND – total gravy – I won the manuscript contest! Please support me in this very worthy and uplifting cause, so close to my heart:…/tena-laing-at-muskoka-novel-…/

Surprising Tapestry of Sessions at SXSW – South By Southwest…

SXSW is a 3-part festival, with Interactive going the first 5 days, Music the last 5, and Film stretched through the full festival.

In regular life, you just don’t get this kind of variety in a 10-day stretch. I love that when I come to South By Southwest (SXSW), I’m not here for work and with a platinum pass, I am entirely free to sample any offerings that catch my eye. With so many overlapping sessions, I couldn’t make them all, and some didn’t really lend themselves to interesting photos, but what rich pickings!

Here’s a taste of what made my short list this week, mainly from the Interactive part of the festival. I’ll talk about Film and Music a bit later.

~Robot Petting Zoo (Don’t Feed the Animals!)

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~Books Are The New Vinyl

~Debunking the Disruption Innovation Myth

~When Your Devices Decide to Touch You Back

~Story Structure Secrets

~Is The Internet Disappointed In Us?

~The Invisible Salary: Why Money Doesn’t Matter

~Wearable Technologies 3 & Will Wearables Bring New Purpose to Fashion?

~Made in Brooklyn: A Craft Foods Revolution

~Failure As A Creative Catalyst

~Dramatic Reading by Programmers of Bug Reports (with Puppets)

~Jedi Mind Tricks For Entrepreneurs

~Can Sports Help End A Culture of Violence

~You Can’t Sit With Us: Craft Beer Subculture

~Minimal Viable Pub: How to Open A Pub on $5K

~Cuddly Drones

~The Future Is Short-Form: Storytelling For Today

~Making Art While Entertaining the Internet

~How To Rob A Bank: The Vulnerablilities of New Money

~ and finally one unofficial 6th Street session that almost pulled me in – less for the title than the first instruction: “Reconsider”twerk 1 twerk 2

Hitting the Wall…

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Wall.”

I build walls around me when I write in Texas. Maybe it’s because there’s so much space in that house compared to the one in Toronto.

The walls I build are displays, where I cover the surfaces of the large blank walls with my writing plans. This year, I moved to a new section of a large empty space just so I could have a fresh stretch of wall to festoon with my plot maps and word count targets and the like.

I love the idea of these organizational walls. I’ve done this before, though with index cards rather than in a map, and found the display very inspiring. Did the wall work this time? Sometimes. But there were times when I had to drag myself to the library to escape the expectations the wall was reflecting back at me.

This writing sabbatical year is over in one week – and since I’m spending my last 2 weeks traveling (and attending the South By Southwest Conference in Austin –  & promise to blog about it soon) I’m already missing my writing walls.

Denver for Writers

I just spent 4 days in Denver – first visit ( & the beginning of my winding down the Sabbatical year tour) – and while I found myself a bit afflicted by the altitude, it was a beautiful, walkable city with a lot to offer a writer passing through in the way of writing spaces & writing surfaces & writing snacks and other refreshments. I absolutely loved their big Union Station overhaul. What a destination for creatives.

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It’s Muskoka Novel Marathon Sign-up Day! Stressful? Yes! Worthwhile? Absolutely!


(SPOILER UPDATE: just found out I made the 40 writer cut off!)

This will be my 3rd year signing up for the Muskoka Novel Marathon – and the competition to be among the 40 writers is fierce. I am traveling this week, and so when 7:00 pm Muskoka time hits (that’ll be 5:00 in Denver – or just 18 minutes from this moment), I need to be glued to my computer, refreshing their site, fingers crossed for no wifi weirdness, until the magic button appears and I can register.

If you have never attended a novel marathon, you’d be in the majority, and while some writers might assume that nothing good can come of writing like you’re running desperately from a pack of starved wildebeests snapping at your heels (that’s how I picture the ticking clock as the 72-hour writing marathon ticks down), you’d be wrong. Here’s what’s so great about a writing marathon:

In 3 days (or 72 hours) at the Muskoka Novel Marathon, I’ve somehow written 110 pages (2013) and 77 pages (2014). In the Real World, It’s taken me 3-6 months to double those lengths. Kind of unbelievable. I mean, I could strap myself to my desk, and in fact, this year has been a writing sabbatical for me, where I took a break from teaching and alarm clocks (and paycheques too!) and still, the magical alchemy of writing amongst a group of driven writers, where all of your physical needs are met in a retreat setting that is impossible to beat AND all that plus raising funds for the worthiest of causes – ADULT LITERACY – over 72 frenetic hours where you pretty much NEVER leave your story long enough to lose the thread or the thrust is not to be underestimated.

And did I mention, last year I WON THE MANUSCRIPT COMPETITION! – check out their website. They do amazing things.

Ok – ten minutes left. I’ll report back – fingers crossed.